News & Politics

Trump's Korean Con Job Tries to Put a Distracting Bow on a Diplomatic Disaster

There will be some people sleeping easier tonight. But they shouldn’t be in the United States, and certainly not in South Korea.

Photo Credit: Channel NewsAsia

Donald Trump’s one-on-one meeting with Kim Jong Un was explicitly hidden from the public. No witnesses. No cameras. No notes. But that’s also no problem, because it wasn’t important that anyone know what was said—not even Trump.

Like the painfully empty document signed by Trump and Kim at the end of the brief encounter, what actually passed between them wasn’t important. Both men only needed to kick back, watch a movie, and down their drink of choice, because both of them were just checking a box on a script that had already been written.

For Trump, the out-of-sight meeting was the action climax of a conflict that he stoked to the point where people were happy to wake up and discover that … they could wake up and discover. He opened his narrative with a daily barrage of threats that convinced the world that great glowing clouds of nuclear death were right around the corner. Then came the middle section, where Trump agreed to an extraordinary get-together to single-handedly address this dire threat. Finally, a behind-the-curtains climax—during which there were surely laser beams, magic, and Panda-esque Kung Fu kicks delivered by Trump—and he climbed wearily back on Air Force One to inform the world that the threat was over. Nuclear war all better now!

The whole thing doesn’t even make for a decent long con. It’s like an elementary school play of Matchstick Men, or The Grifters retold by someone who slept through most of the film. It’s The Sting: Duplo edition.

In the long tradition of Donald Trump, the Korean adventure fits somewhere between Trump University and Trump Steaks: both phony, with one of them slightly harder to chew. But unlike those previous scams that damaged only the pocketbooks, minds, and stomachs of those silly enough to believe Trump, Trump’s Korea con has serious real-world consequences.

Because just buying Kim’s silence long enough for Trump to bask in the glory of his mock-victory required that Trump surrender a bargaining chip that not only makes the military position of the U.S. and South Korea weaker, it provides Russia and China with no incentive to continue playing their role in sanctions.

Even before the meeting, it was clear that Xi Jinping was barely going through the motions of sanctions against North Korea. When Trump momentarily canceled his get-together with Kim, it was not just to generate some extra, capital ‘D’ Drama, but because it appears that Xi was going to reveal just how weak Trump’s hand actually was in this game. 

But Trump made a deal. In surrendering the joint military exercises with South Korea and restating his intentions to withdraw American forces from the peninsula, Trump gave a victory to not just Kim Jong Un, but also Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin.

The only “deal” that Trump made publicly contains exactly nothing. It was a pre-meeting statement printed up just to give them something to sign, containing not one deadline, guideline, or suggestion of progress. The real deal was what Trump handed over so he could try to sell America on the thin gruel of his ‘victory.’

Not one missile or bomb left North Korea. But it seems extremely unlikely that either Russia or China would continue to enforce sanctions against North Korea at this point. Trump has already given them what they wanted. And he’s demonstrated, once again, that when forced to negotiate, his only move is to roll over and beg—beg that someone will provide enough cover that he can pretend to have won.

As the Washington Post reports on China:

In Chinese President Xi Jinping’s wildest dreams, he could not have envisioned a better outcome of President Trump’s summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un – at least as it concerns Beijing’s interests.

And as Reuters reports on Russia, the meeting between Trump and Kim showed that Vladimir Putin was “right all along.”

There will be some people sleeping easier tonight. But they shouldn’t be in the United States, and certainly not in South Korea.


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Mark Sumner is the author of the nonfiction work "The Evolution of Everything" as well as several novels including "Devil's Tower."