Were he still president, Bill Clinton would have left Hanoi with a signed agreement with Kim Jong-un, proudly taken the credit, and watched his poll numbers bounce up in time for the next election.
Then, gradually, intelligence agencies would have determined that the agreement permitted Kim to continue his nuclear program. Clinton would have, however, lifted sanctions and we would be left without leverage and with nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula.
But not Donald Trump. He recognized that Kim was not offering enough to lift sanctions. Not by a long shot. And he turned down the deal and walked away.
His walk away will do more, in the long run, to end the problem of North Korea’s nuclear weapons then signing a flawed agreement would ever have done.
Most likely, Kim saw that Trump was facing domestic political trouble. He knew that, even as the two leaders were meeting, Michael Cohen was testifying revealing all about the privileged relationship he had had with Trump. He would know — and doubtless his advisors would have told him — that Trump needed a deal badly to protect himself from his critics in Washington.
Knowing that Trump would need a saving agreement, Kim stiffened his bargaining posture, figuring that the Americans would cave in. But Trump wouldn’t cave. He turned away from the glittering political plum of a deal and demanded real change instead.
The Democrats’ desire to pursue Trump at all costs likely caused Kim to try to get a deal by sleight of hand. Could they not have scheduled Cohen’s testimony a few days later? What would have been the harm?
On a tactical level, President Trump’s show of courage and insistence of a real deal, sends a key message to Kim: The only way to get relief from sanctions is to make real concessions verified by inspection.
Trump’s refusal to cave also underscores the effectiveness of our sanctions on North Korea. If they are enough to bring Kim to the table to negotiate once, they will bring him again. President Trump’s courageous stand and his refusal to bend will force a real peace deal.
Kudos to Trump for doing what Clinton, Obama, and the Bushes failed to do: To stand firm in the face of North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
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