The president can’t stop prematurely declaring victory following last week’s summit:
The denuclearization deal with North Korea is being praised and celebrated all over Asia. They are so happy! Over here, in our country, some people would rather see this historic deal fail than give Trump a win, even if it does save potentially millions & millions of lives!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 17, 2018
None of the critics of Trump’s handling of this issue wants to see diplomacy with North Korea fail. Almost all of these critics are still worried that diplomacy with North Korea could easily fail because of Trump’s delusions and unrealistic expectations. The people most likely to root for talks to collapse are the hard-liners serving in the White House with Bolton being chief among them. Most of Trump’s critics are concerned that incompetent diplomacy will give those hard-liners their chance to stoke tensions.
Once we realize how silly Trump’s accusation is, it becomes easier to acknowledge that he is overreacting against the fair and legitimate criticism that the summit was at best a wasted opportunity and at worst a failure on Trump’s own terms. Andrei Lankov makes the case that the summit could have produced a much more substantive result, but the chance was squandered:
Of course, one can argue that the Singapore declaration is merely the “first step on the long road to nuclear disarmament.” But even if this is the case, this alleged ‘first step’ is remarkably small – almost invisible – even though it was made under the most favorable conditions imaginable.
The statement from Singapore was a declaration of intentions and not much more than that. There has not yet been any “denuclearization deal” to be celebrated or criticized:
Look, I’m not one of the people trashing the summit. I gave it a passing grade with the possibility of revising upward if subsequent Pompeo-led negotiations turn out serious and sustainable. But let’s be clear here: there was no denuclearization deal. That’s a lie. https://t.co/cnVU0Bcvuo
— Mintaro Oba (@MintaroOba) June 17, 2018
In addition to misleading the public about what has happened, the problem with Trump’s endless boasting is there is not yet any specific agreement to be acted on, verified, or enforced. Trump is claiming to have “solved” the problem and eliminated whatever threat supposedly existed before now, and yet absolutely nothing has changed in reality. When a president has to lie publicly about an important national security issue like this, that is usually a good sign that the underlying policy that he is lying about isn’t working or doesn’t make sense.
It is all very well for defenders of the process to say that the meeting was just the first step, but Trump is already talking and acting as if everything has been resolved. The president is running far ahead of the defenders of his policy in announcing “mission accomplished” when the mission has only just begun. That suggests that the president just wanted a high-profile photo op that would allow him to declare success without doing any of the work that real diplomatic success requires, and it tells us that he isn’t going to have the patience and forbearance for a lengthy, involved negotiation that may or may not lead anywhere. Trump wants credit now for something that hasn’t happened and likely never will, and his rush to claim success at the start of the process sets up the real substantive negotiations to be judged against a practically impossible standard.