If you don’t recall a slew of senators and the intelligence community expressing panic about a president’s meeting with a third-world dictator whose radical ideology and intention were well known, it’s not just you. What we are hearing now in anticipation of President Trump’s second North Korea summit is unprecedented. The Post reports:
His intelligence chiefs warn that North Korea is unlikely to surrender its nuclear weapons. His advisers fret that a breakthrough could prove elusive and that he might make an impulsive concession to score headlines. And his allies around the world worry he could get easily outmaneuvered.
Yet, President Trump is steadfast in his determination to meet face-to-face here this week with Kim Jong Un, aides say, because he has an unwavering faith in the power of the pen-pal relationship he has cultivated with the North Korean leader not only to bend the course of history, but to shape his own legacy.
This is the sort of hyperpersonalized, fantastical thinking Republicans used to deplore. Trump not only seems willing to ignore some of the world’s worst human rights abuses but also affirmatively touts the abuser’s credentials and skills:
Trump gloats about the half dozen or so letters Kim has written him as if he were a smitten teenager in possession of valentines from a crush. White House officials refer to the diplomatic correspondence jokingly as “love letters.” Kim addresses Trump as “Your Excellency” and employs flowery language to describe the president’s energy and political smarts, according to people who have read them. Trump has shown the documents to dozens of Oval Office visitors and bragged about them in public.
“He wrote me beautiful letters — and they’re great letters,” Trump said in September at a rally in West Virginia. “We fell in love.”
To be certain, presidents of both parties have utterly failed to force North Korea’s denuclearization, in large part because they assumed a rational leader would give up pariah status and nukes in favor of inclusion in the international community without nukes. That failure of comprehension now manifests as outright delusion in Trump’s mind.
One would like to believe Trump is attempting to snow Kim Jong Un, a foolish and ineffective approach to a hardened dictator with distinct ideology and a clear mission. However, it is much worse: As we saw at the Singapore summit, Trump is fooling himself, imagining his personal charm bears concrete results.
Trump’s delusional mind-set makes him a sitting duck for Kim to trade flattery (of Trump) for concessions (from Trump). Kim already achieved a level of respectability no other North Korean leader has attained — without a single meaningful and irreversible concession — simply by virtue of a summit that turned into a PR coup.
No wonder so many Senate Democrats would sign onto a letter expressing horror at how the last summit went (“The Singapore meeting gave Kim — the leader of perhaps the world’s most repressive regime — legitimacy and acceptance on the global stage while effectively undermining our policy of maximum pressure and sanctions, which now appear to be in the process of showing strain, and putting at risk vital alliance relationships.") and warning the Trump White House not to repeat the diplomacy of flattery and self-delusion:
We hope you will execute a serious diplomatic plan, which includes a sequenced process to verifiably freeze and roll back North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs in conjunction with continued appropriate sanctions and other pressure; a robust deterrence posture; strengthened alliances; intensified diplomatic and economic engagement; and a deepening of North-South dialogue that over time can provide the pathway to full denuclearization and a durable peace agreement.
Part of the problem is Mike Pompeo, who, both now as secretary of state and previously as CIA director, knows North Korea has not changed its behavior or intentions. He nevertheless continues to indulge Trump’s ego, spinning the results of the most recent summit to the point of misleading lawmakers about the extent of negotiating progress. This time around, Congress should be aware that Pompeo’s word means little, and vague promises and timetables are worthless.
Trump is the perfect “useful idiot” — an American utterly unconcerned with his adversary’s true intentions, gullible to the point of blindness and desperate to be seen as a dealmaker. The intelligence community knows it. The Senate knows it. Worst of all, Kim knows it.