Trump Chickens Out on the Singapore Summit

This morning, The Creature officially canceled the meeting with North Korea:

President Donald Trump will not meet North Korean leader Kim Jong Un next month for what would have been a historic diplomatic summit, he announced in a letter to Kim released by the White House Thursday morning.

“I was very much looking forward to being there with you. Sadly, based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” Trump wrote. “Therefore, please let this letter serve to represent that the Singapore summit, for the good of both parties, but to the detriment of the world, will not take place.”

And that Nobel Prize had been so close. Well, maybe some other time.

There have been a number of headlines in the past few days about how Trump is getting played by Kim Jong Un. I don’t doubt some people on the teevee have said this also, meaning this might have gotten back to Trump.

Go back to John Bolton’s comment about the Libya Model that almost scuttled the talks a few days ago. We all know that the Libya Model didn’t turn out well for Muammar el-Qaddafi. The last thing Kim Jong Un wants is to disarm himself of nuclear weapons (assuming he ever really considered that) and then have western powers roll over him anyway and put videos of his lifeless carcass being mutilated on YouTube.

So Pyongyang was not thrilled with the Libya Model talk, and Trump walked it back a few days later. The White House was at least dimly aware that talk of Libya was not conduicive to intra-national harmony.

But then, Aunt Lydia Pence went on Fox News to warn North Korea that Trump wouldn’t be played.

Aunt Lydia continued,

Pence said that the Clinton and Bush administrations “got played” in the past by offering concessions to Pyongyang if the country promised to dismantle its nuclear-weapons program, only to see those North Korean promises broken.

Trump isn’t concerned about a public-relations disaster if the June 12 meeting falls apart or doesn’t go well, even with a commemorative coin already struck. Trump, rather, is “thinking about peace,” the vice president said.

Pence added that Trump has made clear that the back-and-forth with North Korea will ”end like the Libyan model, if Kim doesn’t make a deal.”

By late yesterday North Korea was reacting with extreme indignation.

North Korea fired some highly charged statements toward US Vice President Mike Pence on Wednesday, all but torching what had been an otherwise conciliatory mood that the White House hoped to carry into a historic planned summit between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Choe Son Hui, North Korea’s vice minister of foreign affairs, called out Pence in a scathing statement and threatened to scuttle the Trump-Kim meeting set to take place in Singapore on June 12.

“Vice President Pence has made unbridled and impudent remarks that North Korea might end like Libya, military option for North Korea never came off the table, the US needs complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization, and so on,” Choe said in a statement, according to North Korea’s leading propaganda outlet.

“As a person involved in the US affairs, I cannot suppress my surprise at such ignorant and stupid remarks gushing out from the mouth of the US vice president,” Choe said.

Choe don’t know Pence very well, do he? But I doubt very much that Pence said anything he hadn’t been instructed to say. I bet Trump was aware that people thought he was being played. He’d rather blow up the summit than let it be said he was being played. And if anyone was going to call of the date, it would be Trump. Nobody jilts Trump.

So for now we’re being spared the ghastly prospect of the cartoon character in the White House actually negotiating nuclear disarmament with anybody.

Even now, CNN is reporting that North Korea had appeared to blow up its nuclear test site, although there had been earlier reports that the nuclear test site had already collapsed, and not intentionally.  This was supposed to be showing North Korea’s good intentions before the summit.  But I’m sure we’ll hear more details about what happened as the day goes on.

Update: Here’s another take. After noting that Trump had “accepted” North Korea’s non-invitation to a summit on impulse, Josh Marshall wrote,

It was clear to anyone who was really listening and who knows North Korea’s history that there was little reason to think the North Koreans were seriously considering giving up their nuclear deterrent. Indeed, why would they? They’ve made immense sacrifices to achieve it and see it – quite reasonably – as a guarantee that they will never face violent regime change from the United States or South Korea.

The planned meeting was based on a clear misunderstanding between the two parties, albeit a willful one to some degree and one each seem to think it could square in person or use to overawe the other party. We can rehearse all the reasons this fell apart. But fundamentally this was a massive goof by the President that ended up blowing up in his face. There’s simply no other way to put it. It’s not clear that we’re in a worse place now than we were before the meeting was announced. But we soon may be. It is notable that this report suggests the White House released this letter before informing the North Koreans of the decision. That was a bad, dangerous mistake. It seems, based on their initial response, that Trump had not consulted extensively and perhaps not at all with the South Koreans either. The South Korean government’s first response, as reported by Yonhap News Agency was that the President of South Korea would convene his top officials and was “trying to figure out what President Trump’s intention is and the exact meaning of it.”

JM notes that Trump’s letter is full of emotional neediness. Trump is one big bag of emotional neediness, frankly.

Update: Fred Kaplan:

By canceling his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, President Donald Trump has proved his lack of skill as a negotiator, handed the world’s most brutal dictator a win, and further isolated the United States as a world power.

In a letter to Kim, released at the same time as Western reporters were witnessing the destruction of North Korea’s nuclear test site, Trump wrote that proceeding with a summit would be “inappropriate,” given the “tremendous anger and open hostility” in Kim’s recent statements. He thus revealed how little he knows about the history of diplomacy with Pyongyang—a true expert could have told him that fiery rhetoric is par for the course—and about Kim’s long-standing position on the issues that were to be discussed.

Yep, mostly Trump has been making a fool of himself over North Korea, but unfortunately that reflects badly on all of us.

Trump’s big mistake was accepting Kim’s invitation to a summit without first discussing its potential risks and opportunities with people who know something about these things. His second, bigger mistake was hyping expectations, tweeting that a peace treaty was on the horizon and that he should win the Nobel Peace Prize simply for agreeing to meet. These absurd remarks only heightened his own stake in the summit’s success—and Kim’s leverage in the negotiations.

It’s also the case that Bolton and Pompeo were against the summit and probably were behind persuading Trump to torpedo it. And if Trump thinks Kim will come crawling back to the table, he can kiss that off. Kim has already won in the court of international public opinion, and no doubt realizes it.