Kim Jong Un Played Trump Like a Fiddle

The summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un of North Korea is over and apparently it produced nothing. The fact that even the president had to admit this is telling because, as Brendan Nyhan pointed out last summer, this is Trump’s pattern when it comes to deal-making:

  1. Present distorted version of the status quo
  2. Create a crisis over the distorted version of the status quo
  3. Restore the status quo
  4. Take credit for the status quo

The distorted version of the status quo Trump presented suggests that former President Obama was about to go to war with North Korea. That is a lie. Trump then created a crisis about potential war with North Korea with tweets like this:

In his next step, Trump gave Kim Jong Un what previous U.S. presidents had been denying him for years: a face-to-face meeting with the most powerful man in the world. According to Trump, the two men became the best of friends following their meeting last summer, and Trump declared a victory.

As we all knew at the time, Trump’s victory lap was premature because nothing had changed the fact that North Korea was still a nuclear threat. That is what led to the summit in Hanoi this week, from which the president departed empty-handed. In typical fashion, Trump placed the blame for that on previous administrations.

This has been going on for many decades. This isn’t me. This should have been solved during many presidential runs, and, you know, people talked about it. They never did anything. I get a kick out of so many people from past administrations telling me how to negotiate when they were there in some cases for eight years, they did but I think the relationship was very warm, and when we walked away it was a very friendly walk.

There are two things to note from that last sentence. The first is that Trump thinks that having a warm relationship with Kim Jong Un is an accomplishment in itself. That is why many have labelled this president’s approach to foreign policy as “transactional.” As John Bennett wrote, “There is reason to believe the transactional Trump will keep up his approach of pressing harder for concessions from allies while dangling carrots for foes.”

Just prior to the Hanoi summit, this administration dangled a big carrot in front of North Korea.

U.S. negotiators are no longer demanding that North Korea agree to disclose a full accounting of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs as part of talks this week between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, according to current and former senior U.S. officials.

That obliterated the famous standard Ronald Reagan set when dealing with the former Soviet Union about nuclear arms: “trust, but verify.” It still wasn’t enough to get Kim Jong Un to even pretend that he would denuclearize.

The second thing to note about Trump’s remarks is that he attempted to characterize his reaction as having “walked away” from the negotiations with Kim Jong Un. We’ll probably never know what actually happened. But what we do know is that, following a meeting between the two on Thursday morning, the schedule called for lunch, followed by a signing ceremony on a joint agreement—neither of which happened. Instead, what the world witnessed was Trump holding a press conference that the North Korean leader chose not to attend. In other words, it certainly looked as if Kim Jong Un had walked away.

During the press conference, Trump spun the situation like a top. For example:

You always have to be prepared to walk. I could have signed an agreement today, and then you people would have said, oh, what a terrible deal, what a terrible thing he did. No, you have to be prepared to walk, and there was a potential we could have signed something — I could have 100% signed something today. We actually had papers ready to be signed, but it just wasn’t appropriate.

But the truth is that, no matter how much the president kisses up to Kim Jong Un, the North Korean leader is not going to denuclearize. That is what previous administrations have known for a long time now. Trump just gave the North Korean leader a public forum with the President of the United States, allowing him to feel even more empowered.

Previous presidents have been smart enough to avoid getting played by North Korea, but the current occupant of the Oval Office is too delusional to avoid that.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.