Our worst fear about Trump’s narcissism is his susceptibility to praise. As I and others have written before, once you understand that, then manipulating Trump is easy. We don’t know what happened when the two leaders were in a one-on-one private meeting. But what we now know is that Kim walked away with Trump’s commitment to stop the military exercises with South Korea, Trump’s promise of North Korean security guarantees, and nothing changed with respect to NK’s nuclear program other than Kim’s “commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” reports Reuters in Historic Trump-Kim summit ends with promise, light on substance. And what did Trump get? Nada.
“President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” the statement said, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
But the most important thing was another win for Kim and a loss for Trump. They met as co-equals. The interspersed flags was a stark reminder of the entrance of North Korea onto the world stage. And Donald Trump put them there.
With respect to our military presence on the Korean peninsula and the military exercises with South Korea, Trump’s rhetoric was straight out of a North Korean playbook. Trump calls them “provocative” and “war games” reports Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) in Trump echoes North Korean rhetoric on military exercises.
Perhaps the most notable substantive development from Donald Trump’s summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un was the American president’s latest concession: Trump announced that he’s curtailing scheduled military exercises with our South Korean allies.
Consider, for example, what the Republican told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. From the network’s transcript:
“[W]e’re not gonna play the war games. You know, I wanted to stop the war games, I thought they were very provocative. But I also think they’re very expensive. We’re running the country properly, I think they’re very, very expensive. To do it, we have to fly planes in from Guam – that’s six and a half hours away. Big bombers and everything else, I said, ‘Who’s paying for this?’ I mean, who pays, in order to practice.
“So one of the things that I suggested and I wanna do is we’re going to stop the war games, unless for some reason, we’re unable to go further.”
Similarly, at his press conference, Trump three times called the military exercises “very provocative,” adding, “I think it’s inappropriate to be having war games.” The president went on to say “like to be able to bring” U.S. troops home from South Korea.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but if North Korean officials had literally written the talking points for the White House, they probably would’ve sounded similar to this. Kim Jong-un is the one who condemns joint U.S./South Korea military exercises as “provocative” and “inappropriate.”
And now the sitting American president is saying the same thing, effectively endorsing North Korean propaganda – handing Kim another concession in exchange for very little.
Rachel spoke to retired four-star Navy Admiral James Stavridis, a former supreme allied commander of NATO, about the developments last night, and he said something that stood out for me.
“We ought to remember,” Stavridis explained, “our troops are there, not as an act of goodwill toward South Korea, they’re there to enhance U.S. influence in the region, to ensure that we keep those sea-lanes of communication open, that our trade can flow freely, that we have a voice in the events there…. They’re not there as an act of goodwill; they’re there to accomplish U.S. national security objectives.”
Someone really ought to let the president know.
The problem is that Trump may not be capable of knowing that or even knowing that he got snookered. (Look it up.) That’s the conclusion by Nicholas Kristof at the NY Times. Kristof’s headline was equally blunt: Trump Was Outfoxed in Singapore (h/t Jana Eaton)
It sure looks as if President Trump was hoodwinked in Singapore.
Trump made a huge concession — the suspension of military exercises with South Korea. That’s on top of the broader concession of the summit meeting itself, security guarantees he gave North Korea and the legitimacy that the summit provides his counterpart, Kim Jong-un.
Within North Korea, the “very special bond” that Trump claimed to have formed with Kim will be portrayed this way: Kim forced the American president, through his nuclear and missile tests, to accept North Korea as a nuclear equal, to provide security guarantees to North Korea, and to cancel war games with South Korea that the North has protested for decades.
In exchange for these concessions, Trump seems to have won astonishingly little. In a joint statement, Kim merely “reaffirmed” the same commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula that North Korea has repeatedly made since 1992.
“They were willing to de-nuke,” Trump crowed at his news conference after his meetings with Kim. Trump seemed to believe he had achieved some remarkable agreement, but the concessions were all his own.
The most remarkable aspect of the joint statement was what it didn’t contain. There was nothing about North Korea freezing plutonium and uranium programs, nothing about destroying intercontinental ballistic missiles, nothing about allowing inspectors to return to nuclear sites, nothing about North Korea making a full declaration of its nuclear program, nothing about a timetable, nothing about verification, not even any clear pledge to permanently halt testing of nuclear weapons or long-range missiles.
Kim seems to have completely out-negotiated Trump, and it’s scary that Trump doesn’t seem to realize this. For now Trump has much less to show than past negotiators who hammered out deals with North Korea like the 1994 Agreed Framework, which completely froze the country’s plutonium program with a rigorous monitoring system.
Trump claimed an “excellent relationship” with Kim, and it certainly is better for the two leaders to be exchanging compliments rather than missiles. In a sense, Trump has eased the tensions that he himself created when he threatened last fall to “totally destroy” North Korea. I’m just not sure a leader should get credit for defusing a crisis that he himself created.
There was also something frankly weird about an American president savaging Canada’s prime minister one day and then embracing the leader of the most totalitarian country in the world.
Incredibly, Trump told Voice of America that he had this message for the North Korean people: “I think you have somebody that has a great feeling for them. He wants to do right by them and we got along really well.”
It’s breathtaking to see an American president emerge as a spokesman for the dictator of North Korea.
All this is to say that Kim Jong-un proved the more able negotiator. North Korean government officials have to limit their computer time, because of electricity shortages, and they are international pariahs — yet they are very savvy and shrewd, and they were counseled by one of the smartest Trump handlers of all, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea.
My guess is that Kim flattered Trump, as Moon has, and that Trump simply didn’t realize how little he was getting. On my most recent visit to North Korea, officials were asking me subtle questions about the differences in views of Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley; meanwhile, Trump said he didn’t need to do much homework.
Whatever our politics, we should all want Trump to succeed in reducing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and it’s good to see that Trump now supports engagement rather than military options. There will be further negotiations, and these may actually freeze plutonium production and destroy missiles. But at least in the first round, Trump seems to have been snookered.