Trump Has Different Story on North Korea in Private

Trump Has Different Story on North Korea in Private July 23, 2018

All administrations try to paint as rosy a picture as they can to make their policies seem more successful than they are, but Trump takes this to a ridiculous extreme. He routinely declares victories where there are none. But in private, he apparently has just enough contact with the real world to recognize that the negotiations with North Korea are not going well.

When he emerged from his summit with Kim Jong Un last month, President Trump tri­umphantly declared that North Korea no longer posed a nuclear threat and that one of the world’s most intractable geopolitical crises had been “largely solved.”

But in the days and weeks since then, U.S. negotiators have faced stiff resistance from a North Korean team practiced in the art of delay and obfuscation.

Diplomats say the North Koreans have canceled follow-up meetings, demanded more money and failed to maintain basic communications, even as the once-isolated regime’s engagements with China and South Korea flourish.

Meanwhile, a missile-engine testing facility that Trump said would be destroyed remains intact, and U.S. intelligence officials say Pyongyang is working to conceal key aspects of its nuclear program.

The lack of immediate progress, though predicted by many analysts, has frustrated the president, who has fumed at his aides in private even as he publicly hails the success of the negotiations.

“Discussions are ongoing and they’re going very well,” Trump told reporters Tuesday.

No, they’re not. And they aren’t going to. You’re being played, just like every president has been played by North Korea for decades. They alternate between good cop and bad cop. They’ll make vague promises and follow through with some immediate little trinket, like returning the remains of a few POWs. Why do you think they keep those remains around? Because they’re powerful symbols and effective bargaining chips. They make people think that they’re actually doing something tangible when they’re not.

The fact that Trump is able to recognize that things aren’t going well is a good thing. It suggests that at least a little bit of reality is able to cross from the real world to the alternative reality he and his followers live in. But he’s still so adamant about maintaining that alternate reality for his followers that he’ll lie to do it. Of course, he’ll lie for any reason and no reason at all. He lies as casually and instinctively as the rest of us inhale oxygen.

And frankly, we might be better off with him continuing to pretend that everything is going okay with North Korea, because he is prone to wild swings in position, driven by his emotions. The alternative may well be a military strike, the death toll of which would begin with about a million South Koreans and go up — quickly — from there. The best policy toward North Korea, it seems to me, is one of containment. Undermine their nuclear program with covert ops as best we can, make sure they can’t transfer any technology to other countries, and keep them in their box.

Kim Jong-Un is more interested in survival than anything else, I think, and he views his possession of nuclear weapons as the only way he can deter an attack and stay in power. So let him stay in power, but locked in his cage as much as we can possibly achieve that.

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