The fact is, establishing the outlines of a “grand bargain” has never been the hard part. Indeed, the George W. Bush administration negotiated a joint statement in 2005 containing some of the key elements. The hard part has always been nailing down the specifics and enforcing them. Trump and Kim would just leave that to their respective teams, a process that would inevitably involve years of motion with little movement, and ample opportunities for deadlock, breakdown and North Korean cheating.
.. Trump’s supporters, starting with Fox News, would rapturously applaud the outcome, without pausing to remember that they relentlessly attacked President Barack Obama for far more rigorous agreements. Trump’s critics would undoubtedly temper their opposition, because the alternative is catastrophic war. And while Bolton would hate this approach under a different president, he may like the politics of it for Trump for now — and figure that he can press for military action later.
But here’s the rub: There is a real risk that this kind of outcome would work much more to Pyongyang’s advantage than Washington’s.
.. Our partners would take their foot off the sanctions gas, even if our concessions were meant to come later. After a grand, but premature, Trump announcement that he has “solved” the North Korea nuclear issue, South Korea would naturally accelerate its engagement with the North, including its economic ties. China, fearing that U.S.-North Korean engagement would weaken its hand, would scramble (even more than it already has) to offer incentives to increase Beijing’s influence with Kim.
.. we might not even get the full benefits of a freeze on North Korea’s capability. We know North Korea has a history of promising big and then working in secret to advance its program.
.. And since the Trump administration has deliberately degraded our diplomatic capacity and nonproliferation expertise — and Trump won’t be paying attention to what happens after the cameras are turned off — Pyongyang would enjoy an advantage in the period following a summit.
.. North Korea, in this scenario, would be implementing a new version of its old playbook: Make a series of promises in exchange for economic breathing room — and break them later. This could easily raise the risk of war in the medium term.
.. It’s an argument against approaching the summit with politics and pageantry in mind, rather than hardheaded practical concerns.
.. Congress should press Mike Pompeo during his confirmation hearing for secretary of state to acknowledge these risks and account for how he would intend to deal with them
.. Trump won’t be thinking about the risks, only about the political reward. It is up to the rest of us to hold him accountable to deal with the reality