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The Cost of Presidential Deceit

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets with U.S. President Donald Trump during the Singapore summit June 12.

David Sanger’s analysis of the president’s mishandling of Iran and North Korea calls attention to the failure of both policies:

But the events of recent days have underscored how much bluster was behind Mr. Trump’s boast a year ago that Iran was “a very different nation” since he had broken its economy by choking off its oil revenues. They also belied his famous tweet: “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”

Today the most generous thing one could say about those statements is that they were wildly premature.

It would be more accurate to say that those statements reflected just how divorced from reality Trump’s policies were and how much he and other administration officials had to lie to the public to cover that up. In other words, there was nothing but bluster. There was no evidence to support Trump’s claims about these states, and he made these claims to conceal the bankruptcy of his policies towards both. The president has been able to get away with these failures for most of the last two years because there have been relatively few high-profile incidents to remind us of how completely he has failed, but as 2020 begins we have been given more proof that “maximum pressure” has been a costly exercise in futility that has actually harmed U.S. interests.

Sanger continues:

Mr. Trump does not engage such arguments. He simply repeats his mantra that Iran will never be allowed to obtain nuclear weapons and that North Korea — which already has fuel for upward of 40 of them, much of it produced on Mr. Trump’s watch — has committed to full denuclearization, even though that overstates Mr. Kim’s position.

Sanger’s summary creates the impression that Iran is trying to obtain nuclear weapons, but that is not true. It is not enough to say that Trump “overstates” Kim’s position. He completely misrepresents it for his own purposes. The president torpedoed a successful nonproliferation agreement, but he wants us to believe that he is committed to nonproliferation. The president’s “mantra” on this score is no more than baseless propaganda, so we shouldn’t take it seriously. Likewise, his insistence that North Korea has agreed to something that everyone knows they never agreed to proves that he will say anything so long as he thinks it makes him look good. The problem here is not just that Trump gambled on bad policy goals and lost, but that he is determined to lie to the public about those policies for as long as he can. Trump has made sure that neither the Iranian nor the North Korean government can trust him, and he has proved to the American people that we can’t trust him, either. His foreign policy initiatives fail in no small part because no one believes what he says and no one is willing to take a chance by trusting him to honor the commitments he makes.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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