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North Korea and the Trump Administration’s Lack of Credibility

John Bolton appeared on ABC’s This Week [1] yesterday and told the following whopper:

KARL: Before you go, I want to ask you about North Korea. Of course, after the summit in Singapore, the president said, quote, “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea”.

Given what we have seen since that summit, and there are reports of North Koreans actively trying to deceive us about the extent of their nuclear program, and of course we had Secretary Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang.

He wasn’t even able to meet with Kim Jong-un, did not appear to be a very productive meeting. Given what we have seen since that Singapore summit, isn’t what the president said about there no longer being a nuclear threat from North Korea at the very least wildly premature?

BOLTON: Come on, what he was saying in context was that if North Korea lives up to the commitments that it made on denuclearization, then it would no longer be a threat. The test here will be what North Korea actually does to live up to the commitment that they made in Singapore that they say they still uphold and that now they need to fulfill.

Bolton is telling two major lies in this statement. First, he lied about what the president meant when he asserted that there is no threat from North Korea, and then he lied about the commitment that North Korea made in Singapore. North Korea merely agreed to “work toward” the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and that amounts to agreeing to doing nothing definite. Administration officials have repeatedly misrepresented what that means in order to make the summit seem more successful than it actually was. This keeps clashing with the reality of the North Korean position, and that is one reason why Pompeo’s meeting in Pyongyang last week went so poorly.

The main reason why all of these lies from the administration matter is that the public can’t trust their assessments of how negotiations are progressing when they have made a point of misleading us about them thus far. If they are willing to mislead the public about what was agreed to at Singapore, they will keep misleading us at every stage to come.

The administration’s consistent misrepresentation of the North Korean position creates false expectations of significant concessions from Pyongyang on its nuclear weapons and missile programs that won’t be forthcoming. That oversells what the administration has managed to do so far, and it is bound to create a backlash when those expectations are disappointed. It also boxes in U.S. negotiators, who might be able to hammer out a modest compromise with their North Korean counterparts if they weren’t locked into a completely unrealistic and unachievable goal of total disarmament. The issue here is not just that the administration is pursuing an impossible goal at the expense of more achievable diplomatic compromises. They cannot be trusted to report honestly on what they are doing and what the other side is willing to do.

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6 Comments To "North Korea and the Trump Administration’s Lack of Credibility"

#1 Comment By BS Jamboree On July 16, 2018 @ 2:17 am

“Bolton is telling two major lies in this statement. First, he lied about what the president meant when he asserted that there is no threat from North Korea, and then he lied about the commitment that North Korea made in Singapore. “

Lying is second nature to Bolton. Lies are his m.o., from the lies about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction to the lies about Kim’s “promises” to denuclearize. Never changes. He found the right boss, though, didn’t he? A match made in heaven.

#2 Comment By Whine Merchant On July 16, 2018 @ 2:45 am

Why doesn’t Trey Gowdy turn that fierce Benghazi determination on this one?

Oh, that’s right…

#3 Comment By balconesfault On July 16, 2018 @ 6:05 am

When the topic of “misleading” comes up, with this administration, the first question that needs to be asked is “Does Trump actually understand what he’s talking about?”

In the case of North Korea, as with NATO, it seems very likely that at least half of the time Trump’s understanding of key issues is a cobbled together collection of: things he’s half-heard and half-understood; along with things he himself has been saying as applause lines for a few years now; along with things he wants to believe.

But once Trump says it, it becomes necessary for all the King’s men to defend it, even when they absolutely know that it’s counter-factual. Because in the Trump GOP, as George Will said the other day, there is only one leader – everyone else are followers.

#4 Comment By Youknowho On July 16, 2018 @ 7:10 am

Pity anyone who has to be a spokesmman for Trump and asset that white is black and up is down in national TV. Bolton should be grateful that his nose does not grow when he speaks.

Now they insist that negociations with NK is a slow process. Before it was talk of Nobel Prizes.

Is there a way that members of the Trump Administrtion can avoid making asses of themselves in public?

#5 Comment By b. On July 16, 2018 @ 11:39 am

“he lied about the commitment that North Korea made in Singapore”

Daniel Larison is missing the playbook here. Bolton is not merely saying “they promised, and now they might not deliver”. The ABC mouthpiece is willing accessory to the deception now stovepiped through the media that North Korea is preparing to pretend to pursue “denuclearization” while at the same time preparing to defraud the US by hiding nuclear warheads and attempting to hide e.g. the manufacturing and deployment of solid fuel ICBM.

In other words, this is an example of ABC and Bolton colluding to reinforce the – bogus – claim that North Korea is lying to the US in an attempt to “hide their WMD’, just as the Bush administration claimed of Saddam Hussein.

The outcome here is not merely a denouement of “they made an agreement, now they are breaking it” – projection Trump’s JCOPA moment on North Korea – but a strident declaration that “North Korea is playing for time to finish their means to hit the continental US, they are using negotiations [or “inspections”] to cover up their program to complete, hide and harden their arsenal”. This is another of those “ticking clock bomb” scenarios that US preventive acts of aggression (and domestic repression) are so closely associated with.

Whether Trump et.al. are now concerned about having oversold the “commitments” or never cared, they are now engineering a “betrayal” by North Korea beyond simply returning to the status quo ante. The Trump administration needs more than a polite refusal of North Korea to “immediately denuclearize” to contain South Korea and sell an act of aggression to the domestic audience. So Kim will “stab” Trump in the back, whatever he actually did or does.

#6 Comment By collin On July 16, 2018 @ 2:51 pm

In reality, I don’t disagree with President Trump improving interactions and talks with North Korea in order to decrease the chance of war. Overall I do think his 1+ hour talks were fine and that expectations of denuclearization were too high and unnecessary. Again, Nixon 1972 talks with China did not accomplish a whole lot but was a necessary first for later Presidents, like Carter, to make more concrete diplomatic gains.

However, it is bizarre the administration over-stating our relations with North Korea and acting like there was any kind of agreement made last month.