No, Trump’s North Korea Diplomacy Is Still Not Working

Xinhua via ZUMA

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At the Washington Post today, Simon Denyer reports that at least a few North Korea experts are warming up to President Trump’s approach:

At Stanford, Hecker, Carlin and researcher Elliot Serbin have been charting the degree of risk on the Korean Peninsula since 1992, using a range of indicators ranging from diplomacy to various aspects of North Korea’s nuclear and missile program. On their color-coded chart, bright green is the safest classification, bright red the riskiest.

When Barack Obama took office, the boxes were a mixture of pinks and light reds. By the time he left office, eight out of 11 boxes were bright red, with North Korea testing missiles and bombs.

By 2017 — with Trump’s bombastically calling Kim “Little Rocket Man” — nine boxes were bright red. “The risk of war was high,” Hecker said.

Since then, though, the diplomacy box has shifted to green. With North Korea suspending nuclear and missile tests, other boxes have returned to a more reassuring mid-red or pink.

I suspect that lots of people privately hold this view but won’t admit it. It’s the reason that so much of the analysis before the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore was fairly tepid: a lot of people were afraid to flat out say that Trump’s approach was dumb until the summit was well over and had produced nothing. After all, it was so crazy it might have worked, right? Kim is certainly susceptible to flattery, and who knows more about ego stroking than Donald Trump?

The second-round summit in Vietnam is getting less attention in general than the first, but apparently there are now a few more people who are willing to defend Trump’s methods out loud. And who knows? Maybe they’re onto something. But there’s a huge caveat: as near as I can tell, nobody believes that North Korea will give up its nukes no matter what Trump offers.

In other words, Trump’s approach might work, but only if “work” means accepting North Korea as a nuclear state and then moving forward from there. This is a deal that my cats probably could have negotiated, and I hardly understand why it required a long bromance between Trump and Kim to get there. It’s a nothingburger. Wake me up if Trump negotiates something that’s actually difficult.

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