President Trump assured us he had removed — not just diminished, removed — the North Korean nuclear missile threat. He’d done what no other sitting president had done, namely met with the North Korean dictator. (He thinks this was an accomplishment, not realizing Kim Jong Un had gotten what no other president would give away — the stature of the United States — without sacrificing anything.)
Trump aides and sycophants insisted the propaganda coup for Kim, Trump’s slavish praise for the brutal human rights criminal, Trump’s indifference to his reign of terror, etc., were all worthwhile because we had gotten “something.” Oddly, the agreement marking the end of the Singapore summit looked like an even more watery version of the thin gruel we had gotten from past meetings. There were some generic promises about denuclearization, but the “verifiable” and “irreversible” parts of complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization (CVID) were not in the document, an omission that when pointed out sparked a snippy retort from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
None of that mattered, because we are now on the road to CVID, right? Actually, we are nowhere; the diplomatic process has not even begun. And we have no timeline.
In an exclusive telephone interview with CNN to mark his first two months in office, Pompeo said he wanted to see continued progress toward North Korean denuclearization, a promise leader Kim Jong Un made to President Donald Trump at their June 12 summit in Singapore. But the top US diplomat, Trump’s point man on North Korea, declined to set a deadline by which he wanted to see the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea make visible steps toward that goal. Pompeo has said in the past that he wanted to see full North Korean denuclearization before the end of Trump’s first term in 2020.
Even worse, we have now redefined good-faith negotiation as no negotiation:
“We hope that we will have an ongoing process of making progress,” Pompeo said Sunday.
Referring to Trump’s decision to suspend US military exercises in the region, Pompeo said that “the President was clear. Each of the actions we have taken, his decision to suspend the high level war games, it’s only so long as there is a good faith negotiation progress, productive results being achieved. If we can’t do that, if it turns out that there is no capacity to deliver the outcome that both presidents said they wanted, yeah, we reassess.”
We “will have” a process. Someday. We hope. Do we think Trump will ever declare that his new friend Kim is not acting in good faith? That would require admitting he was snookered in Singapore. We are very early in the “process,” as diplomats like to say, but thanks to the president proving himself such an easy mark, the entire “maximum pressure” strategy has been turned on its head. We’re back to trusting that nice words bring real negotiations and CVID.
Talks with North Korea without a timeline are more of the same diplomatic quicksand we’ve been through before. The only difference is now Kim knows Trump won’t use military force and is unlikely to ramp up economic sanctions because he “trusts” Kim. (This makes the Obama crew look downright Machiavellian in their handling of Iran; at least President Barack Obama and then-Secretary of State John F. Kerry had the good graces to repeat that, because we do NOT trust a rogue state, we need ample verification.)
“Secretary Pompeo’s public posture on this might reflect a careful strategy to protect genuine progress at the negotiating table,” acknowledges former Hillary Clinton foreign policy adviser Jake Sullivan. But given the paper-thin commitment Kim gave to Trump in Singapore, the more likely explanation is that Pompeo is aggressively trying to lower expectations and condition us all for an outcome — that so many predicted — in which Pyongyang never gives up the nukes.
It does not shock me that Trump has become a patsy for another wily dictator. The rogue gallery of autocrats has figured out how to manipulate the foolish, narcissistic president. I am, however, a bit surprised the previously hawkish and responsible Pompeo is facilitating this farce. Surely he knows the United States is being taken for a ride. Doesn’t he?