Maybe President Trump has finally given up on his cherished dream of Vladimir Putin as his new best friend. It seems that Kim Jong-un is supplanting him in his affections. Even as Trump tries to up the ante with Iran, his top officials are playing kissy-face with North Korea. Fears are swirling in Washington that in his desperation for a grand bargain, Trump may end up following a policy of appeasement toward the North with Singapore as the new Munich. It may not be long before Trump returns from Singapore brandishing a piece of paper, or at least issues a tweet, declaring “peace for our time.”
On “Fox News Sunday” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that, far from seeking to oust the portly pariah of Pyongyang, the Trump administration would offer him “security assurances, to be sure.” Kim, we were told, “Shares the objectives of the American people.” Pompeo went on to define the administration’s goal toward North Korea in very narrow terms indeed. “Make no mistake,” he said, “America’s interest here is preventing the risk that North Korea will launch a nuclear weapon into L.A. or Denver or to the very place we’re sitting here this morning.” If that is Washington’s only goal, then Trump could easily sellout South Korea by withdrawing American troops in exchange for a paper promise of denuclearization.
For now, Pompeo is holding out the prospect of a Wirtschaftswunder, or economic miracle, on the scale that took place in West Germany in the 1950s. American know-how and engineering will step in to build a North Korean electric grid. But would Trump really be willing to sign a free trade agreement with the North?
National Security Adviser John Bolton was more precise in detailing what he expected of the North: capitulation. Pyongyang, he indicated, would have to dismantle its nuclear weapons and allow them to be transported to Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Why the North would accede to these terms is something of a mystery. Having devoted decades to amassing a nuclear arsenal, it seems most improbable that it would suddenly relinquish its coveted arms simply because Trump called its supreme leader a few nasty names.
Meanwhile, Trump, for all his huffing and puffing about Chinese perfidy on trade, is now declaring that it’s imperative to assist Beijing in averting job losses. Presumably, he thinks that he can earn Beijing’s benison when it comes to North Korea by pulling back on trade threats. To widespread stupefaction, Trump tweeted on Sunday that he wants to terminate a ban on export privileges to a “massive Chinese phone company, ZTE.” Today, Trump said that “it will all work out.” Meanwhile, Bolton is announcing that he’s prepared to push for trade sanctions against American allies if they trade with Iran.
The internal contradictions, to use the old Soviet term, of the administration are becoming more glaring by the day. Trump isn’t following a coherent plan. The Pompeo and circumstance that surround Trump’s foreign policy can’t disguise the fact that he’s winging it.