Trump Agrees to Meet Kim Jong Un

Just hours after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the United States is "a long ways from negotiations" with North Korea, the White House confirmed a South Korean announcement (yes, really) that Donald Trump would meet with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un "at a place and time to be determined."

This is a troubling idea (at best) for a lot of reasons, primarily because Trump reversed decades of established diplomatic protocol without so much as a serious consultation with the State Department, which, not incidentally, is decimated after the first year of his presidency.

Particularly relevant here: The State Department's point-person on North Korea, Joseph Yun, retired in February and has not been replaced, and the Trump administration has not even yet nominated an ambassador to South Korea.

Despite the exasperating readiness of a significant segment of the political press to determine this could be a genius move, Trump's gambit blindsided U.S. diplomats and created a diplomatic clusterfuck:
Trump's high-wire gambit to accept a meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un sets off a scramble among U.S. officials to assemble a team capable of supporting a historic summit of longtime adversaries and determine a viable engagement strategy.

State Department officials, including Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, were playing down the immediacy of talks in the hours before the White House rolled out the South Korean national security adviser, who made the surprise announcement that Trump would meet with Kim.

The apparent lack of coordination marked a pattern of mixed messaging that has characterized the Trump administration's North Korea diplomacy since Pyongyang launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile last year, sparking the Trump White House's biggest national security crisis to date.

Now the White House has committed to an unprecedented meeting at a time when the administration lacks a fully staffed cadre of diplomats and advisers.

...Past negotiators say full-fledged talks would require the United States to have a disciplined process and a team across government agencies working out the nuts and bolts of any agreement. They urged the administration to get ready for such a heavy lift if it was prepared to make a serious attempt.
I cannot even begin to fathom what a "serious attempt" at diplomatic negotiations between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un would look like.

That's not only because neither Trump nor Kim has ever demonstrated even a hint of being serious, stable, level-headed leaders, but also because this entire idea seems to be rooted in the deeply unserious premise that Trump has achieved something no other president could — which is absolute nonsense (but does fall directly in alignment with Trump's delusions of unique grandeur).

As Eastsidekate quite rightly noted: "The talks ARE the reward." North Korea has been actively seeking a summit with a U.S. president since Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, petitioned then-President Bill Clinton for a meeting decades ago. The rogue regime desperately wants legitimacy on the global stage, and, repeatedly denied it, they used the development of a nuclear program to try to force the world to take them seriously.

Trump imagines he's doing something no other president could do, but what he's actually doing is something no other president would do.

Because even to agree to speak to Kim is to give him a major win.

As Ankit Panda writes at the Daily Beast: "For Kim, a meeting with Trump will be an unalloyed propaganda victory."
Kim will be given the opportunity to stage-manage a photo-op with a U.S. president. The costs of a freeze in nuclear and ballistic missile testing for the next two months are relatively minor for North Korea compared to the benefits of a meeting with Trump.

...A face-to-face meeting with Kim would require Trump to exercise cautious, measured engagement. He'd have to hear out what the North Korean leader has to say and know where the red lines lie. North Korea's long-term play on the Korean Peninsula is to "decouple" the United States and South Korea.

During his campaign for the presidency, Trump showed more interest in sitting down for a "hamburger" with Kim than he did in the alliance with South Korea, complaining about the costs of maintaining a forward-based military presence there. Those instincts still live within Trump and are ripe for exploitation by North Korea, which has had plenty of time to study him.
At some point, someone might try to explain this to Trump, and he might realize that he once again looks like a complete jackass who's embarrassingly out of his depth. But, this time, he can't just casually change his mind like usual.

South Korean National Security Adviser Chung Eui-yong said that Trump will meet Kim to "achieve permanent denuclearization" by the end of May. This is an extraordinary promise which seems very unlikely.

There's little chance the United States, or South Korea, will get what they want from this meeting, if it even happens. But even in the promise that it will, North Korea has already gotten something precious.

And that's why wiser presidents never made such a promise in the first place.

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