Trump strolled across the DMZ into North Korea over the weekend, consummating his publicly declared love for Chairman Kim Jong Un. This event, like every other stunt-summit between Trump and Kim, was clearly beneficial to North Korea. Trump’s frequent exchange of mash notes with Kim and his willingness to call the family-murdering dictator someone who “really cares about his people” has been a massive boost to Kim’s image, increasing his ability to travel, obtain technology, and make deals. And while North Korea is experiencing a record drought that places the country at risk of repeating the devastating famines of the past, it’s good to know that Trump is impressed by how Kim looks “well” and “really healthy.”
But if Kim is getting a promotion from petty tyrant of the world’s most isolated dictatorship to regular face on the world stage, what exactly is the United States getting from Trump’s visits with his pal? As The New York Times reports, that’s much less obvious. Kim hasn’t agreed to surrender his nuclear weapons. He hasn’t agreed to suspend development of either short-range or long-range missiles. He hasn’t agreed to international inspections. And he’s certainly not agreed to make any changes when it comes to human rights—because Trump would never even think to ask.
In fact, when it comes to denuclearizing the Korean peninsula, it’s starting to look as if the whole idea may be off the table. Instead, Trump officials seem to be moving toward a whole new brilliant plan. Instead of asking Kim to give up his nukes in exchange for reducing sanctions and improving relations with North Korea, the White House will give Kim what he wants and let him keep the bombs and the missiles.
Because the latest plan isn’t to try to talk Kim out of the nuclear club; it’s to welcome him in as a member. Under this scheme, Kim wouldn’t be rewarded for handing over any of the dozen or so nuclear weapons he now has on hand. He would just be asked not to build any more. North Korea would then be in a position where it can threaten all its neighbors with nuclear weapons … and get rewarded for it.
Not everyone appears to be thrilled with the idea of giving North Korea everything it wants—trade, relations, and nukes—in exchange for a perceived “win” for Trump. Mustachioed armchair general John Bolton seems particularly angry about the idea that America might shake hands with Kim and step away. Mostly because no one gets immediately bombed that way. Or, at least, America doesn’t get to bomb anyone.
It’s always a good day when Bolton is frustrated. The difference between Bolton’s Yosemite Sam anger and Trump’s arm-around-Kim approach seems to be another representation of Trump’s idea of compromise. Trump keeps Bolton on hand so he can talk tough about military action, just as he wants to be seen surrounded by tanks at his ludicrous partisan Fourth of July rally, but he’s actually more interested in simply finding a way to make and pocket money.
But Trump wants to, as the Times puts it, “burnish his self-constructed image as a dealmaker” in advance of the 2020 elections. That doesn’t mean he’ll actually take steps that make America, South Korea, or anyone else safer. Or make a deal that brings more visibility, access, and rights to the people of North Korea.
As Trump has demonstrated many times before, he’s willing to claim victory, even when there is a clear loss.