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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and President Trump

Donald Trump had a bad week. He went to West Point to make himself look like a strong leader but raised doubts about his health when he struggled drinking water and descending a ramp. His first Supreme Court appointee wrote the opinion in a case upholding gay and transgender rights.

The court also struck down Trump's effort to deport undocumented foreigners brought here as children. His former national security advisor wrote a book painting the world's most powerful person as an ignorant sleazebag who was guilty of the impeachment charges and more.

Trump had to reschedule a Tulsa rally planned for Juneteenth, but he insisted on holding it the following day — risking lives in a state suffering a surge of the coronavirus. New polls showed him trailing Joe Biden by landslide margins.

In any other week, it would be major news that the North Korean government blew up an office building that had been used for meetings with South Korean officials. Ordinarily, Americans might have taken note that, as The New York Times reported, the regime is threatening "to extinguish the fragile detente with a new cycle of bellicose actions and military provocations."

Attention would have been riveted by disclosure in Bolton's book that Trump's get-togethers with Kim Jong Un were not about eliminating North Korea's nuclear program but merely at making himself look good.

In reference to the first meeting, in Singapore, Bolton says Trump told him "he was prepared to sign a substance-free communique, have his press conference to declare victory, and then get out of town." Though Trump cared little about nukes, making sure that Kim received an Elton John CD "remained a high priority for several months."

Trump has been a failure in many areas, but nowhere else has there been a greater distance between what he claimed to achieve and what he actually did. In his telling, he averted the war that Barack Obama had been on the verge of initiating. "You would, right now, be in a nice, big, fat war in Asia with North Korea if I wasn't elected president," he claimed last year, in one of his hallucinatory episodes.

At the outset, it was Trump who sounded ready to launch an attack. In 2017, the Pyongyang regime carried out a successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. The president responded by declaring that if North Korea threatened us, "They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." In a speech at the UN, he said, "Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime."

But soon Trump changed his tune. He dispatched CIA Director Mike Pompeo to North Korea, and soon he agreed to travel to Singapore to meet with Kim. He made this concession even though the CIA, according to NBC News, concluded that "North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons, but it may be open to allowing a western burger chain to open a franchise in the country."

In June 2018, his first summit with Kim yielded a vague joint communique and Trump's agreement to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea. But he immediately tweeted, "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea."

In fact, Kim never gave up a single nuclear weapon. What he did instead was manipulate Trump with flattery. "He wrote me beautiful letters," the president gushed in 2019. "We fell in love."

But their love affair has not kept Kim from expanding his nuclear arsenal. Nor has he closed any of the reactors that produce weapons fuel. North Korea has gone back to regular missile tests. Last month, Kim convened his military leaders to announce "new policies for further increasing the nuclear war deterrence of the country," according to the government.

In short, Trump held three grand summits with Kim, bragged about eliminating the nuclear threat, expressed his love for the dictator — and has gotten a big fat nothing. Concludes Bolton, "We're now nearly three years into the administration with no visible progress toward getting North Korea to make the strategic decision to stop pursuing deliverable nuclear weapons."

Trump is the political equivalent of the lonely guys who get scammed by dating websites promising to connect them with hot Russian women. The promises he got from his heartthrob didn't pan out. But hey — he'll always have those letters.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

I’m starting to wonder if Donald Trump, bestselling author of The Art of the Deal, just isn’t very good at making deals. His presidency has been a ceaseless torrent of promises about what he’ll achieve from negotiations with foreign leaders. But time and again, he ends up high and dry.

Right now, the administration is waiting to find out what the North Korean regime meant when it made the ominous vow to give the United States a “Christmas gift” if talks didn’t produce an agreement on nuclear weapons and economic sanctions by year’s end. No such accord has been reached, which confirms the bankruptcy of Trump’s strategy.

He started out in 2017 by threatening Kim Jong Un with “fire and fury” if he made threats. But then the two agreed to a 2018 meeting in Singapore — a made-for-TV spectacle that produced an agreement short on meaningful specifics. About all Trump got in return for giving Kim the propaganda opportunity was a halt in missile tests and the purported demolition of a test site.

At a second meeting in Vietnam in February, Trump walked out after failing to get what he wanted. That ploy didn’t work either. Since then, Kim has carried out several short-range rocket and missile tests. Trump’s response? “He likes testing missiles,” the president said last summer with peculiar nonchalance.

All indications are that he’s been duped by a wily opponent who is playing for time. Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton recently told NPR the North Koreans will never surrender their nuclear weapons.

“They’re happy to sell that same bridge over and over again, but there’s no serious chance they will ever voluntarily give it up,” he said. “The more time they have, the more they can overcome all the technological and scientific difficulties to perfecting a deliverable nuclear weapons capability.”

The China trade deal that Trump celebrated is underwhelming, leaving most of the important issues unresolved. Representative Robert Lighthizer admitted it was just “a first step” — a far cry from the “epic” agreement Trump said was almost complete back in April.

Despite hitting China with an array of tariffs that hurt American consumers and companies, Trump has yet to get anything worth the cost he’s inflicted on the U.S. economy.

As for the view from Beijing, The New York Times reported Dec. 14, “People close to China’s economic policymaking process say that as the trade talks progressed this past week, the mood among Chinese officials gradually shifted from deeply worried to cautious and finally, by late in the week, jubilant and even incredulous that the hard-liners’ goals had been achieved.”

When the Chinese refused to sign a deal unless the U.S. agreed to roll back tariffs, the administration said no — only to cave in the end. Lighthizer says Beijing agreed to buy at least $40 billion in American farm products each year, but the Chinese themselves have made no such commitment publicly.

It just may be the administration is greatly exaggerating what it got. That’s what it did with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a modest update of NAFTA that Trump pretended was a radical overhaul.

His negotiating wizardry has also fizzled against Iran. He abandoned the agreement the Obama administration reached to block Tehran’s path to the bomb, calling it “a horrible, one-sided deal.” But Trump’s attempt to use economic strangulation to force the other side to submit has failed.

In response, Iran has taken steps that are forbidden by the agreement. So thanks to Trump, the Iranians are closer today to getting a nuclear weapon than they would be had he stayed in the deal.

Meanwhile, attacks carried out by Tehran in response to U.S. pressure have forced the administration to contemplate sending 14,000 troops to the region. Instead of making the Iranians more compliant, he has made them more aggressive.

Let’s not forget the most conspicuous negotiating flop of all. Trump vowed over and over that we would build a wall on the southwest border and Mexico would pay for it. But Mexico has not paid anything and obviously never will.

Trump brings to mind Samuel Johnson’s comment: “Men who cannot deceive others are often very successful at deceiving themselves.” Maybe he blustered his way into a few good deals during his time in private business. But when it comes to high-stakes negotiations with foreign adversaries, he’s a lamb among wolves.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.