Well, the “art of the deal” came up short in Hanoi.
To be fair, it would be disingenuous of Donald Trump’s critics to fault him for being too trusting with regard to North Korea’s purported commitment to denuclearization only to turn around and lampoon him for walking out on Kim Jong-Un over Pyongyang’s request for sanctions relief.
Indeed, the collapse of talks in Vietnam on Thursday will invariably be celebrated by experts who actually know something about the history of this intractable geopolitical stalemate. As ever, it’s not that anyone “wanted” Trump to fail. It’s just that the chances of him succeeding (where that means compelling the notoriously reclusive regime to give up an arsenal it has long viewed as paramount to its survival) were always infinitesimal. Evidence of concrete progress since the last summit in Singapore has been scant, and critics worried that Trump, anxious for a foreign policy win, would give up on key US demands while getting little more than nebulous promises from Kim in return.
Additionally, there’s an argument to be made that Trump’s domestic political troubles and mounting legal woes on the home front are weakening his hand in negotiations with foreign adversaries. That isn’t idle speculation. Indeed, multiple sellside analysts have suggested that the more turmoil Trump is facing stateside, the more leverage Beijing (to use the trade example) thinks China has in talks over tariffs. And while it would probably be far-fetched to suggest the Michael Cohen drama had a material impact on what happened in Vietnam on Thursday, it certainly didn’t help matters given that Trump was clearly distracted by it. Just ask his Twitter account.
Further, Kim isn’t going anywhere, and if he thinks Trump might lose the 2020 election or ultimately be forced from office before then, it would make little sense for Pyongyang to make commitments that could permanently undermine its military prowess without knowing whether a subsequent US administration would be willing to continue down the road to diplomacy once a president who actually listens to his intelligence agencies is back in the Oval Office.
Whatever the case, Trump and Kim cut their second summit short, with Trump claiming to have walked out on North Korea’s young despot. Here’s Trump and Mike Pompeo to explain what went wrong:
Trump conceded that a prospective next summit “might not be for a very long time.” Below, find the president trying to explain how he “could have done a deal”, but “Mike wouldn’t have been happy about it”.
This was, apparently, all about the sanctions. “It was about the sanctions. Basically they wanted the sanctions lifted in their entirety and we couldn’t do that”, Trump said, adding that “we have to have sanctions and he wants to denuke, but he wants to do areas that are less important than we want.”
“Kim offered up one aging nuclear facility but refused to give up his arsenal and other infrastructure — while asking the U.S. to drop all of its sanctions”, Bloomberg notes on Thursday morning.
But don’t worry – there’s not “gonna be any more testing of nuclear”, Trump promised, employing his trademark toddler English.
Time stamp that, folks. Because if Kim does start gingerly testing the waters again on the missile launches, it will be humiliating for Trump and Trump is a guy who doesn’t enjoy being humiliated.
Regardless, this was (another) win for Kim. As you might have noticed, he got the celebrity treatment in Vietnam – much more so than Trump himself. These two summits have legitimized Kim on the world stage and, more importantly for the survival of the regime, give him cover on the home front when it comes to telling his people (many of whom are starving outside of the capital) that he’s making efforts to open up North Korea and engage with the West. At the same time, he can now claim to have taken a hardline approach.
At the end of the day, I guess all one can say is that Trump “moved on Kim, actually.” In fact, he “moved on Kim like a bitch.” Who knows, maybe he even offered to take Kim “furniture shopping”. But ultimately, he “couldn’t get there.”
Oh, and as far as whether the Michael Cohen testimony might have affected Trump’s mood, he wants you to know that he “tried to watch as much [of it] as he could”, which wasn’t much because “you know’, he’s “been a little bit busy.” Predictably, he called it a “fake hearing.”