Lots of Americans hoped that Donald Trump’s skills as a negotiator would serve him well as president.
He’s famous for stirring the pot, being willing to take risks and for being ideologically flexible, let’s say. But most important, Trump has always been willing to walk away from a negotiating table when he thinks there’s a better deal to be had.
North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un found that out.
I confess to having feared that Trump was being played by the villainous little tyrant in Pyongyang. But as it turns out, at least for now, Trump has been playing Kim. How delightful. National Security Adviser John Bolton, the clear-eyed realist in the administration, may have had something to do with scuttling the prematurely planned summit between the two national leaders, too. Kudos to him as well.
Kim thought he was getting a seat at the international big-boy table on June 12 in meeting face-to-face with an American president; now he’s back to square one. He’s presiding over a hopeless, crumbling and too often starving nation of 25 million souls.
Chinese leaders — Kim’s lifeline — are sick of him; the Pyongyang regime is getting in the way of business with the United States. And if Kim were to launch a single nuclear-tipped missile — questions remain over whether he could actually pull it off — he’d likely be dead within minutes, and he knows it. His country would be turned to ash by American, Japanese, South Korean and European reprisals.
Kim is not a man to negotiate with until he is utterly desperate, which he will be soon enough. Like his father and grandfather, Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong Il, North Korea’s current leader is calculating, untrustworthy and stone-cold evil — the proverbial scorpion that stings because he knows nothing else.
This Kim executed his own uncle, Jang Song Thaek, whom the North Korea’s official news agency called “an anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional element.” Kim is believed to have ordered the poisoning of his half-brother, Kim Jong Nam, while Kim Jong Nam was traveling in Malaysia. Groups including the United Nations and the International Bar Association have meticulously cataloged Kim’s barbarism, which includes mass firing squads; systematic starvation of prisoners; coordinated rape and forced abortions on women by injecting motor oil into their wombs.
As an estimated 80,000 to 130,000 North Koreans rot in prison camps, Kim reportedly feasts on Iranian caviar, the finest grade sushi, French cheeses and Danish Pork. Cristal is his dinner drink. After meals he sips $2,000 per bottle Hennessy cognac. This, while food staples are strategically held back from the North Korean population to discourage revolt.
No one — not anyone who has thoroughly followed the Kim Family — expected Kim Jong Un to keep any denuclearization promises that may have been made with Trump at the bargaining table. The Kims snookered both the Clinton and Bush 43 administrations with bogus pledges designed to buy North Korea additional time to develop nuclear and rocket telemetry capabilities. Yet until Thursday morning, when Trump pulled the plug on it, the June 12 Singapore meeting remained on the calendar. It made no sense.
Now it does: purposely or not — one hopes it was premeditated — Trump just humiliated Kim on the world stage. He left at the altar a bride with no other prospects. Kim can continue to howl, jump up and down in fits of rage and drink cognac till he drops; because at the end of the day Kim has no other place to go but to the negotiating table.
Trump understood that all along. He knows Kim needs this more than America does, and a better outcome will almost certainly be exacted in any negotiations that may follow. The negotiator Americans were looking for just showed himself.
William F. B. O’Reilly is a consultant for Republicans.