I have long argued, going back almost three years (though I'm hardly the first or only one) that the way to effortlessly manipulate and swindle Donald Trump is to "be nice" to him, compliment him, stroke his ego. His colossal, Thanos-esque narcissism is his biggest vulnerability. Tell him how great he is and you can get anything you want out of him. It baffles me to this day that the Democrats have only infrequently and intermittently grasped that and exploited it to their advantage.
But America's enemies have definitely been paying attention. Vladimir Putin has played Trump like a ten-cent flute; ditto the New Mao, Xi Jin-Ping. If not for the sane national security people around him like Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and Chief of Staff John Kelly exercising regular soft insubordination, talking him out of "following his instincts," the country might already be in existential international crises. Or rather, worse crises than the ones Trump inherited from Barack Obama, anyway.
However, "Little Rocketman" may have surpassed them all with his Trump-targeted "charm offensive", which has already yielded him a veritable diplomatic bonanza that not even Obama ever lavished upon him:
[T]here can be no denying that North Korea has already achieved major diplomatic and strategic victories over the past year, while giving up exactly nothing. Pyongyang has tested nuclear weapons and long-range missiles at will. Months of heated threats from Washington were answered with equally muscular rhetoric. Kim stood fast: Today, the threats are over, but the arsenal remains. In the wake of Trump’s empty fulminations, Kim seized the opportunity to look reasonable by comparison. Consequently, a leader who just a few years ago was an international pariah — a man, we might recall, who murdered his own half-brother in a chemical attack in an international airport — is being lauded as a "diplomat". Kim is no longer just his father’s weird Mini-Me ruling over a prison camp: He is now, astonishingly, the peer of the president of the United States, described by Donald Trump himself as “very open" and "honorable.”
Remember when Donald Trump was going to put "America first"? Remember when he was going to kick ass and take names? Remember when he was going to be the tough, shrewd negotiator who would "win" so much that the American people would beg him to stop because they'd get so sick of "winning"? SuperTrump with a screeching bald eagle on each shoulder? Sorry, that guy never showed up. All it took for Kim to stand him down was bluff-calling and glad-handing. And now Trump is eating out of Kim's hand while South Korea's appeasenik president and #Cult45 are nominating him for Nobel Peace Prizes he hasn't remotely earned any more than Obama did. That would be the same Barack Obama that never personally met with Kim (despite promising to do so as part of his first-year global apology tour), and never made the concessions to the NoKos that his successor is contemplating:
President Trump has ordered the Pentagon to prepare options for drawing down American troops in South Korea, just weeks before he holds a landmark meeting with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-Un, according to several people briefed on the deliberations. Reduced troop levels are not intended to be a bargaining chip in Mr. Trump’s talks with Mr. Kim about his weapons program, these officials said. But they acknowledged that a peace treaty between the two Koreas could diminish the need for the 28,500 soldiers currently stationed on the peninsula.
Let's remember the purpose those 28,500 U.S. soldiers serve in South Korea, shall we? They're a trip-wire. They're insurance against a North Korean conventional attack against our ally. They're a deterrent. Getting the U.S. out of the Korean peninsula has been the top strategic objective of the Kim dynasty for decades. Why? Because they want to destroy the ROK and unite Korea under their control. It was true in 1950 and it's true today. That hasn't changed just because Dear Leader #3 shook President Moon's hand, waddled briefly across the border, and is plopping his kimchi-fed grin in front of the cameras. Kim is still "Little Rocketman". He still has his nukes and will never relinquish them. The only thing that has changed is Donald Trump's demeanor, and all it took was a few insincerely kind words lobbed in his direction.
The North Koreans have long demanded the withdrawal of America’s nearly thirty thousand soldiers from South Korea as a criterion for their cooperation. Never before has the United States hinted that such a withdrawal is negotiable. Ahead of last weekend’s summit between the two Korean leaders, Kim pretended to drop his regime’s demand for an American pullout, and South Korean president Moon Jae-in predictably seized on the statement as a diplomatic win. It was a strange moment and hard to divine its significance. We can only fall back on what we know. To repeat: It is Pyongyang’s chief foreign policy aim to preside over a united Korean peninsula, and there is no room in that vision for American troops. Whatever it may say from one moment to the next, the North wants the Americans gone.... With the United States out of the way, furthermore, Kim is sure to find a reason to “defend” his country by making war on the South, either with conventional or nuclear weapons. To fail to acknowledge that reality is, again, to misunderstand the nature of the Kim regime: Its leaders fully anticipate a time when the North subsumes the South under one totalitarian government.... We trust that sane minds in the administration will impress on the president the danger of even hinting that a withdrawal from South Korea is a possibility. The United States has very little to gain from these negotiations — and northeast Asia has a lot to lose.
Too late. The hint has been dropped. In advance of the summit that the Norks didn't have to earn, for which there is no purpose, and from which there is nothing to gain other than Trump's self-aggrandizement. Trump is moving in Kim's direction without even having to be prompted. It's like he's hypnotized.
President Donald Trump has not asked the Pentagon for options to reduce U.S. forces based in South Korea, U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton said in a statement on Friday. "The New York Times story is utter nonsense. The President has not asked the Pentagon to provide options for reducing American forces stationed in South Korea," Bolton said.
Translation: Trump did order the Pentagon to begin planning for a U.S. withdrawal from South Korea, it got leaked by somebody or somebodies properly horrified at such an insane move, and Bolton was sent out as the latest pooper-scooper to clean up the mess. Something for which I do not remotely pity the man because by this time, he had to know what he was getting himself and his personal reputation into by taking the job H.R. McMaster was doubtless profoundly relieved to be rid of. And now the defenestration of the once noble and stalwart John Bolton has begun.
The solace in this story, if there is any, is that maybe the U.S. position in this summit is now so hopelessly compromised and weakened that any ill-advised "breakthroughs" are no longer possible. Indeed, this summit, which should never have been agreed to in the first place, ought to be summarily deep-sixed. Then you remember the "tough, shrewd negotiator" who alone thought this was a whiz-bang idea and agreed to it on the spot before his sane advisers could talk him out of it. It's doubtful anybody can keep Trump from the Korean DMZ now, where he might effectively concede all of northeast Asia to Kim and Xi if he thinks it will get him his ersatz Nobel. He's got his predecessor's legacy to complete, after all.