The North Korea Debacle

So much going on with Trump it’s hard to keep track. While I’m digesting what’s going on with the various Michael Cohen and Trump Junior scandals blowing up in Trump’s face, let’s look at North Korea.

FYI, the BBC just reported that North Korea has stopped talking to South Korea.

North Korea says it will not resume talks with the South until issues between the two countries are resolved.

Its chief negotiator dismissed the South Korean authorities as incompetent and senseless. Pyongyang is angry at continuing US-South Korea joint military exercises. …

…He also criticised the South Korean authorities for allowing “human scum” (a reference to a North Korean defector) to speak at the Seoul National Assembly.

The joint exercises have been going on for a long time, and few believe that’s the real reason North Korea is pissed off. The real reason is that John Bolton flapped his mouth on Face the Nation and said that the U.S. would follow the “Libya model” in treating North Korea.

Paul Waldman wrote yesterday,

Here’s where we see how Trump is being played from the other side, most specifically by his new national security adviser, John Bolton. Bolton, who has long advocated that we start bombing North Korea at the earliest possible opportunity, made a point of saying publicly that we should look as a model to the arrangement made with Libya in 2003, in which it gave up its nuclear weapons program in exchange for sanctions relief and a reintegration into the international community.

Which, if you knew nothing about anything, might sound perfectly fine. But to the North Koreans, there’s almost nothing more provocative you could say than bringing up Libya. North Korean officials regularly cite the experience of Libya as precisely the reason they won’t give up their nuclear weapons. Moammar Gaddafi did so, and what happened to him? He was deposed and killed. The same fate befell Saddam Hussein.

Now, Bolton is many things, but stupid and ignorant are not among them. He knew perfectly well how the North Koreans would react if he brought up Libya.

We can quibble about whether Bolton is or isn’t stupid and ignorant, but the point is that Bolton appeared to be deliberately shooting down any possibility that an accomodation will be made with North Korea. And Trump, of course, is too stupid to see he’s being played by his own man.

And then there’s this:

Vipin Narang, an associate professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said it was likely to be the bragging that Kim had been forced to the table by Trump’s successful use of “maximum pressure” with sanctions and threats that had stung the Pyongyang regime most.

Kim has portrayed his diplomatic opening as a natural consequence of completing the decades-long project to build a nuclear arsenal.

“The North Koreans were prepared to ignore a lot of what the administration said before the summit, but it was the victory lap before the race that has really set them off,” Narang said.

If you have any idea what Kim Jong Un really wants, this makes sense.

What does Kim want? Economic assistance and an end to sanctions, obviously. He also wants a summit alongside the leader of the global hegemon, which would grant him enormous prestige. That’s something the United States has withheld from North Korea in the past, but Trump has already granted it. And above all, Kim wants to ensure his own survival and that of his regime.

Which is why most everyone except Trump seems to realize that there is no way Kim is going to give up his nuclear weapons, which he sees — quite rationally — as a guarantee against foreign invasion or a move to depose him.

The last thing Kim wants is any loss of face with his own people, or other Asian nations.

The Panmunjom Declaration recently signed by the two Korean leaders was partly designed to create “the optics of success for Trump.” I’m sure they were also intended to create the optics of success for Kim.

But Trump started celebrating a tad prematurely:

Since the moment he agreed on a whim to a summit between himself and Kim Jong Un, President Trump has been almost giddy about the breakthrough he’s about to achieve, even musing about his upcoming Nobel Peace Prize.

But like everything about being president, it’s turning out to be more complicated than Trump understands.

The release of North American prisoners also was a gift to Trump.  A good quasi-Confucian would have receprocated with humble and conciliatory language, at least, but that’s not a game Trump knows how to play. Trump’s bragging and Bolton’s “Libya” comments were not what Pyongyang expected. I suspect the only thing that might save the Singapore summit is if Trump did some ritual groveling now. I’m not holding my breath.

8 thoughts on “The North Korea Debacle

  1. As usual, Trump picks the most crashingly corrupt, stupid, incompetent people on the planet (Seriously, though, who else would work for him?). And he hires Bolton in spite of the creepy mustache; that should have been a tip off. I believe Trump, actually, commented on it and still hired him.

    Maybe Bolton and Ms. Gina The Dom need to be put on an island somewhere to resolve their personal kinks.

  2. Just spitballing as usual, but if I were president, I'd say keep your nukes, but we'll give you massive aid if you shut some prisons down and free a few hundred thousand prisoners.

  3. BTW I recently read the book McMafia, and one of the things it said was that when you buy something with a "Made in China" label, there's a chance it was actually made by NK prison labor. Never heard about that before…

  4. "So much going on with Trump it’s hard to keep track"

    Sometimes I wonder: will it be boring when he's finally out of office? Will there be anything left. Any Joy at all?

    • “Will there be anything left. Any Joy at all?”

      I considered retiring the blog when Barack Obama was elected, but I decided to keep it going just in case anything happened. Also I think some of you need a safe space to hang out. 🙂

  5. Kim and Trump were a case of dictator meets dictator wannabe. Each recognized in the other that the alpha male bluster and saber rattling was aimed at their own respective political bases, not really at each other. The prospective summit became a win-win in which each of them could gain prestige.

    But then Trump brought Bolton on board, who really does want to dominate or destroy Kim, and who knows how to take advantage of Trump's laziness. Game over, probably. But we'll see. 

  6. Trump's nose has been out of joint ever since he failed to win an Emmy. Guess how he feels about Obama having a Nobel Peace Prize. Just meeting Kim would have been enough to Trump to say he did Everything for Peace but Kim robbed him. (But he'll say he deserves the prize anyway.) The horses haven't gotten out of the gate, and Trump will offer Kim anything for the meeting Trump thinks will earn him international respect at the great peacemaker. (Trump thinks he can direct the world to ignore the US partnership with Israel.) The fact that previous sitting presidents refused Kim and his daddy the photo-op without concrete concessions in advance is lost on Trump. 

    Kim wants the meeting for the same photo-op. For Kim, the photo of him with Trump proves that having nukes makes you equal to the POTUS. The dictator will have respect on the world stage and Trump's flattery.  The fat short dictator will NEVER give up all his nukes – it's what got him to the world stage. Like Trump's tax returns, Kim will talk about giving them, up in exchange for real concessions, but he'll never put out all the way – tease, tease, tease but never give them everything. 

    The meeting is as inevitable as the failure of talks. The meeting gives both men false legitimacy they both crave. 

    Both men are proven liars and con men. Kim and his daddy have made promises they never kept to get what they wanted. Sound familiar? Trump promises his contractors and pays them just enough to keep them on the job until completion. When Trump has what he wants he stiffs them on the balance he owes. The only way a summit (which I say will happen) will have any consequence is if one side or the other can get what they want before they have to pay on their side of the deal.

    If Trump says we will lift sanctions today and you destroy the nukes later, Kim won. He'll suck Trump along for years with token nuclear disarmament. If Trump refuses to lift sanctions until there is complete, verifiable disarmament, Kim will never bite. (That's the Libya model which would bring Kim’s destruction the day after he can't threaten us or our allies.) If they meet in the middle somewhere, Kim wins. He'll force Trump into incremental concessions in exchange for a dog and pony show of phony disarmament. Trump will accept phony rather than admit he was out-negotiated. I think this is the deal Kim is after, coupled with the goodwill gesture of complete US military withdrawl from S. Korea.

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