From the moment Donald Trump began talking about doing a “tremendous deal” with North Korea to bring them in from the cold, my bullshit meter immediately kicked in and I knew whatever transpired between the two governments could not be trusted. After the first day of negotiations in Seoul, Korea, we now have some understanding of the substance behind the talks. And as was predicted, it turns out to be largely hot air.
This isn’t to completely discount Trump’s attempt to do a deal with North Korea. But when you take into account the context surrounding the summit and what we know about Trump and Kim Jong Un, it becomes abundantly clear that this will lead absolutely nowhere.
In Trump’s defense, he has made meaningful concessions to Kim John Un, like suspending military exercises with South Korea — a gesture that will no doubt ease tensions between the nations. However the overall consensus from people who have (unlike the president) some working knowledge of the historic North Korean conflict, derided the talks as largely superficial. Thomas Countryman, the former assistant secretary of state for international security and non-proliferation during the Obama administration, said that while the meeting certainly reduced the potential for nuclear conflict in the near future, the two page document signed by both men “lacks substance”.
“It says less than previous agreements the U.S. has reached with the DPRK, and leaves open key questions that would normally have been resolved prior to such a summit,” Countryman concluded.
In other words, there is little we can take from the agreement because there was little in it. Despite Trump’s grand claims that Kim Jon Un will be “de-nuking the whole place”, the reality is that he has no deal and no real basis for a deal. As Daniel Serwer, director of the conflict management program at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies wrote today:
President Trump today agreed to suspend US military exercises with South Korea during negotiations with the North and to provide Pyongyang with unspecified security guarantees in exchange for an equally vague commitment to denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. He and Kim Jong-un also got their photo op, which featured a stunning array of American and Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea flags.
The quid pro quo is clear: the US will be guaranteeing the permanence of one of the most brutal dictatorships on earth and reducing its commitment to its South Korean allies in exchange for some still-to-be-determined constraints on North Korean missile and nuclear weapons capabilities.
I have a joint degree in Politics and International Relations, and from my grounding in the latter subject, I can tell you that this has disaster written all over it. Skilled political leaders and diplomats have throughout history helped prevent conflicts between nation states. They helped build the international order we see today through treaties, trade agreements, and carefully negotiated alliances. Donald Trump and those around him are not skilled leaders or diplomats — they are ambulance chasers, charlatans, and scam artists with extreme delusions of grandeur. They are playing a game they do not understand the rules of, and their actions will likely have dire consequences in years to come.
I’ve long been interested in North Korea, its history, extraordinarily strange culture, and dysfunctional relationship with the rest of the world. The Hermit Kingdom is one of the world’s greatest oddities — a repressive, nightmarish fairyland that exists in a time warp outside the reach of the civilized world. Controlled by a psychopathically cruel family for the past 70 years, the Soviet inspired dictatorship is in a perpetual state of war with its neighbors and the global community. Like his father and grandfather before him, Kim Jong Un bombards his citizens with daily messages through state propaganda channels that the outside world wants to destroy North Korea. Un presides over a terrified, malnourished, and deeply brainwashed population that believes he is a living God with super human powers.
The fact that Trump has taken such a big interest in North Korea is telling. With his intuitive grasp of the media, the president likely spotted an opportunity for a WWE style spectacle that could sell well in both America and North Korea. And that he has done. The staged event has caught the attention of the global media, and Trump is yet again center stage starring in a drama of his own making. The characters this time are more grotesque, more deadly, and more insane than ever before — a thrilling twist in the freak show presidency we cannot turn away from.
But it is bullshit, all bullshit. And here are 5 good reasons why:
1. Donald Trump is a liar and a charlatan
This we know to be true. The president’s history of lying is so extraordinary that fact checkers literally cannot keep up with his speeches. He has lied more times than any other president in history, making it impossible to tell what is real and what is not. Trump is such a liar that the people around him explicitly acknowledge this and demand special treatment because of it. To believe anything he says is to court disaster, and anything he signs in regards to a deal with North Korea can be written off as meaningless. Trump does not keep his word, ever, as anyone who has ever negotiated with him can attest to.
“I’ve been here with every president since Jerry Ford,” said Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy, who attempted to negotiate with Trump to prevent a government shut down last year.
“I’ve always been willing to negotiate with anybody because they always keep their word. If you have a president who doesn’t keep his word, it makes it more difficult,” Leahy said.
2. Kim Jong Un is a liar, a charlatan, and a mass murderer
The entire basis for Kim Jong Un’s role as “Supreme Leader” of the North Korean state is a giant lie, so it is hardly surprising that the despotic leader is a shameless liar. From propaganda claiming Un can control the weather to his deeply deceptive dealings with the international community, the North Korean leader is about as trustworthy a character as Donald Trump. Furthermore, leaders who use high caliber anti-aircraft guns to blow apart officials for grave crimes like falling asleep in public don’t make for the best negotiating partners
“North Korea does not respect any agreements that it signs or promises that it makes,” Ken Kato, director of Human Rights in Asia said recently. The notion that Un will honor any agreement with the United States is simply wishful thinking, thoroughly refuted by history.
3. Trump has done close to no preparation for the summit
Trump has done little preparation for the summit with North Korea. How do we know this? Because the president admitted to it. “I think I’m very well-prepared. I don’t think I have to prepare very much,” said Trump in the Oval Office several days ago. “It’s about attitude, it’s about willingness to get things done. But I think I have been prepared for this summit for a very long time.”
Translation: I have not prepared for this at all.
This is after all, a man who refuses to read the intelligence briefings prepared for him each day, and gets his information about the outside world from Fox & Friends.
4. It is a PR event, hyped by Fox News to distract the public from Trump’s ruthless war on the poor and terrifying policies on immigrant families
As Trump poses with Kim Jong Un and get the media whipped into a frenzy, it is worth noting that his administration is currently waging a savage war on America’s poor, and directing immigrant families to be torn apart upon entering the United States. After passing tax cuts for billionaires last year, the Trump administration made 2018 all about crushing the poor. “The move to slash housing subsidies follows moves to sharply increase work requirements for those seeking food stamps,” writes Paul Krugman. “Meanwhile, the administration has been granting Republican-controlled states waivers allowing them to impose onerous new work requirements for recipients of Medicaid — requirements whose main effect would probably be not more work, but simply fewer people getting essential health care.”
Trump’s war on immigrants is for another article, but the cruelty is simply breathtaking. A pointless North Korean media bonanza serves as a useful distraction from all of this, and Trump is milking it for all it is worth.
5. Without its nuclear arsenal, North Korea has nothing to bargain with in the future
The notion that North Korea will give up its nuclear arsenal is, and always has been farcical. The North Korean economy is, by any meaningful standard, a complete shambles. This is partly due to sanctions, but largely due to the extraordinary incompetence of its leadership and adherence to a failed economic ideology. North Korea’s economy has been growing in recent times, but it is far from a developed nation and needs massive amounts of aid to survive. Kim Jong Un knows that his regime is always on the brink of collapse and is facilitating a deal with the United States to bring much needed investment to his impoverished country. He also knows that the United States would not be negotiating directly with him if his country did not have a nuclear arsenal — the only bargaining chip he has. To give this up would be suicide for his regime, as other non-nuclear countries have found out in the past.
Unfortunately, whether Trump succeeds in getting North Korea to disarm doesn’t appear to matter to the president. During a news conference in Singapore after the meeting, Trump admitted he would simply lie about it should Kim Jong Un not follow through on his promises.
“Honestly, I think he’s going to do these things. I may be wrong,” Trump said. “I may stand before you in six months and say, ‘hey, I was wrong.’ I don’t know that I’ll admit that but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.”
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.