My, my, my. North Korea is in a snit over National Security Adviser John Bolton who urged it to follow the Libya model of total denuclearization. Everyone knows how that ended. The North declared yesterday that it finds Bolton “repugnant,” a sentiment that is actually widely shared around the world, and that it wants an end to the “ruckus” surrounding the talks. Indeed Pyongyang is threatening to blowup the summit talks altogether.
Will President Trump, who has been childishly eager to meet Kim Jong-un and land a prized photo op, realize that there is something wrong with this picture? Trump is being outmanoeuvred both by the North – and by his own adviser. By invoking Libya, Bolton pretty much ensured that Pyongyang would retaliate. And so it has.
Bolton is surely elated. Bolton has never met an arms control deal he didn’t want to sabotage. It’s part of his genetic makeup, as much an element of him as his fabled walrus moustache. My guess is that it starts to quiver as soon as he sees the word “arms” starting to form on someone else’s lips. To him it’s synonymous with disarmament. And unlike Trump, who began to talk about “World Peace,” Bolton was never disarmed by Kim.
Trump is in a predicament largely of Bolton’s making. Despite all the folderol about American power cowing the North into submission, it is Trump who is desperate for a diplomatic success. Oil prices are soaring. Europe is intent on salvaging the Iran nuclear deal. China is flexing its trade muscles to extract concessions.
The North will use the coming weeks to try and bully Trump. It has already made plain that if a summit occurs it will be on the North’s terms. It struck first by threatening to walk. Perhaps, in dealing with the Trump administration, it is adopting the motto of Bolton’s memoir: surrender is not an option.