The Corner

National Security & Defense

‘Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off’

I wrote a column for Politico that posted last night arguing that Trump should cancel the Singapore summit and I was delighted by the news this morning that he had:

The Nobel committee will presumably be disappointed, but President Donald Trump should cancel his planned June 12 summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.

The meeting is much more likely to serve Kim’s interests rather than ours and could well begin the unraveling of the pressure campaign that is our most reliable point of leverage against the regime. There is every reason for Kim to want a superficially successful summit in Singapore, and the easiest way to deny him one is to call the whole thing off.

The past week has shown that the North Koreans aren’t to be underestimated — something that is easy to forget because the regime is not just heinous and evil, but ridiculous. Pyongyang managed to wrap the president around the axle on “the Libyan model” and got him to go wobbly on rapid and complete denuclearization with just a few pointed statements.

The Hermit Kingdom can barely feed its people and can’t keep its lights on, but it is good at this. Its existence literally depends on its shrewd diplomatic gamesmanship with the West, winning concessions that give it an economic lifeline while still preserving and advancing its weapons systems.

Trump deserves credit for tightening a sanctions regime with considerable slack in it and intimidating Kim with his battery of insults and bombast. But the president was pushing on an open door: If history is any guide, the North wanted to use its bout of missile tests to get back to the negotiating table, and so it has.

This probably isn’t the last we’ve heard of the summit, but at least Trump has re-established some of the leverage he had bled away over the last couple of weeks. Hopefully, the administration has a new battery of sanctions ready to go right away, and we will stop panting after negotiations and settle into a very robust strategy of deterrence and containment toward the longer-term goal of cracking the regime or at least its will.

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