As Jonah mentioned, I wrote about Trump and North Korea today. I think Trump deserves credit for, as an Asia expert put it to me the other day, “scaring the bejesus out of Kim”:
Donald Trump has a typically modulated view of how much he had to do with this. “Everything,” he told his Michigan rally. If that’s too boastful, the president deserves credit for breaking with Barack Obama’s policy of “strategic patience” that effectively meant accepting North Korea’s march toward a nuclear-tipped ICBM.
Trump tightened up on a sanctions regime that had considerable slack (it still does). And he undertook a Trumpian pressure campaign consisting of insults, fiery rhetoric, extreme ambiguity about his true intentions, and braggadocio about the size of his nuclear button. If many in the United States were freaked out, it stands to reason that Kim, at the receiving end of the bullying and potentially of something much worse, took notice.
This is all to the good, but the problem is that nothing we have seen so far from Kim is inconsistent with the decades-long North Korean diplomatic pattern of selling us the same fake concessions in exchange for sanctions relief and economic benefits.
This is why I think the ultimate test of Trump’s mettle isn’t getting Kim to the negotiating table, but being willing to walk away from it.
If, for instance, if this were the deal on offer, per the New York Times, I’d take it in a minute:
Keeping diplomatic developments coming at a head-snapping pace, the South Korean government said on Sunday that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, had told President Moon Jae-in that he would abandon his nuclear weapons if the United States agreed to formally end the Korean War and promise not to invade his country.
But, of course, it is less than it seems:
Even in the additional details released on Sunday by South Korean officials, Mr. Kim appeared to hedge his bets, indicating that denuclearizing his country could be a long process that required multiple rounds of negotiations and steps to build trust. But he laid out a vague idea of what his impoverished country would demand in return for giving up its nuclear weapons.
Because Kim is not an idiot, he will do everything he can to string us along and to get concessions before he’s really given anything up. It’s Trump job to resist this, even if it ends the talk of him winning a Nobel Prize.