President Trump on Friday canceled Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s planned trip to North Korea, citing insufficient progress on the issue. (The Post)
Opinion writer

For more than two months since the Singapore summit between President Trump and North Korean tyrant Kim Jong Un, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has assured us that Trump’s brilliant strategy was working. We’ve given up nothing, Pompeo said, ignoring the PR coup for Kim and the cancellation of U.S.-South Korea joint exercises. We still have sanctions, he insisted — ignoring the assistance extended by China to Pyongyang. We’re making progress in talks, he assured us.

In July, he testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. CNN recounted, “Pompeo would not say publicly if North Korea is still moving forward with its nuclear program. He told [a] senator he’d answer the question ‘in a different setting.’ . . . When Sen. Ed Markey expressed concerns that the US was being ‘taken for a ride’ by North Korea, Pompeo quickly responded, saying, ‘Fear not, senator. Fear not.'”

After visits to North Korea, Pompeo downplayed signs that Pyongyang had never changed its tune. On July 8, the Associated Press reported:

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday brushed aside North Korea’s accusation of “gangster-like” denuclearization demands. Pompeo maintained that his third visit to the country had produced results but also vowed that sanctions would remain until Pyongyang follows through on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s pledge to get rid of his atomic weapons. . . . Speaking after meeting with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts in Tokyo, Pompeo said his two days of talks in Pyongyang had been productive and conducted in good faith.

It is not clear what he was trying to accomplish by all this happy talk. Perhaps he did not want to enrage his boss by revealing that Trump’s nauseating bowing and scraping in Singapore had actually made things worse, demonstrating to Kim that Trump is a fool who can be played while North Korea advances its nuclear program and gets economic relief from China.

So when Trump abruptly canceled the trip after a closed-door briefing on talks from Pompeo, the jig was up. North Korea hasn’t been negotiating in good faith at all. In fact, we’ve gotten zilch for our concession on military exercises and for elevating and flattering Kim. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Mr. Trump’s decision appeared to take State Department officials by surprise. Mr. Pompeo named a new special representative for North Korea, Stephen Biegun, to lead the talks only a day earlier, and staffers were preparing for the trip to go ahead on Sunday as planned.

Mr. Pompeo was in a meeting with Mr. Trump in the White House when the president wrote the tweets calling off the meeting, a person familiar with the matter said. The president made the decision after talking to Mr. Pompeo and getting an update on the state of negotiations, which have been gridlocked since Mr. Trump met North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in June.

Trump chose to blame China, without explanation. But the fault lies in the White House not Beijing, which has also learned to play the president (e.g. getting a new lease on life for ZTE) and test our fortitude on sanctions. . . . Mr. Trump has long insisted the talks with North Korea were progressing well, and Friday’s tweets were the first indication that progress was going slower than expected.

As recently as last month, Mr. Trump tweeted that the U.S. was having “many good conversations with North Korea-it is going well!”

Well, I guess they weren’t going so well after all.

This is what happens when you flatter a narcissistic, ignorant president. Trying to preserve the image of effectiveness and competence simply delays the inevitable recognition that North Korea never had any intention of denuclearizing. When Trump finally acknowledges reality, he makes both himself and his secretary of state look foolish or dishonest or both. Unfortunately for Pompeo, he’s beginning to resemble his predecessor, Rex W. Tillerson — who allies and foes soon learned didn’t really speak for the president and whom Congress learned not to trust. More honesty and less happy talk to butter up his boss would serve Pompeo well.