Uh-oh. President Trump is wading into diplomatic waters in North Korea that he may have trouble navigating. Yesterday, he proudly revealed that talks with North Korea have been taking place at the “highest levels.” He also gave his blessing to the prospect of a peace treaty between the two Koreas, which currently only enjoy an armistice. But Trump also indicated that he wants to try and keep his options open: “It’ll be taking place probably in early June, or a little before that, assuming things go well. It’s possible things won’t go well, and we won’t have the meetings and we’ll just continue to go along this very strong path that we’ve taken. But we’ll see.”
The blunt fact is that Trump has a lot more riding on the meeting taking place than the portly pariah of Pyongyang. Trump needs to score a foreign policy success. Big time. The North Koreans, not so much. In many ways, the North Koreans have already run the tables, as it were. Any talk of delivering a “bloody nose” to North Korea is null and void. Its relationship with China seems to have solidified. And Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, has already visited North Korea to prepare the ground for talks.
It will be hard for Trump to resist some kind of deal. He’s desperate to show that unlike Barack Obama, he can deliver the goods when it comes to dealing with North Korea. Nor is this all. The more he becomes enmeshed in domestic controversies, the more Trump will search for a foreign policy triumph. Stormy Daniels and her lawyer Michael Avenatti are running rings around Trump. Their latest publicity stunt was to release a sketch of the man whom Daniels alleges threatened her in a Las Vegas parking lot. This morning Trump tweeted, “A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!” This was a foolish move by Trump. It would be far better for him to remain silent rather than to engage with his adversaries. As Avenatti tweeted this morning, “In my experience, there is nothing better in litigation than having a completely unhinged, undisciplined opponent who is prone to shooting himself in the foot. Always leads to BIGLY problems…like new claims (i.e. defamation). LOL. #xmas #hanukkah #basta”. How right he is.
Whether Trump will be in the proper psychological condition to carry out delicate talks is another question. News reports indicate that his rage over the raid on his personal lawyer Michael Cohen meant that Trump was barely able to focus on the various military options for striking Syria. Would Trump really be prepared to leave the United States if Robert Mueller issued fresh indictments of his associates? What if Cohen flips?
Meanwhile, there is also the pesky problem of where the talks could take place. Trump quite rightly doesn’t want to be perceived as traveling to the DMZ as a supplicant. One place that has been mentioned is the Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia. It’s too bad that the Trump hotel in Baku has never opened. Kim Jong-un is reportedly worried that his antediluvian airplanes can’t fly very far, but if Trump were to dangle the prospect of a state dinner at the White House, maybe he would chance it.