The Nobel committee will presumably be disappointed, but President Donald Trump should cancel his planned June 12 summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
The meeting is much more likely to serve Kim’s interests rather than ours and could well begin the unraveling of the pressure campaign that is our most reliable point of leverage against the regime. There is every reason for Kim to want a superficially successful summit in Singapore, and the easiest way to deny him one is to call the whole thing off.
The past week has shown that the North Koreans aren’t to be underestimated—something that is easy to forget because the regime is not just heinous and evil, but ridiculous. Pyongyang managed to wrap the president around the axle on “the Libyan model” and got him to go wobbly on rapid and complete denuclearization with just a few pointed statements.
The Hermit Kingdom can barely feed its people and can’t keep its lights on, but it is good at this. Its existence literally depends on its shrewd diplomatic gamesmanship with the West, winning concessions that give it an economic lifeline while still preserving and advancing its weapons systems.
Trump deserves credit for tightening a sanctions regime with considerable slack in it and intimidating Kim with his battery of insults and bombast. But the president was pushing on an open door: If history is any guide, the North wanted to use its bout of missile tests to get back to the negotiating table, and so it has.
While Trump imagines himself doing what no president has before—solving the conflict on the Korean Peninsula — the North Koreans believe they can get Trump to do what other presidents have done before—give it a favorable deal in the hopes of solving the conflict on the Korean Peninsula.
Although the North Koreans surely worry about the “madman” theory of Trump, they also must consider him in some respects an easy mark. His weakness is obviously his susceptibility to flattery and his self image as the world’s best deal-maker. Throw in an allergy to details and the North Koreans have plenty of material to work with.