Two years later, North Korea says Trump's policy is a failure

Exactly two years after Trump boasted, "There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea," the scope of his failure is hard to overstate.
Image: President Donald Trump gestures as he meets with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un at the start of their historic U.S.-North Korea summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore
President Donald Trump gestures as he meets with North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un at the start of their historic U.S.-North Korea summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 11, 2018.Saul Loeb / AFP - Getty Images file
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By Steve Benen

In the summer of 2018, Donald Trump was so confused about his engagement with North Korea that he started making boasts about having "solved" a serious global problem. After a summit with Kim Jung-un, the Republican claimed, exactly two years ago today, "There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea."

Trump added in a tweet at the time, "President Obama said that North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer -- sleep well tonight!"

In the months that followed, as North Korea engaged in missile testing that Trump pretended didn't exist, the American president continued to pat his own back, telling Fox News what a "great job" he was doing with the rogue nuclear state. Reflecting on the road ahead, the Republican added that there's "great progress being made."

As regular readers know, Trump's boasts were difficult to take seriously at the time. They appear much worse now.

North Korea said it was pulling away from its relationship with the U.S. two years after a historic handshake between President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, in Singapore, saying there had been no actual improvement in ties.

"Never again will we provide the U.S. chief executive with another package to be used for achievements without receiving any returns," North Korea's Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon told the country's state-run media. "Nothing is more hypocritical than an empty promise."

He added, "Even a slim ray of optimism for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula has faded away into a dark nightmare."

This comes six months after North Korea said it saw no reason to continue with a moratorium on missile testing, and it would soon move forward with plans to develop "a new strategic weapon."

To be sure, Pyongyang has earned a reputation for making announcements like these to get attention, and it's generally best to see North Korea's provocative statements through the lens of a country with a clumsy and needlessly belligerent diplomatic strategy.

Nevertheless, this continues to be one of Trump's most glaring foreign-policy failures. For reasons he's never been able to fully explain, he gambled on a curious strategy in which he'd make a series of bold concessions to an adversary, in exchange for nothing.

Indeed, as we've discussed, the Republican gave the North Korean leader the bilateral talks he wanted. And the international legitimacy he wanted. And the cessation of military exercises he wanted. And the public praise he wanted. And the propaganda opportunities he wanted.

And while the American president delivered these enticements to his friend in Pyongyang -- a man Trump has said he "fell in love" with -- Kim appears to have "quietly improved and expanded" his weapons program, which is the opposite of what the United States wanted to see.

For all the pomp and circumstance surrounding Trump's outreach, all he has to show for his efforts is a national security challenge with a rogue nuclear state that's arguably more dangerous now than when he took office.