Larry Kudlow, the chair of the White House’s National Economic Council, argued this week that Donald Trump’s summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un is the result of the president’s tough posture. “North Korea coming to the negotiating table has a lot to do with President Trump’s very firm stand with respect to their nuclear weapons,” Kudlow told Fox News.
This was largely backwards. Trump didn’t entice North Korea to the table with pressure and threats; North Korean officials were already at the table, asking Trump to join them. Indeed, Pyongyang has wanted bilateral talks with the United States for decades. The current American president is simply the first to give North Korea what it wants in return for nothing.
Yesterday, however, Rudy Giuliani, a Trump lawyer who appears to do very little legal work, effectively said the opposite of what Kudlow argued, insisting that Kim Jong-un “begged” the Republican to participate in talks.
Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, “got back on his hands and knees and begged” for the United States to revive the Singapore summit meeting after President Trump abruptly scrapped it last month, one of Mr. Trump’s lawyers, Rudolph W. Giuliani, said Wednesday.
The remarks by Mr. Giuliani, apparently intended to portray Mr. Trump as a tough negotiator, may have lobbed a disruptive obstacle into the salvaged meeting less than a week before it is set to happen.
The remarks could easily offend officials in North Korea, where a cultlike autocracy exalts Mr. Kim as a deity who cannot be seen as servile and weak.
Evans J.R. Revere, a former State Department diplomat who specializes in North Korea, told the New York Times, “If the North Koreans needed a reason to cancel the meeting, the Americans just gave it to them.”
Remember, North Korea is paying close attention to rhetoric from Trump World. When White House National Security Advisor John Bolton started talking up the “Libya model” in multiple televised interviews, Pyongyang quickly took offense – which isn’t surprising, since the Libya model included a U.S. military offensive and the death of Libya’s dictator.
Soon after, both sides became more belligerent toward one another and the president briefly scrapped plans for the summit.
Now, with the talks scheduled for Tuesday, Trump’s lawyer is publicly mocking and belittling Kim Jong-un in ways that probably weren’t well received.
For his part, Giuliani told Bloomberg News yesterday afternoon, in reference to the controversy over his remarks “Those are my comments. They have nothing to do with the administration, and a metaphor.”
It’s tempting to wonder if there’s some kind of strategy unfolding ahead of the June 12 negotiations. Maybe Trump signaled to Giuliani that he wants to assert dominance over the North Korean dictator. Maybe some in the White House are trying to push Kim away. Maybe some kind of sabotage campaign is underway.
But given what we know about Trump World, the most plausible explanation for developments like these is that these guys just don’t know what they’re doing.