Trump folds

You might want to avoid following this advice.
You might want to avoid following his advice.

 

In what may be the least surprising development in Trump-era foreign policy, the president has backed out of his upcoming summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Having impulsively agreed to meet with North Korean dictator, without preconditions, raising ridiculously high expectations for the outcome by giving in to his habitual hucksterism, declaring himself a shoe-in for the Nobel Peace Prize, then making impossible-to-meet demands on the Kim regime while offering no concessions, this was probably inevitable.

997E0290-7545-4247-9250-B52A8D51B080_cx0_cy12_cw0_w1023_r1_sAs I told the host of a local news radio program more than a week ago, I would believe the summit was going to happen when I saw the two leaders sitting down at the table together. Now the big question is what will the Trump administration going to do with all those commemorative coins they had made?

The United States was never going to get from the North Koreans what we said we wanted: immediate, complete, and independently verifiable denuclearization. And we had already gone a long way toward giving the Kim regime what it has long sought: Recognition as nuclear equals. That it has also forged closer ties with a South Korea spooked by the beating of war drums in Washington is just gravy.

When I teach negotiation, one of the cardinal rules I try to convey to my students is the need for negotiators to always have an eye on what’s called their “BATNA” — their best alternative to a negotiated agreement. It’s a simple idea. If any deal you could get would constitute a worse outcome then what happens if you walk away from the table, then you should walk. Even at the cost of what looks and feels like humiliation.

I wrote in this space last week that President Trump, due to all of those points raised at the top of this post, and more, had dealt himself an impossibly bad hand to play in a diplomatic game with incredibly high stakes. So rather than play out the hand, Trump did the only thing he could.

Having carelessly built the pot while holding a losing hand, he folded.

We’ll have to wait to see if that really was the best alternative.

How is Trump being played? Like a fiddle

Kim Jong Un, Donald Trump

On North Korea, impulsiveness, ignorance, towering ego, and a deeply insecure man’s weakness for flattery have led President Trump into a trap of his own making. It remains to be seen how he, and by extension the United States, gets out of it.

Writer David Frum describes the saga of the Trump-Kim Summit as a drama unfolding in multiple acts:

Act I: Trump impulsively agrees to meet North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Perhaps unaware that the North Koreans have sought such a summit meeting for decades, Trump boasts that he has extracted a major concession.

Act II: Trump gradually comes to appreciate that he has been duped. To prove that he’s a winner, not a fool, he begins to oversell the summit, promising that the denuclearization of North Korea is at hand.

Act III: The North Koreans issue a public statement refuting Trump’s boasts. No, they will not denuclearize. And oh, by the way, it’s Trump who must pay tribute to them, not the other way around: If he wants his summit, he should cancel joint U.S.-South Korean exercises.

We’re in Act IV right now—and Act V has yet to be written.

As Frum writes, it was South Korean President Mood Jae-in that put the idea into Trump’s head, which he then leaped to make his own. And Kim Jong Un has reaped the rewards: an offer of a face-to-face meeting with the US president made without preconditions; de facto recognition as a nuclear equal; and leverage over a president who “Throughout his career … has coped with failure by brazenly misrepresenting failure as success.”

Kim has made clear that the expectations created by Trump – that North Korea will agree to complete and independently verifiable denuclearization – are never, ever, going to happen. So what crumbs will Trump actually accept in order to try to spin failure into something more than what it is? An end to North Korean nuclear testing? Kim has already offered that. After all, having successfully developed their weapons, actual tests are no longer necessary to continue to build out North Korea’s arsenal.

And more importantly, what will Trump give up in order to walk away a “winner” from the summit scheduled for June 12 in Singapore? An end to sanctions? An end to US-South Korean military exercises, something North Korea has wanted for decades? An announcement of partial withdrawal of US forces from the Korean Peninsula? A promise of a complete withdrawal?

While he may finally be recognizing the enormity of what’s at stake in these talks, I suspect Trump himself has no idea.  Nor does he appear inclined to try to figure it out:

With just one month until a scheduled sit-down with North Korea’s leader, President Donald Trump hasn’t set aside much time to prepare for meeting with Kim Jong Un, a stark contrast to the approach of past presidents.

“He doesn’t think he needs to,” said a senior administration official familiar with the President’s preparation. Aides plan to squeeze in time for Trump to learn more about Kim’s psychology and strategize on ways to respond to offers Kim may make in person, but so far a detailed plan hasn’t been laid out for getting Trump ready for the summit.

And this is a problem, because even a seasoned, skilled diplomat would have a hard time playing the cards that Trump has dealt himself. Of course Trump is neither of those things.  And having walked away from the nuclear agreement with Iran, which in all honesty offered the same basic deal on the table with Kim, significant economic benefits in exchange for giving up nuclear ambitions, Trump has made it all the more difficult to come out of a North Korean summit a winner.

Gaza is a concentration camp

Israeli troops face Palestinian protesters along the Gaza border fence. (Photo: New York Times)
Israeli troops face Palestinian protesters along the Gaza border fence. (Photo: New York Times)

 

Yes, I know that is an inflammatory headline. But what else should we call a place where the inmates are shot down by soldiers when they approach the wire that imprisons them?

gaza_2007_map_correct_PASSIAThe map here (click on it to enlarge), created by Palestinian academics in 2007, helps us understand why. Through the use of fences, exclusion zones, and heavily guarded crossings, Israel controls the flow of goods, construction supplies, even food and medicine, into Gaza. And it prevents most Gazans from leaving.

The fishing limits imposed on Gaza by Israel has led to the collapse of the Gazan fishing industry, with devastating impact on the territory’s economy.

The border fence is designed to keep Palestinians from leaving Gaza; from the Israeli perspective its purpose is to prevent Palestinian terrorists from infiltrating Israel. Its effectiveness has been maintained over the years through the use of lethal force.

Just like the lethal force that was used against Palestinian protesters yesterday leaving at least 60 dead and up to 2,000 wounded.

Let that sink in for a moment: Sixty people killed by Israeli soldiers and thousands more wounded.

So think about it again: What else should we call a territory where people are contained against their will, with their movement, livelihoods, even their very lives, under the total control of a military willing to kill in order to maintain that control?

Gaza is a concentration camp.

Those Kansas terrorists? Convicted

Somali immigrants, like these women at community center in Garden City, Kan., were the intended targets. (Photo: Adam Reynolds)
Somali immigrants, like these women at a community center in Garden City, Kan., were the intended targets. (Photo: Adam Reynolds)

 

Three members of a Kansas terrorist cell have been convicted of plotting to carry out a car bomb attack on an apartment complex in the small town of Garden City.

You remember these guys — angry, middle-aged, white, Christian, men — and the Somali immigrants who were their intended targets:

The Kansas men called themselves “Crusaders: who planned to create a “bloodbath” by detonating vehicles laden with bombs the day after the November 2016 election. Day [an FBI informant] testified that [defendant] Stein called the Somalis “cockroaches.”

It’s the rare circumstance when I would utter praise for Attorney General Jeff Sessions, but in his comments on this case he actually gets it right:

The defendants in this case acted with clear premeditation in an attempt to kill people on the basis of their religion and national origin. That’s not just illegal — it’s immoral and unacceptable, and we’re not going to stand for it. Today’s verdict is a significant victory against domestic terrorism and hate crimes.

The Kansas plotters followed an all-too-familiar trajectory of radicalization in these divisive times:

Evidence presented in the trial painted a picture of an all-American brand of homegrown terrorism: angry white men radicalized by Islamophobic memes and fake online news articles whose path to violent extremism was accelerated by a divisive election cycle and a candidate who sounded like them.

The jury’s verdict was unanimous. And now these three terrorists, who described Somalis as insects that had to be exterminated because “they keep coming back,” face life imprisonment. Here’s hoping they get it.