Abigail Tracy writes about the intra-administration positioning after the Singapore summit. Here she sums up the summit’s results:
Among foreign-policy experts I spoke with, the summit appeared to be a major win for North Korea based off the joint statement signed by the two leaders. “It is less than any statement that the North Koreans have ever agreed to in the past,” Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at Middlebury, told me last week. “The president continues to say that Kim is giving up his nuclear weapons. Kim continues to refuse to promise that. I don’t know how long they can keep fudging this.”
The president and other members of the administration have boxed themselves in with their insistence that anything less than “comprehensive, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization” (CVID) is unacceptable. Trump’s delusion that North Korea agreed to anything close to this in Singapore compounds the problem, because it means that he is already taking victory laps for a process that has just barely started. Instead of continuing to “fudge” the huge gap between the two sides, the administration needs to modify its demands and expectations to match the reality that North Korea isn’t disarming.
Once there is no longer any illusion that North Korean disarmament might happen, U.S. and North Korean officials could have potentially very productive talks to reach important compromises on a permanent test freeze. One possibility that I have seen mentioned several times in the last few weeks is to propose that North Korea and the U.S. ratify the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). That would be a significant improvement over the status quo in its own right, and it is something that is not nearly as far-fetched as CVID.
The trouble is that the president isn’t going to be interested in a modest, useful agreement when he already thinks North Korea has given up “everything.” His contempt for expertise and his habit of surrounding himself with flatterers and yes-men mean that no one is likely to tell him the truth about any of this, and if anyone did try to explain it to him he would dismiss it out of hand. The president’s rejection of the nuclear deal with Iran and his embrace of the “deal” in Singapore seem wildly contradictory in that the former was actually an agreement with verification measures and all the things the summit statement lacked. If Trump sees the JCPOA as fatally flawed, he ought to see the non-existent “deal” with North Korea as something even worse, but of course he isn’t judging either of these things on the merits. Once you realize that both positions stem from contempt for expertise and total ignorance of the relevant issues, it is not surprising that these are the positions that Trump has taken. It is also why so many of the people most supportive of the real nonproliferation agreement with Iran are so unimpressed with the phony one that Trump is celebrating.