It did not sit well with the Washington Post that President Trump made plans to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“Kim Jong Un wants to be seen as Donald Trump’s equal. A meeting would do that,” read one headline on the Post website. “The North Koreans will go into this process with several advantages. For one, they know a lot more about President Trump than the United States knows about Kim.”
On The Fix, the headline was: “How much thought actually went into this?”
“North Korea gambit blindsides U.S. diplomats,” read still another.
But the story that provided the broadest view of the Post’s dismay was headlined “Trump’s bellicosity secures a diplomatic coup – for now.”
Even in begrudgingly acknowledging the achievement, reporter Karen DeYoung began with a note of caution.
“For the moment, at least, it appears to be a clear-cut victory – the biggest foreign policy win of his young administration. President Trump has brought his arch-nemesis, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, a.k.a. “Little Rocket Man,” to the table to negotiate away his nuclear arsenal,” she began.
“Optimists declared a major breakthrough. Even pessimists acknowledged that Trump’s hard line against Pyongyang, after decades of less forceful U.S. effort, played a significant role in moving one of the world’s most vexing and threatening problems in a potentially positive direction.”
But “questions were fast and furious,” DeYoung wrote, “in the afterglow.”
Were talks between the two “notably volatile leaders who have traded insults for more than a year,” a good way to start “what are sure to be complicated negotiations?”
Was the Trump administration, with its “thin bench of experts” be a match for those “wily and untrustworthy North Koreans?”
The president had done what presidents from Eisenhower forward have tried – opened a relationship with the most isolated and perhaps dangerous country on earth, got the North Koreans to talk of denuclearization and even to acknowledge the need for the annual joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises – and the Post is worried North Korea might be too wily for Trump.
But then, according to DeYoung, Kim already has the upper hand. “By some assessments, this is really a victory for Kim, who for years has sought proof of his status and North Korea’s power by dangling the offer of leader-to-leader talks with the United States.”
“Trump has a vibrant track record of surprise announcements that have distracted attention, at least temporarily, from concern over tariffs and border walls and the growing threat to his presidency posed by the special counsel investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
“At the same time, he has claimed a long string of successes over the past 14 months that others have challenged as lacking strategy for long-term sustainability, from the current robust economy to the defeat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.”
She then lined up academics to take various pot shots at the news. “A Trump-Kim summit is a major diplomatic gamble,” said the president of the liberal Center for New American Security. “But let’s see if it actually comes off.”
Finally, there was Adam Mount of the Federation of American Scientists.
“Unfortunately, denuclearization is a distant fantasy,” Mount said. And we won’t get there with Trump because the administration “has not equipped itself for success. They have not laid the groundwork for credibility in talks and lack leadership with experience in international negotiation … In accepting the invitation outright, Trump has already lost much of his leverage over the terms and agenda of the talks.
“The better play is to start by offering a credible plan to stabilize the peninsula and halt nuclear and missile tests sustainably, and then build out to a more ambitious agreement.”
The better play also can be described as the policy we’ve pursued for 60 years without result.