Sunday, June 10, 2018

Is Trump Walking Into Kim's Trap?

Some folks keep suspending reality and hoping that maybe Trump can pull this off.  He'll know, he's said, in the first  minute, whether he and Kim will click.
“Within the first minute, I’ll know. My touch, my feel — that’s what I do,” 
That reminds me of Bush's assessment of Putin:
"I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straightforward and trustworthy. We had a very good dialogue. I was able to get a sense of his soul; a man deeply committed to his country and the best interests of his country." 
I understand how people often connect on some sort of physical/psychic level instantly.  But people don't always admit to how wrong some of those first impressions were.  Many psychopaths are pretty good at dissembling.  Ted Bundy was said to have been charming, before he raped, mutilated, and killed his victims (at least 30.)

We know that Putin has charmed Trump already, or has enough on him to get Trump to wreak havoc with Western unity, a plot that can only strengthens Putin's hand in dealing with Europe and the rest of the world.

An LA Times story offers some history lessons on summits:
"But Kennedy’s most consequential summit, which came just months into his presidency, was an unmitigated disaster, according to historians.
Despite careful preparation, the young president did not heed the warnings of advisors familiar with his Soviet counterpart, Nikita Khrushchev, whom he met in Vienna in June 1961. Kennedy’s attempts to establish a friendly rapport, which experts had cautioned him against, came across as weakness.
After the summit, he knew immediately he’d blown it, as did William Lloyd Stearman, a national security aide who traveled with Kennedy to Vienna.
'It was Al Capone meets Little Boy Blue,” Stearman said last week. “Kennedy was not used to dealing with a thug like Khrushchev. And the Cuban missile crisis can be traced back to Khrushchev’s feeling that Kennedy was weak.'”
Of course, this means that Khrushchev's take on Kennedy was wrong as well.  

The Times article says later:
“This [Trump] is a neophyte who has given every indication that he does not like to do his homework, and the cost could end up being very great,” said presidential historian Michael Beschloss. “We’ve never seen a president who wears as such a badge of honor that he won’t prepare. There’s no president in American history that has done that, and certainly not on a summit as important as this.
I'm sure Trump supporters love this stuff.  They voted for Trump to thumb his nose at the 'elite' (how is a billionaire not a member of the elite?) and to do it his way.  The article goes on further to compare Trump to Nixon and his negotiations with China.  

And while Trump says he doesn't need to do homework for the summit, another LA Times article argues that the North Koreans have been preparing for this meeting a long time.  
"Kim and a team of advisors who have followed U.S. politics for decades have been studying Trump since before the 2016 presidential election, hanging on to statements he made as a candidate, such as his now-famous offer at a rally in Atlanta in 2016 to sit down with Kim over a hamburger.
“Maybe nobody else was paying attention, but the North Koreans listened to every word,” said Leon V. Sigal, director of the Northeast Asia Cooperative Security Project at the Social Science Research Council.
Since then, each move has been carefully coordinated, including sending Kim’s attractive kid sister (North Korea’s “Ivanka,” the media has called her) in the delegation to the Winter Olympics in South Korea, and the enormous white envelope that North Korean envoy Kim Yong Chol handed Trump at a White House meeting on June 1.
'Trump’s psychology is pretty obvious to just about every leader in the world. He doesn’t like to be criticized. He loves to be stroked. He’s interested in the bold stroke, especially if he’s at the center of it,' Sigal said. 'And that gave the North Koreans the sense that this was somebody they could work with.'”

Trump probably has a lot more experience dealing with thugs than Kennedy had.  As many have noted, he and Kim have a lot of similar characteristics.  But I'm pretty sure Kim is focused on the substantive stuff much more than Trump.  For one thing, just meeting with Trump will be a huge victory for Kim. Such a meeting IS substantive for Kim.  No other US president has deigned to meet with a North Korean leader.  But it's a concession for Trump, even though he will take full advantage of what great television it will make.

But Trump wants 'denuclearization' and Kim wants relief from sanctions.  Denuclearization doesn't happen overnight, but relief from sanctions could.  Kim could promise all sorts of things over time, and then not deliver.  Trump could call it a victory.  And probably will no matter what happens.  Trump, in his own press releases, always makes the greatest deals in world history  But, barring things blowing up in Trump's first minute assessment of Kim, we probably won't know for at least a year or two if Kim follows up on his promises.

Or Trump may not even care.  Giving Kim what he wants may be just what Putin ordered Trump to do.  Russia does border North Korea - to take one more dive that hurts the US and helps Putin's long-term geo-political power.  But Trump will paper over whatever the outcome and call it a great victory, just as he's done with Climate Change, Brexit, his tariffs, etc.  all of which would seem to be great victories for Putin.

It's in Kim's and Trump's interests to be able to declare these talks successful.  And both will want that to be how the summit is framed.

I would be more than happy forTrump to seriously ease tensions in the Korean Peninsula, but in a way that doesn't give away the farm.  Some have argued that Kim wants not only the removal of economic sanctions, but also the removal of US troops from South Korea.  And then he can unite the peninsula under his rule.  As China takes over a greater part of the waters of Southeast Asia, in ten or fifteen years, the US wouldn't be able to stop such a takeover.  Particularly if US troops leave South Korea.  

We'll see.

Once again, this weekend has proven how well Trump plays the media and makes sure his antics are in the headlines every day, distracting from all the damage his administration is doing while they can.  

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