Fareed Zakaria posts a daily “Global Briefing.” A few days ago he cited a WSJ column by Tod Lindberg that endorsed Trump’s maneuvering on a possible upcoming meeting with North Korea’s Kim as being an example of well thought out strategic thinking. This morning we learned that Trump had bailed, which might have been the smartest thing he could have done.
Mr. Lindberg believed that walking away from a bad deal with Iran over nuclear issues, was a prelude to the Korean talks. By doing it, Trump took it off the table as an indicator of what a future deal with North Korea might look like. It was a clear display of Trump’s diplomatic mettle, and it put Kim in the position of having to take something stronger if he wanted any deal at all.
Mr. Lindberg no doubt follows these matters far closer than I, but I had trouble taking him seriously. For starters, what made him think the Iran deal was bad? Then he appeared to assume that Trump carefully thought this out before making his decisions. If he did, it’s a dramatic departure from his usual pattern. Thinking things out is hard work, and Trump is loathe to work hard at anything, especially thinking. My guess is that Mr. Lindberg was doing the best he could to read sophisticated rationality into a gut level move that’s more in tune with the way Trump acts. If you’re desperate to make Trump look presidential, it’s what you have to do.
He also presumed that Kim wants or needs to accept a deal from the U.S. No he doesn’t. They’ve gone 65 years without one, and they don’t need one now. If Kim wants anything, it’s to be recognized as a legitimate player worthy of respect by other world leaders. He already is a player; what he wants is legitimacy and respect. Whether Trump does or doesn’t go through with a meeting during his term, Kim will have made his point.
The entire vaudevillian act has been consistent with an established Trump pattern. First he manufactures a diplomatic peccadillo, then makes huge threats about tariffs or some such. When other parties respond in kind, he huffs, puffs and bluffs before reaching an accommodation that returns to the status quo. Calling it a victory, he takes a few campaign laps before receiving his laurels from Fox. In this case, it was not about trade and tariffs, but about photo-ops, peace prizes, and curtain calls in front of a nuclear backdrop. I have no idea what Trump will do next, but Kim is well on his way to reaching a form of rapprochement with South Korea, and strengthening his bonds with China. It could lead to further engagement with Pacific rim nations. Who knows?
Kim may be as big a megalomaniac as Trump, but he’s probably a lot smarter, and has been watching how best to play this fish to his own advantage. He seems to be doing it well so far. As always, I could be wrong, and Mr. Lindberg absolutely right. After all, what do I know? I’m just a Country Parson.