Trump’s Confidence Ignores Recent History

Trump’s Confidence Ignores Recent History.

by Evan Vucci/AP · June 12, 2018
“He trusts me and I trust him.”

So declared President Donald Trump to ABC’s George Stephanopolous after meeting North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Even allowing for Trump’s characteristic hyperbole and the niceties of diplomacy, it’s an absurd thing to say about the leader of a regime defined over the last 30 years by its mendacity. And it was one of many bizarre and troubling things to come out of the disastrous Trump-Kim face-to-face meeting in Singapore on June 12.

Trump and Kim signed an agreement committing North Korea to denuclearization and the U.S. to “security guarantees” for North Korea. In substance, the 403-word document, which Trump called “very comprehensive,” doesn’t differ much from the many previous agreements – written and oral—between the two nations. And while it’s possible that Kim Jong-un is suddenly willing to give up the nuclear weapons that won him an audience with the leader of the free world, the greatest difference between this summit and those in the past was the unrestrained optimism of the American side and fulsome praise for the brutal dictator from the U.S. president.

The U.S. president celebrated Kim Jong-un as “very talented” and praised him for running North Korea—home to modern-era concentration camps, mass starvation, widespread state brutality —in a “tough” manner. Trump said he’d “developed a very special bond” with Kim, whom he determined has a “good personality, very smart—a good combination.”

Trump said that while the U.S, would not be removing troops from South Korea as part of this agreement, he’d like to do so in the future. He parroted North Korean talking points about American troop exercises and war games, calling them “provocative” and promising to end them. “We will be stopping the war games, which will save us a tremendous amount of money, unless and until we see that the future negotiation is not going along like it should. But we’ll be saving a tremendous amount of money—plus, I think it’s very provocative.”

As he did on several occasions before the summit Trump declared, with something approaching certainty, that Kim Jong-un would do something no North Korean leader has done in three decades: make good on a promise to end his nuclear program and destroy his weapons. Trump touted the North Korean leader’s “unwavering commitment to the complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula. (At the end of the 2005 Six Party talks, for instance, the declaration read: “The DPRK committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Nonproliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA safeguards.”) North Korea is a nuclear power. There has been some wavering.

Trump says that history doesn’t concern him. He knows better. “Chairman Kim is on his way back to North Korea. And I know for a fact, as soon as he arrives, he’s going to start a process that’s going to make a lot of people very happy and very safe,” Trump said at his press conference. “I think he wants to get it done. I feel that very strongly.”

If it was disconcerting to watch Trump’s eagerness to serve as a character witness, in effect, for Kim Jong-un, what he said at the end of his press conference was even more worrisome.

“I honestly think he’s going to do these things,” Trump said of Kim’s promises, before allowing for the possibility that Kim will not, in fact do these things. “I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that I was wrong. I’ll find some kind of excuse.”

This was one of the great concerns about taking the meeting in the first place.

And how might such a meeting go? Kim could be the tough guy he’s been in public, provoking a confrontation in the meeting and taking his chances. Or he could tell Trump that he’d never thought he’d be in a position where he had to make a deal but Trump’s maximum pressure campaign was so effective he’d been left with no choice. Trump, pleased to hear this, will be all the more eager to make a deal. For him, the achievement will be the deal itself (remember his willingness to sign anything on health care). He will eagerly tout his triumph — the White House and its supporters are touting this meeting as a big win. And having prematurely declared victory, Trump will have little incentive to call North Korea on its violations of whatever deal emerges because doing so would suggest that he got played. So North Korea flips the dynamic. Instead of the U.S. scrutinizing every move, poised to take decisive action if we perceive an escalating threat, the U.S.—or at least its leader—will be incentivized to downplay violations and threats for fear of jeopardizing the diplomatic achievement that the deal represents.
Having treated as the meeting itself and the perishable promises of Kim Jong-Un as victories in and of themselves, Trump is unlikely to later admit that he’d been foolish in taking the North Koreans seriously. And beyond the triumphalism in his press conference, the Trump campaign sent out a statement from “Lara Trump, Senior Advisor to Donald J. Trump for President, Inc,” touting the summit not just as a victory but as a win that validates Trump’s election.

It reads:

History will demonstrate that the historic summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, and the initial agreement to denuclearize the Korean peninsula, was an end product of President Trump’s bold and vigilant leadership on behalf of the American people. Already, the President has achieved more than expected, with an agreement from North Korea to return the remains of American POWs and destroy a missile testing site, while economic sanctions remain in place for the time being. As with our historic tax cuts that have unleashed unprecedented economic growth, these developments with North Korea are yet another validation that the American people were right to entrust Donald Trump to change the course and direction of our country that had been commanded by the political class in Washington for decades. President Trump will continue to succeed in dramatic ways because he will always put America First and wishes only to succeed on behalf of the American people.
We can all hope that history records the summit this way. But the certitude in the Trump campaign statement, like the cocky assurances from the president himself, ignores the recent history of negotiations with North Korea.

And another failure, with the president having staked so much of his credibility and that of the United States, could be catastrophic. · by Evan Vucci/AP · June 12, 2018

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