The Summit That Won't Die


It was Donald Trump who was supposed to play hard to get. Instead, it's Kim Jong-Un - and it's working all too well.

Three weeks ago, Donald Trump and TrumpWorld were fully immersed in erotic Nobel Peace Prize fantasies. Two weeks ago, confident that the American president was more than sufficiently hooked, North Korean communist despot Kim Jong-Un pulled away the nuclear football and effectively canceled the summit of The Donald's figuratively moist dreams. A week ago, after several days of trying to spin frantically to the contrary, Trump switched directions and attempted to make a big splash of canceling himself a summit that had already been nixed. And we pro-American foreign policy realists heaved a yuge sigh of relief, urging the POTUS to leave this pointless, terrible summit idea in its grave, whomever you want to credit with putting it there.

And this week? This week, we have redundant confirmation that this interminable saga is just another Donald Trump-produced "reality television" series ("Donnie and Kim"), as in this week's episode, the Nobel quest, as was depressingly predictable, has resumed with a passionate vengeance - if indeed it ever really ceased:

The Trump administration is still preparing for next month's summit between Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un — and "as the president says, if it happens, we'll certainly be ready," White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Wednesday.

"We're continuing to prepare for the meeting between the president and the North Korean leader," Sanders told reporters.

She said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was meeting with Trump as the daily press briefing occurred and he would be heading to New York later Wednesday for two days of talks with Pyongyang officials on the June 12th summit.

And the one-word question arises, unbidden, to the public collective consciousness anew: Why? What in God's Name for? Besides Trump's egotistical compulsion to be center-stage at one of those grandiose treaty-signing ceremonies where both leaders affix their signatures to comically-large documents in comically-larger binders, followed by grinning hand-shakes for the snapping cameras as the assembled global media hail this "historic" accomplishment. Well, it might be muted quite a bit for this media and this president, but you know what I mean. He wants to be Tricky Dick Nixon (not in the way he's far more likely to be), reprising that setting as his predecessor enjoyed twice in six months with the Soviets and ChiComms, respectively, back in 1972. Or Ronald Reagan signing the INF treaty alongside Mikhail Gorbachev fifteen years later.

Trump wants this. He lusts after it. He has to have it. And Kim Jong-Un knows it. Which is why this whole thing is such a bad idea.

Remember the first rule of negotiating (or "deal-making", if you prefer): The side that is more willing to walk away from the table and not come back is the side that has the advantage. If you want a deal too much, and especially if you make it too obvious to the people across from you, that is a fatal weakness in any round of talks, because they know that you'll be making most, if not all, of the concessions, no matter how bad a deal that produces. Barack Obama's Iran nuclear "deal" is the classic example.

Recall in the bigger picture, though, that the reason why negotiating to get the Norks to give up their nuclear program has always failed over the past generation is because the very existence of their nuclear program puts them in the driver's seat before talks ever begin. Pyongyang has something we want - nuclear weapons to be gotten rid of - and we have nothing that they want, though they're happy to take whatever we give them in pursuit of our ephemeral goal. Since the NoKos don't have to make concessions, they're free to employ whatever tactics they wish - belligerent saber-rattling, playing hard to get, and offering fake concessions they have no intention of ever keeping.

Here's a brief stroll down memory lane:

North Korea has a long history of scamming American presidents. Since the North Korean nuclear age began, the country has had several rounds of peace talks – and made several deals – with several presidents. In 1994, Bill Clinton signed a deal in which the U.S. and its allies provided the North with $4 billion in energy aid, including two nuclear reactors that could not manufacture weapons-grade material. In exchange, North Korea was supposed to give up its nuclear weapons program.

Instead, North Korea announced in 2002 that it had nuclear weapons. President Bush, who had called North Korea a part of the “Axis of Evil,” removed North Korea from the state terror list in order to advance the Six Party Talks, which also included South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan. The group came to an agreement in which Pyongyang agreed to give up its nuclear program in exchange for food and energy aid.

Instead, the North Koreans announced in 2006 that they had exploded a nuclear weapon. The Obama administration applied sanctions in coordination with the U.N. Security Council. In 2012, Kim Jong Un agreed to halt nuclear tests in exchange for more aid, but the North continued to test both nuclear weapons and missiles.

What lesson should be taken away from this historical baseline? The logical, rational, reasonable one is that negotiating with North Korea, or any rogue regime, to wheedle, woo, and bribe them out of their nukes - i.e. the only means they possess of not winding up like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi - is a pointless waste of time because they will never, ever give them up. Nukes are their insurance policy against "regime-change". They can no more relinquish that deterrent than we would, and for much the same reason.

And it's not like Trump isn't being advised accordingly:

A newly revealed CIA assessment reportedly shows that the agency considers it unlikely that the hermit kingdom will hand over its nukes, but did suggest the possibility of a surprising concession to Donald Trump.

The CIA assessment, reported by NBC News and sourced to three U.S. officials, detailed the agency’s belief that North Korea would not voluntarily give up its nuclear weapons any time soon. The CIA did conclude that Kim is interested in a peaceful overture toward Trump. The report concluded that the North Koreans might be willing to open a McDonald’s hamburger franchise in their capitol city of Pyongyang, citing Donald Trump’s affinity for the fast food chain.

Now THAT is believable. Eminently so, in fact. Because in reality it is a resumption of the Trump-Kim insult contest from last summer, just cloaked in a "diplomatic" context. Effectively, whereas the Un-dictator was openly calling the president a "dotard" back then, now he's calling him a fat slob and a dimwit who can be bought off with ersatz flattery and a few Big Macs. It's an expression of snickering contempt.

One would think that this would trigger another trademark Trump Twitter-tantrum. One would, apparently, be wrong:

"The conversation is going to be focused on denuclearization of the peninsula," Sanders said. "That's what these ongoing conversations taking place now will be centered on, as well as this summit that would take place in Singapore.

"We're going to continue as long as that is part of the discussion," she added. "We're going to continue to shoot for the June 12th."

Except denuclearization is not part of the discussion. It never has been, going back a quarter of a century, and it never will be. The diametric opposite is true. Denuclearization negotiations with North Korea have aided their nuclearization with one economic aid package after another while now-four U.S. administrations willfully deluded themselves that "peace is just around the corner".

Remember how Donald Trump was going to "burn down" this kind of demented "thinking"? Overturn the "D.C. establishment" that makes "dumb, stupid deals" that only help our enemies and sucker America? How he was going to put us on the mother of all "winning" streaks? Looks like that Donald Trump never existed, doesn't it?

As an "oh, by the way" postscript, the Trump administration issued a fresh warning Tuesday about malicious North Korean cyber activity, highlighting two pieces of malware said to have been used to target U.S. infrastructure and aerospace, financial and media companies for at least nine years to steal information and remotely manipulate networks. But somehow we can believe that they'll commit regime-suicide by giving up their nukes THIS time.

And the punchline? Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with North Korea’s foreign policy chief, Ri Yong Ho, yesterday to discuss "issues important to both of them as well as those relating to the entire Korean Peninsula".

No wonder The Donald won't give up this disastrous summit obsession. He's going to get his seat at what he considers to be the "cool kids'" table, no matter what it costs....everybody else.

UPDATE: So after Trump lavished a face to face White House meeting on Kim Yong Chol, Kim Jong-Un's vice-despot, this afternoon, and then emerging from it to beamingly announce that the June 12th Singapore summit is back on in exchange for absolutely nothing, the story broke this evening that the Norks' alleged demolition of their nuclear testing facilities - to which only reporters were invited but from which any weapons inspectors or nonproliferation experts were barred - was nothing but propaganda BS.

Good. Freaking. Lord. North Korea might as well be dealing with Forrest Gump after chugging a case of Red Bull and gobbling a Hefty bag of amphetamines. If Trump were a prom date, his legs would already be in the air. We'll be lucky if he doesn't cough up Guam, Hawaii, and Alaska along with all his golden escalators for Kim's palace. If Steve Berman isn't fetal with embarrassment yet, he darn well ought to be.

The end