The New Yorker reports that virtually everyone around Trump thinks he’s being naive at best about the prospects for denuclearization by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. The whole situation has put on stark display Trump’s utter cluelessness when it comes to foreign policy matters, a cluelessness created by his massive personality flaws.
It appears to be the embattled President against the world these days. There is, however, at least one notable exception: the increasingly warm public words he reserves for the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un. Over the weekend, Trump praised Kim for sending him an encouraging letter, publicly suggesting that he was open to denuclearization by the end of Trump’s first Presidential term, and dispensing with the customary displays of nuclear missiles at a huge parade in Pyongyang celebrating the country’s seventieth anniversary. On Monday, the White House announced that, in response to the “very warm, very positive” note from Kim, Trump was now ordering his staff to plan for a second Trump-Kim summit meeting. “Thank you to Chairman Kim,” Trump wrote in a tweet. “We will both prove everyone wrong!”
But Trump’s faith in the North Korean dictator is not shared by his top advisers. The backstage Trump Administration drama over what to do about North Korea’s nuclear program is a key theme of Woodward’s book, describing how Trump spent 2017 in confrontation mode with North Korea, to the alarm and consternation of advisers who feared that the President could blunder into war. Less than a year later, Trump’s strategy has shifted from confrontation to negotiation, but the divisions over North Korea between the President and his team continue, even though key players have been replaced and the policy itself has changed dramatically…
In recent days, I spoke with a half-dozen former U.S. government officials and Allied diplomats who have been briefed by Trump Administration officials on the state of play with North Korea since Trump’s Singapore summit with Kim. All acknowledged what one called the “frustratingly slow” progress with the post-Singapore discussions, and described a Trump Administration whose top officials remain deeply skeptical of the course being pursued by the President, with even the usual bureaucratic turf battles being subordinated to the shared concern over Trump’s very public embrace of Kim.Bruce Klingner, who for years served as the C.I.A. branch chief for Korea and is now a regional expert at the conservative Heritage Foundation, called the President’s current strategy “the beatification of Kim Jong Un.” He and other former officials described the hallmarks of Trump-era foreign policy: conflicting signals, a lack of clear information and process, and distrust of allies. “In some respects, there’s more consensus between State and Defense and the N.S.C.”—the National Security Council—“than was true for Bush or Obama or Clinton,” another former official told me. “Their view is that North Korea is not serious about denuclearizing. The President, however, thinks history began when he became President.” The former official said he had personally spoken to most of Trump’s key advisers on North Korea in recent days and that “none of them is where the President is.”
That last sentence is important. Trump believes that history began anew with his election as president because he genuinely considers himself to be the greatest negotiator ever and that he never has anything to learn from anyone with more knowledge than him (because there is no such thing, him being omniscient in his own mind). History does not apply to him because he is so amazing at everything that he can change the entire course of history through sheer force of personality. That’s the first massive character flaw that creates this disconnect.
The second is his crying need for praise. He has no strategy more complicated than “if you say something nice about me, I’ll say nice things about you; if you say bad things about me, I’ll say bad things about you.” He falls for empty flattery without fail. There is no thoughtfulness, no goal-setting, no evaluation of history or evidence that a rational person would use to inform their policy choices, it’s as simple as that for him. And no matter what happens, he will declare it a victory. We have simply never had a president so completely immune to reason and evidence. He can’t entertain such thoughts because they puncture his staggeringly narcissistic self-image.