So much for the Nobel Peace Prize that Donald Trump said “everyone thinks” he should receive. The New York Times reports that Trump is starting to get second thoughts about visiting Singapore on June 12 to hold a summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. Trump boasted earlier that if they cut a deal, Kim would be “very, very happy.” Now it’s starting to dawn on the Trump administration that it’s getting played by the portly pariah of Pyongyang.
Even as Trump abrogated the Iran nuclear deal, he was confident that he, and he alone, had the magic touch that would persuade North Korea to hand over its nuclear stockpile to America. He would, in turn, play the role of the benignant emperor, showering economic largesse upon Pyongyang. Perhaps he even had dreams of making Jared Kushner viceroy of North Korea, while Ivanka started up a new clothing factory with a fresh source of cut-rate labor.
But Pyongyang’s threats to cancel the summit are starting to bring the administration back to earth with a bump. Trump is set to meet with South Korean president Moon Jae-in on Tuesday. Trump is apparently starting to conclude that Moon overpromised on the North’s readiness to deal, which may be true. But the truth is that Trump, who has always claimed prodigious bargaining powers, has only himself to blame if he was hornswoggled.
One worry that Trump is reportedly voicing is that any deal he produces has to be better than what Barack Obama was able to extract from Iran. The problem he confronts, of course, is that Iran didn’t possess nuclear weapons and the deal that Obama cut included Tehran’s shipping out 97 per cent of its nuclear materials. The bluff and bombast that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered today at a speech at the Heritage Foundation about isolating Iran can’t disguise the fact that it is the United States that is now isolated as China and Russia move toward closer ties with Tehran.
At the same time, Trump has already given away his negotiating leverage when it comes to North Korea. The North knows that he won’t be able to convince, or, to put it more precisely, bully South Korea into returning to a hard-line posture. Anyway, Trump, who is refusing to sit through briefings about the North’s nuclear capabilities, would likely be woefully unprepared to handle Kim.
If Trump is confronting difficulties in handling North Korea, he doesn’t seem to be doing much better with China, either. The trade war with Beijing, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin announced, is “on hold.” In other words, it’s over before it ever began. Some vague promises about buying several hundred billion in goods from America are apparently enough to fob off the Trump administration. Senator Marco Rubio stated on Sunday in a tweet that “#China has outnegotiated the U.S. again.” One reason is that Trump remains desperate to salvage something from his negotiations over Korea and is publicly importuning Beijing for help with North Korea. He tweeted, “China must continue to be strong & tight on the Border of North Korea until a deal is made. The word is that recently the Border has become much more porous and more has been filtering in. I want this to happen, and North Korea to be very successful, but only after signing!” Oh, dear. It increasingly looks as though Trump, to use one of his favorite epithets, is getting schlonged by America’s adversaries.