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Sunday, February 17, 2019

So inevitable was the implosion of Trump’s North Korea initiative that many observers — notably in these pages — predicted it with utter certainty. Their negative expectations were not based on ideology, since experts from across the political spectrum and across partisan differences reached exactly the same conclusion. This outcome was ordained by the incompetence of the president, the officials he has gathered around him, and their shared dismissal of diplomatic procedure and advice.

Many of the same experts who warned Trump that nuclear negotiations are inherently complicated, especially with a rogue regime, had likewise feared that John Bolton would wreck whatever progress might be possible. To the extent that Bolton’s yapping about Libya alienated North Korea, those who disparaged him were correct — and that’s not exactly surprising, except perhaps to Trump.

As it turns out — and this was equally predictable — Trump is not a brilliant dealmaker. His impressive power to manipulate the emotions of people even stupider than himself, in very large numbers, is useless when negotiating with an intelligent and well-informed counterpart. Long ago, Trump’s failed business career proved that he is impulsive, mentally lazy, and badly informed; his more recent political career has showed that he is frivolous, obnoxious, and witless. Those adolescent qualities enhance his stature on Fox News, but they’re unhelpful in matters of state.

Well before he pretended on Thursday to “cancel” his planned June summit with Kim Jong-un — which North Korea effectively and unilaterally cancelled several days ago — Trump’s failure was obvious.

First the North Koreans saw through his blustering threats, and then they saw through his pathetic eagerness to make a deal. On the day that Trump accepted the summit, Kim won the American recognition his country has long desired. Not only did an American president agree to meet with him personally, but went on to praise him fulsomely. The little despot got what he wanted most before the two sides even discussed the shape of the bargaining table.

Kim released a pair of American prisoners, which cost him nothing, blew up a defunct nuclear site, and walked away with his diplomatic winnings. And of course he still has his nuclear warheads. Meanwhile, Trump has alienated our allies in Japan and South Korea, and driven North Korea closer to China and Russia. He was exposed to the world as a laughable fraud (and probably won’t need that new white-tie outfit for next year’s Nobel ceremony).

Not that Trump will learn anything from this experience. Instead he will continue to boast about himself and blame his mess on others. But the pundits who told us that Trump was “onto something” with his juvenile japes and threats and his “unconventional” approach to international relations should be ashamed. They misled the public and made fools of themselves.

Trump’s policy consistently humiliates our country and damages the prospects for a peaceful, sustainable, and stable world. The Trump White House is a clown show, a right-wing parody of governance, and a boon to every despotic adversary of our values. It often appears as if Trump is a conscious agent of hostile powers. Whatever his motives, he cannot be trusted with any such serious business as nuclear disarmament.

Sooner or later, even his supporters will have to face what everyone else has already realized: He is undermining the prestige and power of the United States, and driving the world closer to catastrophe.

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