It was just a few days ago when White House sources started signaling that Donald Trump was prepared to walk away from his scheduled talks with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. This morning, the American president did exactly that.
President Donald Trump has canceled the planned summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which was set to take place June 12 in Singapore.
In a letter addressed to Kim and released by the White House Thursday, Trump blamed the cancellation on the “tremendous anger and open hostility” in a recent statement by the North Koreans. “I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting,” he wrote.
The full text of the letter was posted to the White House website, and as presidential correspondence goes, it’s an odd document. Trump wrote, for example, “I felt a wonderful dialog was building up between you and me, and ultimately, it is only that dialog that matters.”
I’m not at all sure what that means, though it suggests the president may have personally played a role in writing the message – a suspicion bolstered by the letter’s use of the words “massive,” “beautiful,” and “sad.”
So now what? There are a few questions to consider as this story continues to unfold:
* Did Trump really pull the plug on the summit? It’s possible that this morning’s letter is some kind of negotiating tactic intended to pressure Kim Jong-un. Indeed, the Republican’s message specifically added, “If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write.”
Again, the writing is terrible, but the sentiment leaves open the possibility of future talks.
* Is a military confrontation more likely? The ostensible goal of the bilateral talks was to remove the threat of military action. If diplomatic efforts are already failing, it’s easy to imagine White House National Security Advisor John Bolton, a radical hawk, urging the president to consider violent alternatives.
Trump’s letter included a not-so-subtle reference to the possibility. “You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never be used,” he wrote.
* Is the Nobel Peace Prize campaign over? The president can take some solace in knowing it was a long shot anyway. (The value of the commemorative coins is also in doubt.)
As for the politics of this mess, I continue to believe Trump’s ridiculous mistake wasn’t cancelling the summit, but rather, pretending he’d already accomplished something extraordinary when he agreed to participate in the first place. He hadn’t. North Korea wanted direct talks with every modern American president from both parties, but Trump’s predecessors had the good sense to decline, seeing no need to elevate the rogue dictatorship’s international stature in exchange for nothing.
This American president, consumed by scandal, burdened by unpopularity, and desperate for some kind of victory, accepted an invitation without any real plan or forethought.
Predictably, his approach failed. I will look forward to Trump declaring sometime soon, “Nobody knew diplomacy with a rogue nuclear state could be so complicated.”