After the Trump-Kim Failure

The president was right to walk rather than accept a bad deal, but look out ahead.

President Trump was right to walk away from his summit with Kim Jong-un rather than accept a bad nuclear agreement, but the outcome underscores that he was bamboozled last year at his first summit with Kim. Whatever genius Trump sees in the mirror, “the art of the deal” is not his thing.

At this meeting, Kim apparently sought a full end to sanctions on North Korea in exchange for closing only some nuclear sites. That was not a good deal, and Trump was right to walk rather than accept it.

“Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but we couldn’t do that,” Trump said, adding: “Sometimes you have to walk.”

President Reagan famously marched out of a 1986 summit in Reykjavik, Iceland, rather than accept an arms control agreement with Russia that he regarded as flawed. A year later the Russians returned with better terms and a deal was made — and we can all hope that something similar will happen this time.

Still, there are significant risks ahead. The most important is that North Korea may return to testing nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, for that would mark a huge escalation of tensions and renewed concerns about brinkmanship and war.

Unfortunately, North Korea is an otherwise unimportant country that gets attention only when it behaves provocatively. So its leaders have learned that their best leverage is to fire missiles, detonate warheads, or start up nuclear complexes.

While Trump was right to walk in this case, he also seems to have played his hand poorly in the run-up to the summit. In particular, he signaled that he eagerly wanted a deal and that “fantastic success” was likely, all of which probably led Kim to raise demands in the belief that Trump would fold.

With normal presidents, summit deals are largely agreed upon ahead of time. As one veteran diplomat put it, presidents pull rabbits out of hats, after diplomats have worked diligently ahead of time to stuff the rabbits into the hats. But Trump has never had much patience for that meticulous diplomatic process, instead placing excessive faith in breakthroughs arising from personal relationships — and his faith was clearly misplaced this time.

The North Korean side had refused to hash out the summit outcome in advance with the highly regarded U.S. special envoy, Stephen Biegun, presumably because Kim thought that he could outfox Trump in person in Hanoi the way he had in Singapore nine months ago.

The collapse of the latest talks also underscores how misguided Trump was at that earlier meeting. He didn’t understand that Kim uses “denuclearization” to mean something different than the meaning in the United States, and he gave Kim the enormous gift of legitimacy that comes with a summit, without getting anything comparable in return.

The collapse of the latest talks also underscores how misguided Trump was at that earlier meeting. He didn’t understand that Kim uses “denuclearization” to mean something different than the meaning in the United States, and he gave Kim the enormous gift of legitimacy that comes with a summit, without getting anything comparable in return.

It is also distasteful to see Trump praising Kim and referring to him as “my friend” and a “great leader,” and, last year, asserting that Kim had sent him “beautiful letters” and that “we fell in love.” It’s perfectly appropriate to engage with ruthless dictators, but fawning over them is a betrayal of our values.

What Doesn’t Kill Him Makes Him Stronger

The more Trump lies, the more he is empowered to lie.

Facts don’t matter to millions of Americans anymore. That is just the truth. Republicans bewitched by Donald Trump have devalued the import of truth.

It is a sad truth and a dangerous one. What is the operational framework of a society when the truth ceases to be accepted as true?

There may be precedents in other countries, but one would be hard pressed to find a precedent here. It is becoming cliché now to say that we are in uncharted territory with Trump and his regime, but that is precisely where we are.

.. Every day there is no catastrophe, every day yet another never-before-seen, outrageous scandal emerges from this administration and Trump is not destroyed by it, it strengthens him and numbs us and steels his supporters.

The more he lies without paying a price for it, the more he weakens the power of the truth to defend right and condemn wrong. And he expands his latitude to lie more.

.. Rather than lying less, Trump is increasing the frequency of his lying.

.. Trump has gone from making 4.9 false claims a day to now making 6.5 a day.

.. “Just stick with us, don’t believe the crap you see from these people, the fake news,” before telling them, “Just remember, what you are seeing and what you are reading is not what’s happening.”

.. he has used the power of the position to project a sort of hypnotic disregard and amnesiac self-delusion upon the people who follow him. So much of what Republicans once said they believed has now been betrayed.

.. He boasts about being strong while simultaneously whining about being assailed.

.. His griping, in a weird way, is what fuels his gasconade. He insists to his supporters that he is being treated unfairly and their reflexive defense of him prevents them from even entertaining the fairest of criticisms.

Indeed, the more Trump is rebuked by his opponents, the more his base rallies.

.. Among [Republicans], 64 percent strongly approve of Trump, who is experiencing an almost unheard-of level of support from members of his own party.”

.. The White House had previously denied any knowledge that McDougal had even sold her story. That clearly was a lie. Trump not only knew; he was discussing buying it from the seller.

.. Rather than cowering in shame at his deception and his unseemliness, Trump simply goes on the attack, tweeting outrage and indignation

.. We are all trapped, for the time being, held hostage by

  • an empowered president,
  • a self-neutered Congress, and a
  • cultish horde of Trump voters.

But it is the vote that is the most likely way to curb this rolling tragedy. The midterm elections are only a little more than 100 days away.

In Diplomacy, Trump Is the Anti-Reagan

another take is that it’s the Plaza Redux, meaning the 1988 real estate debacle in which Trump hastily purchased New York’s Plaza Hotel because it looked like an irresistible trophy, only to be forced to sell it at a loss a few years later as part of a brutal debt restructuring.

.. “Like Reagan, he seems to sense that the nuclear technicalities matter less than the political relationship.”

.. First, Trump isn’t Reagan.

  • Reagan generally acted in concert with allies. Trump brazenly acts against them.
  • Reagan’s negotiation method: “Trust but verify.” Trump’s self-declared method: “My touch, my feel.”
  • Reagan refused to give in to Soviet demands that he abandon the Strategic Defense Initiative. Trump surrendered immediately to Pyongyang’s long-held insistence that the U.S. suspend military exercises with South Korea while getting nothing in return.
  • Reagan’s aim was to topple Communist Party rule in Moscow. Trump’s is to preserve it in Pyongyang.

Second, Kim isn’t Gorbachev.

  • Gorbachev was born into a family that suffered acutely the horrors of Stalinism. Kim was born into a family that starved its own people.
  • Gorbachev rose through the ranks as a technocrat with no background in the regime’s security apparatus. Kim consolidated his rule by murdering his uncle, half brother and various ministers, among other unfortunates.
  • Gorbachev came to office intent on easing political repression at home and defusing tensions with the West. Kim spent his first six years doing precisely the opposite.

Trump’s Manchurian Trade Policy

Remember “The Manchurian Candidate”? The 1959 novel, made into a classic 1962 film (never mind the remake), involved a plot to install a Communist agent as president of the United States. One major irony was that the politician in question was modeled on Senator Joe McCarthy — that is, he posed as a superpatriot even while planning to betray America.

.. Both the international rules and domestic law — Article XXI and Section 232, respectively — let the U.S. government do pretty much whatever it wants in the name of national security.

.. If the U.S. or any other major player began promiscuously using dubious national security arguments to abrogate trade agreements, everyone else would follow suit, and the whole trading system would fall apart.

.. But Trump is different. He has already imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum in the name of national security, and he is now threatening to do the same for autos.

.. The idea that imported cars pose a national security threat is absurd. We’re not about to refight World War II, converting auto plants over to the production of Sherman tanks. And almost all the cars we import come from U.S. allies. Clearly, Trump’s invocation of national security is a pretext

.. the proposed auto tariffs would further undermine our allies’ rapidly eroding faith in U.S. trustworthiness.

.. Which is not to say that national security should never be a consideration in international trade. On the contrary, there’s a very clear-cut case right now: the Chinese company ZTE, which makes cheap phones and other electronic goods.

.. Yet Trump is pulling out all the stops in an effort to reverse actions against ZTE, in defiance of lawmakers from both parties.

.. China approved a huge loan to a Trump-related project in Indonesia just before rushing to ZTE’s defense; at the same time, China granted valuable trademarks to Ivanka Trump. And don’t say that it’s ridiculous to suggest that Trump can be bribed; everything we know about him says that yes, he can.

.. what we’re getting is Manchurian trade policy: a president using obviously fake national security arguments to hurt democratic allies, while ignoring very real national security concerns to help a hostile dictatorship.