Home/Daniel Larison/Trump’s North Korea Fabulism

Trump’s North Korea Fabulism

President Trump greets U.S. State Department officials in Singapore, June 11 ahead of the talks.  U.S. Department of State/Flickr

Trump continues to make delusional statements about the summit with North Korea:

When the president says things like this, he is either deliberately misleading the public or so misinformed that he doesn’t even know what the summit statement said. Either way, it doesn’t say much for the process that Trump is presiding over that he feels compelled to misrepresent the results of the summit and claim that North Korea has agreed to do things when they have not. When the president lies so often publicly about an important issue, that should alarm all of us, and it should worry supporters of continued engagement with North Korea most of all. If Trump is lying this much and this often at such an early stage of the process, how will we be able to trust anything that comes out of that process?

The document signed in Singapore never says that the denuclearization of North Korea will begin “immediately,” but only that the U.S. and North Korea will work toward the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” It is not necessarily a bad thing that the two sides are using ambiguous language at the beginning of the process, but you can’t defend the use of that language while simultaneously pretending that there has been an ironclad North Korean commitment to disarm quickly. Vipin Narang comments on the president’s statement:

Making false claims about what was agreed at the summit is a good way to sow distrust in Congress and with the North Koreans, and that could easily undermine or derail diplomacy.

It would be one thing if Trump said that the summit was just the start of a long process and there was still a great deal of work to be done, but he doesn’t say that. Instead, he asserts that everything has been resolved, claims North Korea has yielded everything that the administration wants, and demands credit for “achieving” all of this. The most reasonable defenses of the summit acknowledge that the negotiations are very much a work in progress, but the president is out there already running multiple victory laps when the race has only just begun. When the president is congratulating himself for achieving things that haven’t happened and probably won’t, that should tell us that there is a lot less to the policy he is touting than meets the eye.

Trump’s North Korea policy shouldn’t be judged in a vacuum. It has to be set in the context of his overall disdain for diplomacy and his repudiation of the JCPOA. The president just reneged on a major nonproliferation agreement that was doing exactly what it was supposed to do, and he did this because the agreement was supposedly not “tough” enough on Iran. His complaints about that deal were spurious and reflected his profound ignorance about these issues, and the decision to renege on the agreement was one of the worst foreign policy decisions he has yet made.

If his judgment was this awful about a nuclear deal that was widely acknowledged to be successful, why should we expect better judgment when it comes to making an agreement with North Korea? He ignored arms control experts that urged him not to renege on the agreement, and again on North Korea he is ignoring their advice and plowing ahead in pursuit of a goal that can’t be reached. Now he is claiming that the summit statement says things that it clearly does not say, and he wants people to be grateful to him for de-escalating a crisis that he escalated in the first place. The president is toying around with major national security issues primarily for his own self-gratification and aggrandizement, and he clearly doesn’t care about the consequences of anything that he’s doing.

Update: The full quote from the Cabinet meeting reads as follows:

But the document we signed, if people actually read it to the public, you’d see: Number one statement, we will immediately begin total denuclearization of North Korea. Nobody thought that would be possible.

This is not the “number one statement.” On the contrary, it never appears anywhere in the text that the president cites.

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.

leave a comment

Latest Articles