By cancelling the summit President Trump has abandoned an opportunity to reduce tensions on the peninsula and possibly transform the region.
President Donald Trump shocked foreign policy professionals during his presidential campaign when he stated that he was willing to talk to North Korea’s Kim Jong-un. Earlier this year, he took up Kim’s surprise summit offer, resulting in the foreign policy shocker of the year.
No one thought an agreement would be easy, and there were fears that the president had unrealistic expectations, which apparently turned out to be the case. Convinced that his bluster and threats—matching the North Koreans’ penchant to invoke the specter of “fire and fury”—had finally brought the Hermit Kingdom to heel, Trump apparently assumed that Kim was ready to surrender his nukes and every other weapon in his possession in return for expressions of good will and promises of future benefits.
Now the president, in response to what he termed the North’s “tremendous anger and open hostility”—par for the course for both the Kim regime and Trump administration last year—cancelled the meeting. In fact, Pyongyang’s outburst was not sua sponte. The administration already had taken a victory lap, suggesting that the North had agreed to its tough demands.
Moreover, National Security Advisor John Bolton was touting the “Libya model.” Not only did the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) possess far more advanced military programs than Libya, but the DPRK also had a target for retaliation, South Korea’s capital of Seoul, should America attack. Most important, after promising Libyan leader Muammar el-Qaddafi economic benefits and political inclusion, Washington took advantage of his postnuke weakness to oust him in 2011. The North Koreans said at the time that they would never fall for a similar trick. Bolton was a particularly poor messenger since after backing the denuclearization accord he advocated that U.S. forces target Qaddafi directly during Libya’s civil war.