donald trump and mike pence
Credit: The White House/flickr

It came as no surprise that some of Trump’s enablers jumped the gun to nominate the president for the Nobel Peace Prize due to events on the Korean peninsula. More disturbing have been the subtle attempts by main stream journalists and commentators to abandon any skepticism when it comes to expectations about what the North Koreans are up to. For example, Jeff Greenfield delivered a challenge to Democrats on whether or not they would be able to give Trump credit for creating the opening.

It isn’t just Trump’s ignorance and impulsivity that should have been cause for concern. The United States has been down this road with North Korea on several occasions and we should have learned from history by now.

With the planned meeting between Trump and Kim Jong-un less than a month away, North Korea has threatened to walk away from this process as well.

North Korea threw President Trump’s planned summit meeting with its leader, Kim Jong-un, into doubt on Wednesday, threatening to call off the landmark encounter if the United States insisted on “unilateral nuclear abandonment.”

The statement, made by the North’s disarmament negotiator, came hours after state media warned that the summit meeting might be canceled to protest a joint military exercise between the United States and South Korea that began this week.

The warnings caught Trump administration officials off guard and set off an internal debate over whether Mr. Kim was merely posturing in advance of the meeting in Singapore next month or was erecting a serious new hurdle.

The fact that this move caught the administration off guard is both obvious and disturbing. It indicates that either they have no knowledge of North Korea’s history or assume the “great man theory” about Donald Trump as “the only one who can fix it.”

Obviously Kim Jong-un shares a lot in common with the U.S. president.

At the very least, it appears North Korea is trying to assert that it isn’t the weaker partner in the negotiations. It seems North Korea was annoyed by U.S. officials claiming that the diplomatic breakthrough was the result of its maximum pressure campaign. A week ago, Pyongyang said those are “senseless remarks,” and credited their own “proactive efforts” for turning the situation around. The latest statement says the U.S. is misreading North Korea’s “magnanimity and broad-minded initiatives” as “signs of weakness and trying to embellish and advertise as if these are products of sanctions and pressure.”

Oliver Hotham, managing editor of Korea Risk, told CNN that the White House’s aggressive stance was bound to spark some pushback. “The Trump admin has been acting like denuclearization is a done deal, talking about economic incentives and shipping North Korean nuke hardware out of the country,” he said. “Now the North Koreans are making it clear this is not going to be a cakewalk and they can play tough too.”

Trump has often suggested that he relishes the idea of being unpredictable. In the case of North Korea, however, he put all his cards on the table and assumed that his bullying tactics had paved the way for a legacy achievement. While North Korea has always been hard to read, it sure looks like Kim Jong-un took advantage of that and just upped the ante on being unpredictable.

Anyone who suggests that they know what happens next is likely to join the White House in being caught off guard. The one thing that seems obvious to me is that someone like Kim would be foolish to not recognize that it was his nuclear weapons that got him this far in terms of being a player on the world stage going head-to-head with the President of the United States. The idea that he would totally denuclearize at this point is the most unimaginable outcome of all.

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