It is not unreasonable to ask whether Donald Trump and his hapless band of congressional allies are purposefully sabotaging the operations of the United States government, or are simply so incompetent that they cannot help stumbling into both dysfunction and ridicule by sheer misfortune. In all likelihood, it is a combination of the two, a conclusion that should not make anyone feel better about the state of chaos into which our government has crash-landed.
The decision by Trump to cancel the upcoming “summit” with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un demonstrates the utter unpredictability and impulsiveness of this most chaotic of administrations. Unpredictability and impulsiveness are never helpful traits in international affairs (or national politics, for that matter), but in dealing with a nuclear-wielding Kim, probably even less so than usual.
In typical Trumpian fashion, the president lays blame on someone else for his own decision. His typically grammatically-challenged letter to Kim blames the erratic North Korean for the cancellation of the summit, a decision that was, as a matter of fact, made by Trump himself. Trump wrote, “I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting.” That sure sounds like it is Trump breaking up with Kim before Kim can break up with him. Still, Trump holds out the hope the two can reconnect down the road, maybe in time for a nice October surprise before the fall election. “If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit,” Trump offers, “please do not hesitate to call me or write.”
So why the cancellation? As Trump tells Kim, it is because of the “tremendous anger and open hostility” demonstrated in Kim’s recent statements, such as referring to Vice President Mike Pence as a “political dummy” for reiterating National Security Advisor John Bolton’s speculation that the resolution of North Korea’s nuclear program might resemble the “Libyan Model” which ended with one-time nuclear aspirant and dictator Moammar Gaddafi a bullet-riddled corpse in a drainage pipe. Never mind Trump’s threats of unleashing “fire and fury” on the North Koreans or his boast that he has a big, red “nuclear button” sitting on Resolute desk (which, incidentally, he does not). Indeed, even in his letter calling off the summit, Trump cannot help but boast that the U.S.’s nuclear arsenal is “so massive and powerful.”
It seems a bit odd to cancel the summit – which in any event was an impromptu conference at which, in all likelihood, Trump would get a nice photo and little else – the day after Kim apparently blew up the tunnels used at his nuclear test facility, which might have been a more demonstrable act of serious interest in negotiating than his throw-away comment about Pence. Moreover, as Trump noted in his letter, Kim had emancipated three American citizens from Korean prisons (though he deserves little praise for liberating three people he had unlawfully kidnapped and jailed in the first place). Coming after these acts of supposed good faith by Kim, and just weeks after Trump demonstrated the unreliability of our own commitment to nuclear agreements by canceling our participation in the Iran deal, one can easily believe that the North Koreans would have little reason to have much confidence in any future negotiation with Trump.
If there is no summit in June, at least there is summit bling, whose value will now undoubtedly be greatly enhanced on eBay. The commemorative coin – a comically elaborate version of those now regularly distributed by political leaders after the tradition of military commanders – includes the profiles of the two great leaders and a decisive declaration that they are holding a “Peace Summit.” Interestingly, the only date on the coin is “2018”. Maybe that should have been the clue that there would be no June bromance in Singapore after all.
John Lawrence, a visiting professor at the University of California Washington Center, worked for 38 years in the House of Representatives, the last 8 as chief of staff to Speaker/Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi. This post was originally published by John’s blog, Domeocracy.