See, not all NeverTrumpers are created equal. Some of us, like Joe here, seem to have brain damage. Others do not.
Trump's North Korea Announcement 'Painfully Obvious' Ploy to Distract From Stormy Daniels pic.twitter.com/qPSsEXUfPC
— Jon Levine (@LevineJonathan) March 9, 2018
Makes perfect sense, if you ignore three things.
1. Trump has talked about meeting with Kim before, as I noted last night, going so far as to say he’d be “honored” to do so. And the fact that the summit is being announced now seems to be the handiwork of the two Koreas, not the White House. The invitation came out of their recent post-Olympic talks, driven perhaps by the effect U.S. sanctions are having on the North’s currency reserves. There’s every reason to believe the timing vis-a-vis Stormygate is a coincidence.
2. No one *really* cares about Stormygate (yet). It’s great blog material and it has the potential to get messy for Trump if the legal wrangling reaches the point where he’s subject to discovery about his dalliances with other women, but even anti-Trumpers concede that the scandal hasn’t dented him. If Trump was going to pull some headline-grabbing stunt with North Korea to distract from bad press back home, the impetus would obviously be something to do with Russiagate, not Stormygate. The former imperils him politically, the latter doesn’t. On top of that, the second biggest political story in America isn’t Trump’s relationship with Daniels, it’s the steel tariffs — which he thinks are a big winner and which he showcased in a signing ceremony yesterday. The North Korea meeting is stepping on headlines which (he believes) are good for him. Scarborough’s “wag the dog” paranoia doesn’t make sense even on its own terms.
3. This guy knows Trump personally and obsesses about him every day yet seems not to understand what makes him tick. If you’re eager to believe that Trump isn’t interested in a meeting with Kim on the merits, it’s not hard to imagine what other reasons he might have for being interested:
A senior White House official once told Axios there are three ways to get Trump to do something, all of which we’re seeing this week (with his tariffs announcement as well):
Tell him it’s never been done before.
Tell him the lawyers would never allow it.
Tell him the establishment would go crazy.
It’s unprecedented! Many people are saying it’s the most historic summit in the history of historic-ness, believe me. Kim made a grand gesture to show Trump he’s “special,” one which would instantly hand him an “accomplishment” that Obama never managed, and which gives him a chance to show off his amazing “deal-making” prowess. The Times understands this too. Trump might even relish the propaganda North Korean will wring from the summit. The Kims have always sought meetings with high-ranking Americans in order to demonstrate their own supposed prestige, as they want to stand as a sort of equal with the world’s greatest power. Trump’s granting them that now and Kim’s going to milk it endlessly. But, Trump being Trump, he’ll probably be flattered by their excitement, seeing it as an acknowledgment of his own, rather than America’s, greatness.
I said last night that I think it’s worth doing and I stand by that on “what do we have to lose at this point?” grounds. Conceivably, if we wait just a litttttle longer the sanctions will bring Kim to his knees and get him to give up his weapons, but we’ve been telling ourselves that for the past 25 years. Given how close the NorKs are to a reliable intercontinental delivery system for their nukes, we’re almost out of time. The remaining options are all-out war or a “bloody nose” strike, neither of which seem appealing to James Mattis or South Korea, or some out-of-left-field diplomatic gesture that might get the two sides to back away from the brink. That’s what this is. I’d be surprised if it ends up being much more than a meet-and-greet, since (a) Trump will be under tremendous pressure from his advisors (and his own public image) not to get rolled and (b) there isn’t much to talk about anyway. But if you don’t think the U.S. should launch a cataclysmic war on the peninsula to take out the regime before it has reliable ICBMs, which means you’re committed to a scenario in which those ICBMs are built and we shift to a pure containment strategy, then what’s the downside *at this point* of opening a dialogue? Maybe you’ll get some concessions at the margins.
Actually, I can imagine one downside. Victor Cha, an expert on North Korea and briefly Trump’s nominee for ambassador to South Korea, articulates it:
Finally, everyone should be aware that this dramatic act of diplomacy by these two unusual leaders, who love flair and drama, may also take us closer to war. Failed negotiations at the summit level leave all parties with no other recourse for diplomacy. In which case, as Mr. Trump has said, we really will have “run out of road” on North Korea.
“If Trump goes at all, and expects to announce a denuclearized North Korea, he will leave disappointed and maybe angry enough to believe that talks are useless and only military options are left,” said a North Korea expert to the AP. As frustrating as the kabuki theater with NK has been for the past 25 years, the *prospect* of meaningful negotiations has kept a cold peace intact. We’ve been negotiating about negotiating forever. Now, finally, we’ll be having meaningful negotiations, and at the highest level. If that goes nowhere, what’s left? If either side ends up feeling humiliated, what happens?