Mike Pompeo, meanwhile, is stuck in an ever-precarious position. As the face of the Trump administration’s long-shot effort to work out a real-life agreement with Pyongyang, he could catch Trump’s ire if and when the post-summit talks collapse and the president finds out that he was cast as the loser on North Korea’s nuclear reality show. But Pompeo can avoid all that, so long as he can negotiate the successful denuclearization of the world’s most intractable rogue regime, or if that fails, figure out how to protect the president (and country) from the consequences of Trump’s alternate reality. What could go wrong?
The problem with that outcome is that Trump getting smacked with a rude and public wake-up call is a scenario North Korea experts have been predicting and worrying about for months. When Trump’s bubble finally bursts, they fear, the president will look for someone to blame other than himself, and may decide he holds Pyongyang responsible. Trump has already responded to Kim Jong-un’s previous provocations with escalations and bluster, even bragging to the world about the superlative size and power of his nuclear button. For a well armed leader who worships fame, spectacle, and dominance as much as Trump, to be exposed on the world stage as a weak fabulist and strongman poseur could provoke a much more dangerous reaction than innuendo.