North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un (L) shakes hands with US President Donald Trump (R) at the start of their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella...
Saul Loeb

Trump wants credit for a North Korea ‘deal’ in which he gained nothing

The Associated Press reported over the weekend that when it comes to last week’s negotiations with North Korea, Donald Trump is “frustrated” with the “lukewarm” support he’s received from congressional Republicans. A separate report added that the president has made direct calls to GOP lawmakers, seeking more credit.

Trump has been calling lawmakers to express enthusiasm for the agreement – but also complaining that he has not had more robust support from GOP lawmakers, said a person with knowledge of the calls, who spoke on condition of anonymity to share internal conversations.

The whining continued over the weekend, with the president complaining that “some people would rather see this historic deal fail than give Trump a win.”

It’s difficult, if not impossible, to try to figure out what drives some of Trump’s more pitiful moves, but in this case, I suspect the president is being rather sincere: it’s likely he genuinely doesn’t understand why everyone isn’t recognizing and celebrating what he considers an awesome accomplishment.

On Wednesday, for example, Trump insisted that North Korea is “no longer a nuclear threat” to the United States. On Friday morning, he said that he’s “solved” the North Korea “problem,” adding, “I signed an agreement where we get everything, everything.”

And if that were true, it would be an impressive feat, indeed. But the president’s boasts are divorced from reality in ways that border delusion.

Explaining this to Trump in a way he’d understand is a challenge – I don’t imagine anyone at the White House has broken the news to their fragile boss – but the awkward truth is that his “deal” with North Korea isn’t really a “deal” in any meaningful sense of the word.

Kim Jong-un received a summit with the American president in exchange for nothing; Trump lavished public praise on the brutal dictator in exchange for nothing; Trump announced a cessation of U.S. and South Korean joint military exercises in exchange for nothing; and the Republican even raised the prospect of easing economic sanctions against North Korea.

For his trouble, Trump received a vague assurance about possible future progress – in a written agreement that’s weaker than similar agreements reached by Trump’s recent presidential predecessors.

The fact that he’s baffled by the lack of praise suggests Trump honestly has no idea just how little his “deal” with North Korea actually accomplished. The president is looking for praise – he’s always looking for praise – because people aren’t touting his triumph, wholly unaware of the fact that there’s nothing to tout.

I will gladly concede that if last week’s summit leads to a meaningful policy breakthrough, and the Korean peninsula is actually denuclearized, Trump will have earned the right to boast. But if Trump is waiting for some kind of parade in his honor, he’s going to need an actual accomplishment that exists outside of his imagination.

Donald Trump, Foreign Policy and North Korea

Trump wants credit for a North Korea 'deal' in which he gained nothing