Not just for North Korea and the world. Also for the White House gift shop.
Disclaimer, on White House Gift Shop website, for those who ordered $24.95 Trump-Kim summit coins. pic.twitter.com/zlrfFUJINX
— Steve Inskeep (@NPRinskeep) May 24, 2018
It’s a cliche but it’s true that no deal is better than a bad deal. Credit to POTUS for being willing to acknowledge that and walk, especially given how palpably badly he wanted it to happen. Although maybe this is a lesson to pause for five minutes and consult with your natsec and diplomatic teams the next time a lunatic floats an invite to meet him for talks. Trump lunged at the summit opportunity for good reasons and bad, because he knew that the spiral of bellicosity between us and them was headed in a bad direction and because he wanted to pull off something none of his predecessors did (although they could have if they’d wanted to). He won’t lose face by bailing now — Kim’s bellicosity lately gave him a good excuse to cancel and being the one to walk away from the table is a power move, especially with Kim having just torn down his nuke testing site. But now there’s a risk that the spiral of bellicosity will spiral further when, perhaps, a more cautious approach to a summit with baby-step “confidence-building measures” might have kept things on track.
Rich Lowry made the case this morning, hours before Trump pulled the plug, that it was time to pull the plug:
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…
Their threat to pull out of the summit was clearly meant to exploit Trump’s eagerness for the meeting, demonstrated by his premature boastfulness. And they’ve had early success in starting a negotiation over a negotiation that pushed Trump to, at least momentarily, soften the core U.S. demand of swift denuclearization.
The president has attempted to prove that he doesn’t want the meeting more than Kim by saying that the summit isn’t guaranteed, but calling it off would render what was supposed to be a prospective signature foreign policy triumph a complete fizzle.
Yeah, the early trendlines here weren’t good. When North Korea complained about joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, the White House canceled them. Then Mike Pompeo started hedging on denuclearization, suggesting that the North could keep their nukes so long as they didn’t have nuclear ICBMs. The slope of concessions was already getting slippery. Time to step off. Hopefully Kim fumes for a day or two and then comes back to the table instead of, ah, nuking South Korea.
Speaking of which, when exactly did Trump give a heads up to the South’s leadership that the summit was off?
South Korea appears to have had no notice of Trump's abrupt cancellation of summit with North Korea. South's President Jae-in Moon, just back from DC, calls chief of staff, nat'l security advisor, foreign minister, unification minister, intel chief for emergency midnight meeting.
— CBC News Alerts (@CBCAlerts) May 24, 2018
I got call from SK official who was totally blindsided. From start, Trump surprised SK at every turn, incl when he burst into aides' meeting with SK officials in March and accepted invite to meet with Kim on spot, then sent the SK delegation into WH driveway to announce it https://t.co/J2h5pZ6sDg
— David Nakamura (@DavidNakamura) May 24, 2018
Pompeo declines to say whether the US gave South Korea and Japan advance warning that POTUS was backing out of the summit.
— Nick Wadhams (@nwadhams) May 24, 2018
I can understand him agreeing to the summit initially (although not via a snap decision) and I can understand him walking today. I can’t for the life of me understand why he’d blindside the South with his decisions. There’s a lunatic on their doorstep who can raze their capital at a moment’s notice. If you’re about to do something dramatic to escalate with him, maybe shoot Moon Jae-in an email first.
Here’s Trump via the Free Beacon. Note how he holds the door open for Kim to tone down the rhetoric and reschedule. Exit question: What did Pelosi mean when she said this morning that his letter to Kim canceling the summit was too “palsy-walsy”? First, given the Democratic track record with North Korea, she’s in no position to knock a Republican for being soft. Second, the whole point of walking away was to show that we’re unwilling to be palsy-walsy without more meaningful conciliation by the North. Third, Trump basically threatened to nuke North Korea in the letter, reminding him that our arsenal is vastly greater than theirs. What sort of letters is Nancy sending people that she thinks this is palsy-walsy?