Shooting Craps Over the Singapore Meeting

Shooting Craps Over the Singapore Meeting

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

The President will never learn but maybe his staff will.  The President is now acknowledging that the June 12th scheduled meeting in Singapore with North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un may quite possibly not take place; or will be postponed.  From this encounter Trump should learn two lessons, but, sadly, that is most unlikely.

First, diplomacy requires that negotiations precede any presidential action. Trump’s behavior was sophomoric when the South Korean Government presented him with an offer from the North Korean leader for a summit meeting. The President jumped at the proposal.  There was no obvious hesitation, caution, or reticence exhibited by the President. With no staff preparation or internal review, Trump acquiesced. Now, the President finds himself beginning to squirm as North Korea is playing out in public all the issues that would have been walked through at a by lower level prior to agreeing to any summit meeting even being announced.

Negotiations even between or among friends are complex. Meetings between Heads of State, historically, are not negotiating sessions, regardless of the impression that leaders like to present. World leaders do not travel around the world without already knowing with what results they will return; both for diplomatic as well as political reasons. By the time leaders meet, all that is really left is a “business meeting”, signing some documents, having a dinner, and socializing. Clearly, in this instance, President Trump rejected any of these steps, presumably because he abhors what he would refer to as diplomatic “niceties”. Trump presumes that when he speaks the entire world responds to his whim.

Second, the President has no sense of how he has embarrassed the American people. He can walk away from his meeting with President Kim, but he never allowed the process of negotiations to evolve. Not only will he take heat at home, but America’s allies in the region—especially Japan and South Korea—as well as China will have been ignored and rebuffed by his arrogance. The President assumes he can conduct international affairs any way he wishes; but he has no consideration or respect for other countries.  

As was the case with his decision to break the Iran agreement, if the process falls apart or the meeting is fruitless, Trump is the one who failed. The system worked; but Trump will never accept responsibility that he caused it fail.   

If North Korea resumes testing and intensifies its nuclear production, the President could opt for an aggressive response against the North Korea as he had threatened previously. At that point the American people will see whether Defense Secretary Mattis will be able to confront NSC Director Bolton and whom Secretary of State Pompeo will support. In that scenario, everyone in the decision-making loop will emerge bloodied. The regional conflict could well be extremely serious.   

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