Critics fear tendency for made-for-TV moments could
US President Donald Trump’s strategy on North Korea has played out in full public view over 16 months with dramatic, made-for-TV moments designed to focus global attention on his risky faceoff with dictator Kim Jong Un.
But as North Korean officials abruptly cast doubt this week on Trump’s planned historic summit with Kim in Singapore next month, critics fear that a president determined to declare victory where his predecessors failed will allow his desire for a legacy-making deal to override the substance of the negotiations.
In the social media era, Trump’s public showmanship is “creating a huge buzz where everyone wants to know what’s going on and what comes next”, said Jung Pak, a former CIA official who is now an Asia analyst at Brookings Institution. “It’s a very dramatic way of conducting foreign policy and national security. But it creates a thin veneer of understanding. It’s mostly about symbolism.”
The risks involved in Trump’s approach were underscored this week when a top North Korean official threatened to cancel the summit and lambasted national security adviser John Bolton over his hardline declaration that Pyongyang must fully relinquish its nuclear weapons before the United States offers reciprocal benefits.
Trump has invested significant political capital in the summit and a no-show by Kim would be a major embarrassment. Perhaps fearful of further alienating the North Korean leader, Trump reacted with uncharacteristic restraint, offering a vague, “We’ll see what happens.” Trump responded “yes” when a reporter asked if he would still insist that the North denuclearise.
Trump has vowed to walk away without a deal if the talks aren’t fruitful. But foreign policy analysts have interpreted conflicting statements from Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as a sign that the Administration might be willing to settle for a narrower agreement, such as the elimination of ballistic missiles capable of striking the US.
Asked about Bolton’s declaration that North Korea must follow the “Libya model” from 2004 and quickly abandon its nuclear programme, which Pyongyang blames for the overthrow of leader Muammar Gaddafi, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders suggested he was freelancing.
Democrats and foreign policy analysts also have expressed alarm at Trump’s sharp rhetorical shift toward Kim. Having mocked him last year as a “madman”, Trump has softened his tone and cast the authoritarian leader as an honest broker.
After Kim met South Korean President Moon Jae In at the demilitarised zone in April, Trump said Kim had been “very open and I think very honourable based on what we’re seeing”. Last week, standing on the tarmac at Joint Base Andrews with three Americans who had been imprisoned in North Korea for more than a year, Trump told reporters that Kim “really was excellent” to the three men in
President Trump has forged a new category of international relations that I would call diplotainment, and the Singapore meeting is going to demonstrate diplotainment at its pinnacle. Daniel Russel
allowing them to leave.
“The President’s rhetoric has reflected Kim Jong Un’s actions,” deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah said. “Kim Jong Un has stepped forward and made pledges to halt nuclear tests, halt ICBM tests,