When President Trump jumped at the chance to have a summit meeting with Kim Jung-Un, predicting it would bring a lasting, de-nuclearized peace to Korea and a Nobel Peace Prize to him – “everyone’s saying I deserve the Nobel Peace Prize,” Trump twittered – not everyone was predicting either.
I wrote a blog titled “Mr. Kim Goes to Washington” in which I said unlike the time Jimmy Stewart (Mr. Smith) went to Washington whose movie ended just fine, this idea of an instant summit with Kim had just the opposite potential.
It wasn’t that I’m so smart. Much more informed experts on the Korea problem predicted the same. It was that the Kim family does not give up power and hostility toward the South and the United States in a flash of traveling on the “Road to Damascus” but instead it seemed obvious that young Kim was “playing” Donald J Trump, seeking the lifting of sanctions and U S Billions while perhaps promising to give up nukes in some staged, lengthy process. After all, the Kims had promised to do that four times before only to break the promise.
And I reminded readers that tigers do not change their stripes and leopards do not change their spots – this young Kim who learned from his grandfather and his father, who, once come to power had his Uncle killed and his half brother murdered had not turned into a democrat despite the smiles and clinking of champagne glasses with the President of South Korea.
Then, when Kim journeyed to China twice to confer with President Xi it was clear the two were agreeing on the strategy of exactly how to “play” Trump. not on how to give in to him. Just look at how Xi is “playing” Trump on Trade.
Trump had been demanding that North Korea agree at the summit to de-nuclearize immediately. In return, Kim had made it clear he has no intention of giving up his nuclear weapons “presto presto.” He and his colleagues lashed out at Trump over Trump’s demands. So Trump, brought to the realization that his Nobel prize had slipped away still born and he was looking like a “patsy” to his base, cancelled the summit blaming the cancellation solely on Kim.
In a letter to Kim, he said in part: “Based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I believe it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting…Please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place.”
Trump, the bully, has always tried to get the best of people by blustering and threatening and it often works. But in the game of International Diplomacy with nations that in today’s world are not without power of their own (and smarts) that usually doesn’t work.
Look at Trump’s record with North Korea. First he threatens to destroy the entire Country with “fire and fury” and calls Kim names. Then, when Kim offers to meet and smiles and clinks the champagne glasses, Trump impetuously jumps at the offer and labels Kim sincere and says he is “nice.” Moreover, it apparently did not occur to Trump that by demanding in advance of pre-summit negotiations that Kim give up his nukes immediately, the answer would be “no.”
One of the North’s statements Trump disliked the most was one from a close aide of Kim’s that came Thursday morning which called Vice President Pence a “political dummy” for making “ignorant and stupid” remarks. Now that would be highly defamatory except that truth is a defense against a charge of defamation.
Pence had further angered the North by referring in a television interview to the strategy that convinced Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi to give up his nuclear weapons. Subsequently Gaddafi was killed in an uprising of this own people. Now certainly that was a reassuring example to use on dictator Kim.
But one shouldn’t blame Pence too much since he knows next to nothing about foreign policy. No, Pence was parroting the view of John Bolton, the new hard core, ultra nationalistic White House National Security Advisor who has assumed the role of the administration’s Darth Vadar. Bolton has been recommending the “Libyan” strategy to use on Kim.
So now it’s back to Trump the Original Korean expert. After the cancellation, Trump warned North Korea that the U S military is “ready if necessary” to take action if the North engages in a “foolish or reckless act,” adding that South Korea and Japan are willing to shoulder the costs (if not, maybe he can get the Mexicans to pay for it).
But Trump also sounded wistful when he also said he hoped North Korea would change its position and the summit would get back on track.
Of course, that is always possible. In the North/Chinese strategy to “play” Donald J Trump, Kim could always make “nice” again, flatter Trump in some way and having proved he can get the upper hand maneuver Trump back into a summit where the President of the United States loses his (our)shirt.
You say, but surely Trump has learned from this episode and next time will with expert help from seasoned American diplomats prepare the table so as to avoid traps set and/or an embarrassing public failure.
Are you kidding?
Remember tigers don’t change their strips and leopards don’t change their spots. That applies to Kim.
But it also applies to Donald J Trump.
Which would leave us in an even more dangerous position as against North Korean belligerence than we were in before Trump was elected President.
But then, what else is new.