The Morning Jolt

National Security & Defense

President Trump’s No Deal with North Korea Is a Good Deal

President Donald Trump shows a document that he and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signed after their summit meeting on Sentosa Island in Singapore, June 12, 2018. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

Before we make the click-through worthwhile, an important message from the realm of real life: We had a missing child alert in my neighborhood last night; thankfully everything turned out okay. But last night’s tromping through the muddy woods with a flashlight left me brimming with unsolicited advice: Hug your kids, tell them they can always come home no matter what’s wrong, and make sure you know where they would be likely to go if they didn’t come home from school. This morning I’m wondering whether my wariness about grade-school kids owning cell phones — at least the old-fashioned, non-smart, but-has-a-GPS-tracker phones — needs to be reconsidered.

Making the click-through worthwhile: Trump walks away from a bad deal with the North Koreans, Michael Cohen plays for Democratic sympathies, and an old friend makes a surprising move.

Good for You, Mr. President: No Deal Is Better than a Bad Deal

Something I don’t say often: Hey, good for you, Mr. President. When it became increasingly clear that Kim Jong Un just wanted to string the United States along, Trump had the good sense — yes, I just wrote those words! — to realize that he was not getting a serious offer, and he walked away from the table.

President Trump and Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s leader, abruptly ended their second summit meeting on Thursday after talks collapsed with the two leaders failing to agree on any steps toward nuclear disarmament or measures to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

“Sometimes you have to walk,” Mr. Trump said at an afternoon news conference in Hanoi, Vietnam. He said Mr. Kim had insisted that all of the harsh United Nations sanctions imposed on the North be lifted in exchange for dismantling its most important nuclear facility but not other elements of its weapons program.

“It was about the sanctions,” Mr. Trump said. “Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety, but we couldn’t do that.”

You’ll probably see references to this being called a “failed summit” in the news. But this isn’t the worst-case scenario; the worst-case scenario would be if we made serious concessions on sanctions and other issues in exchange for unverifiable promises about North Korea’s nuclear-weapons programs.

Looking back, President Ronald Reagan’s decision to walk away from the negotiating table in Reykjavik, Iceland in 1986 was one of the most important moments of the Cold War. At the time, many considered it the biggest failure of Reagan’s career. But the clock was working against the Soviet Union — to an extent that not even U.S. intelligence expected — and the deal on the table at Reykjavik would have allowed the Soviets to divert military funding to keep their system going longer. By walking away, Reagan increased the pressure on Gorbachev and the Soviet regime — and with just a few years, it ceased to exist. The Soviet Union ended not with a bang, but with a whimper.

Let’s hope history repeats itself.

Go Away, Michael Cohen

Three observations from yesterday’s marathon hearing:

One: Cohen’s testimony bugged me more than I expected. He really seems to think that he can play the noble whistleblower now and win some sort of accolade as the self-sacrificing truth-teller. Counselor, you were in this muck up to your eyeballs, don’t tell me about how troubled your soul was all along. If Cohen was wrestling with his conscience during his employment with Trump, it’s amazing how he managed to pin his conscience to the mat every day for more than a decade.

Two: Cohen’s portrait of the mendacity, sleaze, and corruption within Trump-World all sounds plausible enough, and corroborates with other tales, like the claim that Trump referred to “s***hole countries.”

But I’m going to need more than just Cohen’s word before I accept anything that he says as fact. His rhetorical games like insisting, “I lied, but am not a liar,” does not enhance his credibility. A wiser investigation would have just sought Cohen’s documentary evidence — the checks, recordings, bank records, phone records — and considered his testimony unreliable.

Three: The camera-preening and antics of members of Congress at televised hearings like this is genuinely embarrassing for the country. You would not trust this crew to search for that missing sock in the dryer, never mind unravel a complicated criminal conspiracy.

As Jonah notes, “The Russia collusion narrative took a pretty big hit today.” Cohen said he had no direct knowledge of any, and that he had never been to Prague, a key part of the infamous “Steele dossier.” He did say that Trump had knowledge about foreign hacking of the DNC and John Podesta’s emails because of communications through Roger Stone, which Democrats will insist amounts to collusion.

Michael Cohen is attempting to seduce Democrats into forgiving him. And it appears to be working, Noah Rothman observes:

Cohen’s testimony before Congress—a text that he admitted was composed following consultations with Democratic members of Congress and what he called “the party”—contained even more scene-chewing efforts to flatter the anti-Trump left. Not only did Cohen confess to lying for the president, intimidating his enemies, and covering up for his indiscretions—all of which would be sufficient indictment of Trump’s character, if not concrete evidence of criminal wrongdoing—Cohen insisted that Trump harbored racial animus.

 . . . Cohen’s newfound discomfort with the president’s racial antagonism toward President Obama eluded him when Trump was the nation’s leading purveyor of the notion that Barack Obama was not a natural-born citizen. Under a federal prosecutor’s interrogation lamps, Cohen has seen the light.

If these transparent efforts to trigger a sense of solidarity among Democrats weren’t grating enough, when he was asked why he was testifying against the president, Cohen insisted it was to protest the “daily destruction of civility to each other.” This from a man who warned journalists reporting on the sordid detail of Donald Trump’s checkered private life to “tread very f***ing lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be f***ing disgusting.”

Cohen is looking for the same role-reversing, reputation-salvaging arrangement and narrative that former FBI director James Comey received: a figure who was once nearly universally loathed by Democrats suddenly offers the public a vivid portrait of Donald Trump that matches the Left’s nightmares and fantasies, and the revelation transmogrifies the figure into a hero of the Resistance.

Cohen said yesterday that in the future — presumably after his prison term for, ahem, lying to Congress — he may pursue a book deal and that he’s already had offers for television shows and movies.

Today’s Democrats are a very cheap date.

ADDENDUM: Speaking of Jonah, you may have seen this news already: My reaction is a deep mix of sadness that he will be departing his current role, but happiness for him that he’s getting the exciting opportunity to create something from the ground up. Lest anyone ask, this is an amiable departure on both sides, and Jonah will continue to be around National Review in some form.

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