Having a Low View from the Summit
While the goal of world peace is always a Good Thing, I have a very difficult time even imagining that anything beneficial will come from Trump's summit with North Korea. Even the Trump administration seems to think nothing will result -- after all, they've already not only downplayed the outcome, saying now that it's just basically a meet-and-greet and anything substantive will have to be negotiated later (for which "anything substantive" ultimately is actually the only point, not having hors d'oeuvres, smiles and photo ops), but Trump economic adviser and former TV host Larry Kudlow has already started to lay out scapegoats, saying it's Canada's Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's fault if the talks don't go well.
The best I can see happening is that the two sides will have a “cordial” meeting and look forward to working on details…which Trump will try to claim is a Great Victory -- because having finger sandwiches and beverages and trading email addresses is basically like bad, one-sided date where one person says at the end, "Yeah, I had a good time, call me," but never responds when the other person does -- and there will never be any details. Because there will not be an agreement.
Mind you, my presumption that the talks won't work out ultimately doesn't mean they won't. But there are several reasons why it seems the most-likely, near-certain outcome.
First, even if North Korea ever wanted to really, actually, truly denuclearize – which they don’t (more on that in a moment) – why on earth would they make a treaty with Trump at this point??? Thus far, Trump has pulled out of the Paris Accord, pulled out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, pulled out of the Iran nuke deal, and left the G7 meeting early while refusing to sign his own group's joint statement. But, sure, we shall denuclearize and get rid of our one and only bargaining ship because we totally trust your word… And P.S. Thanks so much for that whole "Rocket Man" cute nickname.
Keep in mind that not signing the G7 statement was with our closest allies. And dropping out of TPP was with our allies. And pulling out of the Paris Accord left us as the Only Country in the World who is not involved. And voiding the nuke deal is the Exact Same kind of deal we're trying to be negotiated with North Korea. So...sure, great idea, trust Trump on this.
Second...well, it's really third because Point #1 is so strong it's worth repeating as Point #2. But for the sake of clarity -- second, it seems highly unlikely that North Korea has even the slightest intention of getting rid of their nukes, even if they pinky-swear promise that they do. Having nuclear weapons puts North Korea on the world stage. Without nukes, they're the churlish cousins no one has to listen to at family gatherings, let alone even invite unless you really want to. And further, without nukes Kim Jong Un knows his position of power within his own country suddenly becomes tenuous, a risky proposition given how he's gotten rid of his personal enemies. And not having nukes is made even riskier considering that the U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton (and isn't that a horrifying phrase to even just type) has said that we're looking for a Libya kind of agreement. And didn't that work out swell for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi! (Sorry, I mean "former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi." I mean, "the late, former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.) Yes, I know that Bolton's statement was refuted by the White House, but if you don't think that Kim Jong Un and his advisers don't remember it, haven't put it on their refrigerator to look at every day, and don't put much credence in the White House refutation -- especially since Bolton hasn't been fired and is accompanying Trump on the trip, let alone made to disappear the North Korea Way -- then you aren't trying.
Third, so do you remember that whole thingee about how we pulled out of the Iran nuke deal? It's bad enough that Trump tore up the deal, but keep in mind the reason he voided it. This was a deal, after all, that all of our allies signed on to and said it was strong and offered impressive security for a long time. But Trump said that it wasn't strong enough! It wasn't that Trump didn't trust Iran (and he didn't) and didn't want a denuclearization deal with them, no, he wanted a deal that was much more restrictive and draconian on Iran than the one that they negotiated and finally, after much reticence agreed to. So, as a starting point, before even a single word is discussed, any deal between the U.S. and North Korea must be more harsh on North Korea than the one that had existed with Iran!! Which Trump cancelled because it wasn't strong enough. Anything less -- in fact, anything even the same -- makes Trump look pathetic and weak.
If it seems near-impossible to imagine that North Korea would trust Trump to stick to a deal for them to get rid of their nukes and to imagine that North Korea even wants to get rid of their nukes, now add that any deal for them to get rid of their nukes has to be even more repressive on them than what Iran had agreed to. Which we pulled out of.
Well, that's all sure a recipe for success.
And by the way, none of this takes into consideration that Trump hasn't prepared for this summit, other than having "prepared for it all my life." And that he says he'll know within just the first minute how the talks will go because he has such great instincts for this sort of thing. Because "This is what I do." O dear heavens, let's just hope he doesn't use the same crack instincts that got him to do Trump University, Trump Steaks, Trump Airlines, the Trump Taj Mahal, Trump Vodka, Trump Magazine, Trump Mortgage and to have six bankruptcies.
And we haven't touched on the pressure Trump is under with the Special Counsel's investigation tightening, as Paul Manafort was given new charges, and a new, 20th indictment against Russian political operative and Manafort-aide Konstantin Kilimnik, along with growing pressure from the porn actress lawsuit as the court ruled that Trump's business associate Michael Cohen can claim privilege on 164 documents out of 300,000. And...and...and more.
But still, all we really need is that Point #1. No matter how much North Korea really, deeply wanted to negotiate a deal -- even if they really, truly did -- would you negotiate a deal with Trump??! And you're not a murderous dictatorial despot holding nuclear weapons.
At least I presume you're not.
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Robert J. Elisberg is a political commentator, screenwriter, novelist, tech writer and also some other things that I just tend to keep forgetting.
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