There’s been a certain je ne sais quoi quality to the White House’s discussion of the summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. Today we learned what it is.
President Donald Trump told North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during their Singapore summit in June that he’d sign a declaration to end the Korean War soon after their meeting, according to multiple sources familiar with the negotiations.
This was number one on Kim’s wish list. And Trump gave it to him, free for nothing.
You probably could have selected any one of the people I follow on Twitter, and they would have done a better job. That includes the artists and people who tweet mostly cats.
It’s hard to know how to approach this analytically. It is about the stupidest thing that Trump could have done, except for sending the missiles.
Trump probably went into the negotiation thinking that he would overpower the non-white, non-English-speaking ruler of a tiny and poor country, while finding common ground in their dictatorial propensities. They would shake hands, exchange a few nice words, and the deal would be done. Without a note-taker, nobody but he and Kim would know what went on. The photos would be taken, and Trump could go home and tweet out to the faithful that he had a good deal and Kim would soon be sending his nukes to us. We would then remove sanctions, and the North Koreans would have The Best Economy Ever, better than anyone ever thought.
Except international negotiations don’t work like real estate deals in which you intend to stiff the other party.
It’s hard to know what Trump was thinking. He’s badly out of his depth in terms of understanding the complexity of international relations, but he has felt for a long time that he could do better than anyone else. His negotiations have been one-off, which does privilege a willingness to stiff the other side, and, most likely, others in his organization have handled the details beyond the photo op and handshake and told him he was a brilliant negotiator.
One can imagine his debriefing to his aides and their inability to hide their horror. That would be followed by his feeling of shame or betrayal by his aides, who were supposed to continue the custom of congratulating him. Puzzlement, perhaps, too, that Kim was not keeping up what Trump felt to be his side of the deal.
Pompeo’s bizarre behavior in parroting Trump’s unrealistic expectations now becomes more understandable. It’s hard to know what to do when your boss has given away the store, so humoring him makes some sense. The payoff comes from the other side, who have expectations of their own. That was why Pompeo’s trip was canceled, and Kim Yong Chol’s acid remarks via letter and in person. The Americans weren’t coming through with their promised end-of-war agreement.
I need to think more about what kind of agreement would be best. The basic requirement of negotiation, though, is that you get something for something. Trump gave a promise with nothing expected in return. The North Koreans have made gestures in their partial decommissioning of their nuclear test site and and a missile launcher. They are looking for something from the American side beyond demands to give up 60% of their nuclear weapons.
The Vox scoop has obviously gotten under Trump’s skin. He felt it necessary to tweet, but what he tweeted didn’t make sense.
There’s quite a bit to unpack in those tweets, but I won’t do it just now. The best we can hope for out of this situation is that the talks fall apart and North Korea goes back to testing its weapons. Perhaps Pompeo can be obsequious enough to get both sides to continue the talks.
Cross-posted at Balloon Juice.