North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un walks to greet Donald Trump at the Military Demarcation Line that divides North and South Korea, in the Joint Security Area (JSA) of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized zone (DMZ) on June 30, 2019. 
Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

North Korea manages to make Trump’s failures even more obvious


Donald Trump boasted to reporters earlier this week about the state of his policy toward North Korea. “[T]here’s no missile testing, there’s no nothing,” the Republican said.

Yeah, about that….

North Korea fired two short-range missiles early Thursday local time, according to U.S. and South Korean officials.

South Korea’s presidential office said in a statement that “a meticulous assessment by South Korea and the U.S.” found both devices were a new type of short-ranged ballistic missile.

This is getting a little embarrassing. In April, about a week after a North Korean missile launch, Trump inexplicably bragged, “There’s been no tests. There’s been no nothing.”

In May, the American president again insisted, “There have been no ballistic missiles going out,” which is only true if one overlooks the ballistic missiles North Korea keeps launching.

In June, Trump again said there’s been no “ballistic missile testing,” despite, you know, all the ballistic missile testing.

Circling back to our earlier coverage, the president’s strange rhetoric comes against a backdrop in which John Bolton, his own White House national security adviser, concluded that there’s “no doubt” the North Korean missile launches violated U.N. Security Council resolutions. Soon after, Pat Shanahan, Trump’s then-acting Defense secretary, came to the same conclusion.

Their boss, meanwhile, doesn’t seem to care. It’s worth considering why.

At face value, this may seem like a clumsy attempt at diplomacy: Trump is so desperate to reach some kind of nuclear agreement with Kim Jong-un that he’s willing to defend North Korea’s antics, no matter how provocative.

But I also believe the Republican feels the need to create an alternate reality because to acknowledge the facts would be to concede that his policy isn’t working. The Washington Post’s David Ignatius recently had a good column along these lines:

Watching the clown show that has been President Trump’s foreign policy lately, you wonder whether there’s any coherent logic embedded in his erratic, internally conflicting statements about Iran, North Korea and other issues. And of course, there is: It’s the politics, stupid.

Trump is already in full campaign mode. In his quest for reelection, he doesn’t want to be seen to fail in anything. He wants to sound tough (popular) so long as it doesn’t get him into a war (unpopular).

Trump is polishing his résumé, claiming success for North Korea diplomatic negotiations that have gone nowhere. If that means contradicting national security adviser John Bolton and pretending that Pyongyang’s recent ballistic tests didn’t violate U.N. Security Council resolutions, fine, no problem. Just don’t call it a failure.

Evidently, it also means pretending the recent ballistic tests didn’t occur at all.

Postscript: When all else fails, Trump tends to argue that his policy toward the nuclear-armed dictatorship isn’t a total failure because North Korea continues to send back the war remains of fallen U.S. servicemen and women. In reality, Trump keeps lying about this, too.