Reprinted with permission from Chicagotribune.
Rudy Giuliani, who knows as much about North Korea as he does about growing kumquats, has granted an inside glimpse of U.S. relations with the regime. With a historic summit meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un scheduled for Tuesday in Singapore, Giuliani wants the American people to know exactly how it came about.
Last month, Trump responded to unwelcome statements from North Korea by abruptly canceling the summit. This decision came because the North Koreans “said they were going to go to nuclear war against us and they were going to defeat us in a nuclear war,” Giuliani said at a conference in Israel. “Well, Kim Jong Un got back on his hands and knees and begged for it, which is exactly the position you want to put him in.”
It’s safe to assume that Giuliani, being Trump’s personal lawyer and not his secretary of state, is pristinely devoid of any firsthand knowledge of this matter. His account, in fact, sounds eerily as though it came verbatim from one of Trump’s bragfests. But what is known from the public record does not validate the tale.
It was actually the Trump administration that was talking about destroying the North Korean regime. National security adviser John Bolton recommended “the Libya model” for denuclearization. In 2011, as the North Koreans vividly remember, NATO bombed Moammar Gadhafi’s forces and he was soon toppled and killed.
In case Kim imagined this remark to be an unfortunate slip of the tongue, Mike Penceunderlined it in red. “This will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn’t make a deal,” he said.
The Pyongyang government, which had candidly expressed its “repugnance” for Bolton, called the vice president “a political dummy” whose comments were “ignorant and stupid.”
Trump was not about to tolerate this insult to his most faithful lap dog. “Trump and his aides were infuriated by the statement and wanted to respond forcefully,” CNN reported. “The specific and personal targeting of Pence is what irked U.S. officials, three people familiar with the matter said.”
Giuliani says the summit was saved only when Kim came crawling back. This claim is not terribly credible, given the regime’s long record of threats, defiance and immovability on matters it cares about. And when Trump met at the White House with a high-level North Korean envoy, the president did not give the impression of a tough negotiator.
Reported The New York Times: “Sung-Yoon Lee, a scholar at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, said Mr. Trump stuffed a variety of ‘unnecessary concessions’ into a ‘goody bag for Kim Jong Un.’ Among them were easing up on ‘maximum pressure,’ agreeing to a longer time frame, validating Mr. Kim as a leader by promising more summit meetings, and signaling that China, Japan and South Korea should ready economic aid.”
Even Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell warned Trump, “You have to not want the deal too much.” Trump is the guy who vowed that Mexico would pay for a border wall and then, realizing it would never happen, pleaded with the Mexican president to go along with the ruse.
But let’s suppose Kim did kowtow to Trump in an attempt to resurrect the summit. Let’s suppose Trump’s fierce determination left the North Koreans no choice but to capitulate. In that case, the last thing Trump and his minions should do is do an end-zone dance before a satisfactory deal has even been reached. This is not a football game.
Such trash-talking not only encourages Kim to up his demands at the bargaining table to prove he’s no wimp but also discourages any regime from making concessions to the U.S. – or even negotiating with this administration, which feels free to disclose or even invent facts about behind-the-scenes bartering.
Anytime you interact with Trump in private, you have to worry that he will publicly misrepresent what happened as part of his ceaseless quest for self-glorification. You have to assume his cronies will rush out to portray you as a pathetic loser.
In a normal administration, functioning with a modicum of discipline and direction, the president’s personal attorney would not be braying on national TV about critical matters of foreign policy, and the president would not be letting him. But today, our security and survival are in the hands of fools, knaves and incompetents.
Steve Chapman, a member of the Tribune Editorial Board, blogs at www.chicagotribune.com/chapman.