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Trump’s North Korea Failure Was Predictable — And It Won’t Be The Last

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Trump’s North Korea Failure Was Predictable — And It Won’t Be The Last

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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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Joe Conason

A highly experienced journalist, author and editor, Joe Conason is the editor-in-chief of The National Memo, founded in July 2011. He was formerly the executive editor of the New York Observer, where he wrote a popular political column for many years. His columns are distributed by Creators Syndicate and his reporting and writing have appeared in many publications around the world, including the New York Times, the Washington Post, The New Yorker, The New Republic, The Nation, and Harpers.

Since November 2006, he has served as editor of The Investigative Fund, a nonprofit journalism center, where he has assigned and edited dozens of award-winning articles and broadcasts. He is also the author of two New York Times bestselling books, The Hunting of the President (St. Martins Press, 2000) and Big Lies: The Right-Wing Propaganda Machine and How It Distorts the Truth (St. Martins Press, 2003).

Currently he is working on a new book about former President Bill Clinton's life and work since leaving the White House in 2001. He is a frequent guest on radio and television, including MSNBC's Morning Joe, and lives in New York City with his wife and two children.

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