President Calls off Proposed Trump-Kim Summit

Andrew Donaldson

Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire and his writing website Yonder and Home. Andrew is the host of Heard Tell podcast.

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75 Responses

  1. There is some very peculiar language and phrasing choices in this letter. I wonder if it was for translation purposes or particular phrasing aimed to affect Kim directly that they were shooting for with this.Report

  2. Marchmaine says:

    I don’t want to accidentally give credit where none is due… but it seems a fairly standard “pull back” sales technique. I use it a lot and it is very effective when the other party is overly aggressive and frankly over playing their hand. Depending on how you look at it, it is either undiplomatic, or the height of diplomacy.

    In Foreign Service/Diplomatic circles, there’s a bias against “pull back” under the theory that some talks are always better than none. They are wrong, but that’s their culture.

    Of course, there’s always the spectre now-a-days of Bolton’s ghastly hand… where pulling back isn’t a negotiating strategy, but rather the goal. So I wouldn’t opine with any sort of certainty… other than to point out that a pull back tactic is probably the right move here and watch what NK and the US do in the next dance steps.Report

    • I think your perception of a “pull back” tactic is probably correct, the question is why. I too do not trust there to be a coherent long-term plan on the part of the Trump Administration, so pending further evidence I’m inclined to think this is a correct result accidently achieved.Report

      • Marchmaine in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

        I think the “why” is pretty clear, its the “whom” that’s in doubt.

        The simplest explanation is that Trump believed the NK rhetoric about denuclearization, but didn’t realize that it meant a multi-lateral phased-approach vs. a unilateral (aka Libya) approach. Trump’s naivete is born out of ignorance, but Bolton’s doubling down on Libya is born out of ideological rigor.

        In my mind the question is whether being disabused of the simple June 12 “Hai, we’ve come for your nukes, here’s your candy (and where’s my Hotel plot)” meeting Trump was probably expecting, Trump has the stomach for a multi-phased and more complex/riskier denuclearization plan.

        With Bolton/Pompeo in the room, I’m not sure there’s a voice for anything other than Libya redux; at which point the pull back is appropriate since there’s no deal to be had.Report

        • Stillwater in reply to Marchmaine says:

          The simplest explanation is that Trump believed the NK rhetoric about denuclearization

          This is a pretty weedsy question, but is there any evidence that NK *did* express rhetoric about denuclearizing? In real time (during the initial South Korean rollout of the potential meeting) I recall that neither NK nor SK mentioned that denuking was on the table. Rather, it was something Trump *said* they said. If that’s right, there’s a question of why Trump publicly stated that NK had agreed to denuclearization talks, and the range of potential answers are all cynical and not naive.Report

          • Marchmaine in reply to Stillwater says:

            Yes? Moon Jae-in relayed the message directly to the US after the summit where they signed the joint declaration:

            “South and North Korea confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean Peninsula,” read a statement signed by North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, and the South’s president, Moon Jae-in, after their meeting at the border village of Panmunjom.

            How that might happen, at what costs, and under what circumstances was anyone’s guess…Report

            • Stillwater in reply to Marchmaine says:

              Yes, I get the question-mark-of-uncertainty. The sentence following the one you quoted is:

              But during the summit events, some of which were broadcast live around the world, Mr. Kim never publicly renounced his nuclear weapons.

              He also never publicly said he’d discuss denuking with Trump.Report

              • InMD in reply to Stillwater says:

                Fwiw NK is reporting that their nuclear test site was destroyed in the presence of foreign journalists.


                Obviously impossible to know if it isn’t a ruse or misdirection.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to InMD says:

                There’s also this:

                Chinese geologists claim in a new study that the mountain above North Korea’s main nuclear test site collapsed in September, rendering the area unsafe for further testing because of possible radiation leaks — a finding that may shed a different light on Kim Jong Un’s announcement that his country was ceasing its nuclear testing program.


              • Marchmaine in reply to Stillwater says:

                Yep, but I feel like we’re covering ground we’ve already covered 🙂


              • Stillwater in reply to Marchmaine says:

                Partly. I think we agree that KJU will not give up his nukes and delivery system development willingly, and other stakeholders interest’s are in play. The new ground is the extent to which Trump is exposed as a psychopath or fool in his efforts to get them to.Report

              • Marchmaine in reply to Stillwater says:

                On the base point, yes; Kim isn’t going to hand over Nukes for Cash, a Promise, and a Gaddafi Beret.

                Where I’m intrigued is that possibility there is a multi-phase deal that could work… a deal that isn’t favored by the Establishment Blob and especially not by Bolton type hawks.

                In that sense, Trump vs. say, Clinton or Rubio/Jeb, is a wildcard. But, if he’s under the sway of Bolton, then no deal.

                And behold… Trump is now talking Phased approach … not that this means anything after the next twitter cycle.Report

              • InMD in reply to Stillwater says:


              • Marchmaine in reply to Stillwater says:


                Sure, what’s “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula when you intend to keep nukes and a nuclear program?

                But that’s the point… Trump reads the declaration at face value without any sort of historical context; Bolton reads it knowing all he has to do is make sure Trump is thinking unconditional unilateral surrender (aka Libya) and Bolton gets what he wants… no deal.

                But yes, NK (for whatever reason) is/was playing a different gambit… the meetings themselves were [potentially] “historic” How the US and South Korea respond to this new gambit is the question.

                We already know what the “Blob’s” position is on denuclearization for NK (its a lot closer to Bolton than Trump); Trump is the wild-card, and I’d be willing to wager that that’s at least partly behind Kim’s play here… he’s hoping to dodge the Blob and get a deal he can’t get through the establishment foreign service. Think Gorbachev and Reykjavík…Report

            • Stillwater in reply to Marchmaine says:

              One other thought: invoking the Libya model as a likely outcome for NK if they fail to denuclearize was a huge gift to Kim since Libya (like Iraq) is a perfect example of how the US treats countries that *don’t* have nukes.Report

              • Marchmaine in reply to Stillwater says:

                Yes, see above… I’m pretty sure that’s by design of the faction that doesn’t want a deal.

                Going back to the “whom” question, we know Bolton is in that camp… I suspect Pompeo (but not 100% sure), Haley has a cot in that tent, and I hope Pence is in there knowingly, or else he’s even dumber than his critics assert. That Trump doesn’t get it, I take as a starting point.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to Marchmaine says:

                That sounds right to me. On this issue, like so many others, we’ve got two factions with diametrically opposed objectives, one a foreign power the other within the WH, playing Trump for the fool that he is.Report

        • Dark Matter in reply to Marchmaine says:

          The simplest explanation is that Trump believed the NK rhetoric about denuclearization, but didn’t realize that it meant a multi-lateral phased-approach vs. a unilateral (aka Libya) approach.

          A cynic might think what was supposed to happen was the US would pay up front for promises of future denuclearization.Report

          • Stillwater in reply to Dark Matter says:

            That’s not the view of a cynic but rather a pragmatist. A cynic would view the proposal as a ridiculous non-starter intended to ramp up nuclear confrontation with DPRK.Report

            • Morat20 in reply to Stillwater says:

              The cynic’s view of this is that Trump never read the NK briefing papers, or perhaps his gutting of the State Department and installing someone like Bolton as NSA led to him getting really crappy briefs which he also didn’t read, and thus assumed NK wasn’t playing some sort of game.

              The exact same game they’ve played every other time.

              In blunt, the cynic assumes that Trump fell for the obvious ruse that every former American President clearly saw.Report

              • Dark Matter in reply to Morat20 says:

                the cynic assumes that Trump fell for the obvious ruse that every former American President clearly saw.

                How much money did we hand over this time? Zero? And didn’t we hand over a lot more than zero before?

                As far as I can tell the only thing that changed hands was NK’s hostages.

                Oh, and apparently NK is so upset with the cancel that they’re trying to re-arrange to have the meeting again. And now that we’ve proven who wants it worse, maybe we’ll get an actual deal here. NK has been pulling this stunt with us for decades, but Trump has seen this before because he’s been doing it to everyone for decades.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Marchmaine says:

      Except everyone knows Trump always does the pull back, so the other side should be able to use that to their advantage.

      If only it were the hour for the mathematical analysis of models of conflict and cooperation between rival decision makers. (And if only there were a way to say that with more brevity)Report

  3. Chip Daniels says:

    The only coherent explanation for anything Trump does is explained by his need for ego gratification and greed.

    Trump Casino Pyongyang, with a billion dollar licensing fee would resolve this in a millisecond.Report

    • LeeEsq in reply to Chip Daniels says:

      Some people believe that authoritarianism might be the result of the Trump administration. Rampant criminality and institutionalized corruption might be even bigger dangers. Authoritarianism requires a lot of hard work. It might not pay well. Corruption gives you a lot of money and nice things. Its easier.Report

      • Chip Daniels in reply to LeeEsq says:

        Corruption requires a fair degree of authoritarianism to effect. The two are pretty tightly entwined.Report

        • Maribou in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          @chip-daniels Enh. The Liberal Party in Quebec in the late 90s, early 2000s, was not particularly authoritarian by most measures, but they managed to do plenty of corruption. Unless of course one considers Canadian-style social democracy “a fair degree of authoritarianism” to begin with, which I can see why one would, but was not under the impression that you would.Report

          • Maribou in reply to Maribou says:

            I might perhaps posit
            type 1 corruption – people buy off / manipulate the state through bribing members of the government (control of the state through finances)
            type 2 corruption – people use the state to funnel money to themselves and their loved ones or people they want to be nice to them as individuals (basically embezzling but with more flourishes)

            and suggest that type 2 corruption does not actually *require* any degree of authoritarianism, though it does certainly require callous disregard for the taxpayer / citizen / resident. And of course it requires the authority to direct finances and the lack of transparency to achieve one’s goals…. but I don’t believe it requires *enough* of those things to qualify as “authoritarianism” as distinct from “politics as usual”.

            We’re used to seeing those 2 types of corruption combine to create positive feedback loops, such that we see them as a unitary thing, but I’m not sure they *always* go together.Report

            • Saul Degraw in reply to Maribou says:

              I think we see both types of Corruption in the Trump admin from all players.

              Scott Pruitt has done 1 and 2. 1 since the days in Oklahoma state government with using his part-time state legislature job to get better paying private sector jobs and business opportunities. He also got great deals on property purchases like the really nice house from the lobbyist in Oklahoma City.

              Type 2 with all his purchases while head of the EPA and how he flies, etc.

              In terms of Trump himself, it seems pretty clear that people are covering for Trump’s affairs and getting influence with foreign leaders and therefore great business contracts. See Richard Broidy, pregnancy with Playboy Bunny and abortion, payments, and Middle East security contracts worth hundreds of millions or billions of dollars.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Saul Degraw says:

                @saul-degraw I don’t disagree, I just disagreed with Chip’s original statement that corruption *requires* a “fair degree” of authoritarianism. There are a million places that are corrupt, but not notably authoritarian.Report

            • Michael Cain in reply to Maribou says:

              Is it type 2 corruption in the case, for example, that certain paving contracts went to so-and-so’s brother-in-law on the basis of the relationship, and then the BIL did a bang-up job on time and under budget?Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Michael Cain says:

                I think the answer is “it depends”. Did the BIL really do a bang up job and was under budget? It can still be corruption just one that strangely worked out for the public. Did they just have a conservation or was something exchanged.

                This sounds like it happens not so much though.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Michael Cain says:

                @michael-cain Yes, though having grown up on a relatively small island, I see that particular instance as best classified under a different scheme:
                a) “quite tolerable corruption”
                b) “actually need to do something about it corruption”

                Where this one would be a).

                The question with nepotism is whether things still work, in this lazy but gut level comfortable for me (but also not actually how I operate in my own actual workplace which requires me to behave diffently) view.

                Others’ M may obviously V (and probably should).Report

              • Maribou in reply to Maribou says:

                @michael-cain I would also suggest that over time, if this keeps happening, the B-I-L’s firm is likely to become less and less invested in keeping those contracts, and thus the odds of the relationship *remaining* tolerable rather than concerning will decay.

                Hence conflict-of-interest legislation … I don’t think the real peril is that people know each other and will exhibit biases towards each other (because reality), but the institutionalization/enshrinement/temptation-to-sink-further-into-the-morass that it entails.Report

              • Michael Cain in reply to Maribou says:

                Indeed, and what constitutes (a) has varied over time. As my grandfather used to say about Kansas City as it was in the era when he was young, everyone knew that the political boss and his cronies were lining their pockets. But (1) they weren’t overly greedy about it and (2) the trolleys ran reliably and on time, the streets were clean, the potholes got filled promptly, and vice was confined to the red-light district.Report

            • Chip Daniels in reply to Maribou says:

              I think you are touching on the important point.

              Corruption and authoritarianism both require the public to have no faith in the rule of law, or norms of behavior. Which one comes first is irrelevant, since they both flourish in each other’s presence.

              Its also important to note that both demand the willing participation of the public, in carrying it out, concealing it, excusing it.

              That Trump is using the government to line his pockets is the smaller damage; bending the entire Republic to acquiesce is the real horror.Report

              • Saul Degraw in reply to Chip Daniels says:


                Defining corruption is a very hard and weird thing for a variety of reasons.

                1. The classic defense is that “all politicians do it.” I have seen this mainly on the right-wing. Trump’s supporters (and also Netanyahu’s) say “all politicians are corrupt” as a defensive gesture. Maybe they believe it, maybe they don’t. But they still think their guy is delivering the goods and they will defend him to keep him around; and/or

                2. There can be intra-party/side fights about whom or whom isn’t corrupt.

                I think on our side. Andrew Cuomo is a classic example. A lot of my friends in New York hate, hate, hate Cuomo. They think he is at best transactional and at worse corrupt. You must see this on LGM too. Cuomo haters on the left seem to be upper-middle class, educated professionals with good incomes and jobs. They rallied to Zephyr Teachout and now are rallying to Cynthia Nixon. Teachout gut crushed in the NYC primary. We shall see what happens to Nixon. Cuomo wins his primary challenges because his base is working class (and often people of color) people in and around NYC and other New York state metros.

                Do these Cuomo supporters have the same “all politics is corrupt but Cuomo is our guy attitude?” I don’t know. What I do think is that a lot of upper-middle class liberals might have a strong commitment to good government but they also don’t often rely on the kinds of government services that you directly apply for. They don’t need section 8 vouchers, they don’t see why a low to mid-level City, County, or State government job is a great source of security, they don’t need SNAP benefits, etc. They do want more stuff like universal PreK and universal healthcare though.

                I think Cuomo is very transactional (which is blessing and a curse) but he is not corrupt in the same blatant way that Trump is corrupt. I do think that the left has a harder time making peace with transactional politicians compared to the right.Report

              • Maribou in reply to Chip Daniels says:

                @chip-daniels Corruption and norms of behavior can in fact co-exist quite peaceably somewhere slightly off-kilter from the rule of law, if everyone involved is more or less in agreement about what the norm is and it’s relatively close to that rule of law. No one cared, for example, that JFK did all the personal, selfish, and expensive-to-taxpayers things that he did (or any one of a few dozen other presidents) because it was corruption-within-or-even-well-under-normal-limits.

                Where authoritarianism (perhaps among other awful similar moves, I’m not sure) deviates from this is precisely (I think at the moment anyway) in insisting that its *own* much-more-skewed norms must replace the commonly agreed upon norms, and devil take the hindmost of they don’t go along.

                It’s not like the government wasn’t corrupt before Trump showed up, or before the Tea Party, or whatever benchmark you want to pick. It might be heresy but I kinda expect that if I studied the founders enough, they’d seem pretty corrupt too.

                But the awfulness is that Trump’s gov’t said, “OK, ALL NEW NORMS THAT ARE WAY MORE AWFUL THAN THE OLD NORMS” and people went along with it. Not in the sense of not rising up in violent rebellion, but in the sense (for many people) of embracing these new norms and denying their implementation at the same time.

                That’s the authoritarianism piece, the throwing-over of norms that kept things within spitting distance of the law. (Like the difference between people who drive 60 in a 55 and people who drive 100 in a 55…)

                Now, of course there was groundwork for that … were Ryan, Priebus, et al, not fundamentally authoritarian in their thinking habits in the first place, they wouldn’t have caved like they did. Were the fundamental authority of the US govt in the first place not supported by violent means, etc etc (but I won’t get into the wild-eyed left-libertarian piece since on balance I think that’s pragmatically a given and no point wishing it away…).

                But the authoritarian part is a product of the power of the authority figure (and the charisma thereof), not of corruption per se. J. Edgar Hoover was similarly authoritarian and similarly destructive, within his more limited scope, and I’m not even aware of him being corrupt at all (though it wouldn’t surprise me if he was – I just don’t think he was). A terrible person, yes. But sincerely motivated from all appearances.

                (I’m sure if I felt about Obama the way some here do, I could argue the whole argument over again, but saying that Obama was the switch point to authoritarianism, drones and charisma, blah blah blah, because this stuff is all relative. But I don’t feel that way, and I do think Trump is about eleventy times more authoritarian than previous presidents (at least for the last 100 years or so), so i’m not going to make that argument.)Report

              • Maribou in reply to Maribou says:

                *cough* Duly noting that I put a lot to one side to make this argument.

                Cause yo, there were plenty of disgusting authoritarian norms in 1955. They just didn’t vary depending on political party (nor did they apply to wealthy straight masculine-acting white men, for the most part).

                He’s a throwback, and he manages that throw-back-ism through being worse than the vast majority of his predecessors, who were only no better or worse in that dimension than could be expected from men of their time and position, and thus less authoritarian because less out of sync with their peers.

                I can totally see that if you stuck Truman (to pick on someone I actually kinda like) into this day and age, he might come off as a lot more Trumpian (authoritarian-wise) than not. At least until he adjusted (if he could).Report

        • Pinky in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          Corruption requires a fair degree of *power* to effect. Authoritarianism is a system (or aspect of a system) of power.Report

        • LeeEsq in reply to Chip Daniels says:

          I really disagree with this. You need a very limited definition of democracy to believe corruption requires authoritarianism. American politics used to be plenty corrupt but without much in the way of authoritarianism. In big city politics voters used to prefer the openly corrupt candidates because they were better at providing services.Report

          • InMD in reply to LeeEsq says:

            Italy would seem to be a good current example of a country that is both not authoritarian but that suffers from serious corruption problems.Report

            • Stillwater in reply to InMD says:

              Hmm. Good point. Maybe I’m taking a wider view of “authoritarian” than others are. Or that Chip intended.Report

              • InMD in reply to Stillwater says:

                Authoritarianism is one of those terms that I think can be used somewhat carelessly. Despite my ever lengthening list of civil libertarian gripes I wouldn’t call America authoritarian and I think doing so without a lot of nuance is hyperbolic. There are authortarian forces in American society though and political factions with ideas and policy preferences that could reasonably be called authortarian (many of which seem to be held up with a lot of cognitive dissonance).

                Corruption is possible in truly authoritarian places but I see it as more connected to problems maintaining rule of law.Report

              • Stillwater in reply to InMD says:

                I wouldn’t call America authoritarian and I think doing so without a lot of nuance is hyperbolic.

                Is it hyperbolic to say we have the highest incarceration rate in the world even tho we’re the land of the free and all that?Report

              • InMD in reply to Stillwater says:

                No, I include that in one of my civil libertarian gripes and I don’t think its hyperbolic. I’ve always understood ‘Authoritarianism’ in the civics class sense as a system thats highly centralized, unaccountable and enforces minimal political freedom.

                Our mass incarceration problem isn’t something forced from above, its the result of a bunch of policy choices made by elected leaders at the federal, state, and local levels. It hasn’t been the norm for the US until the last 40 or so years and could be reformed without any structural change to our system of government. Among the forces that prop it up are certain political factions and forces with an authoritarian bent but they can be openly criticized and defeated within existing processes. If we were truly authoritarian I don’t think that would be possible.Report

            • Marchmaine in reply to InMD says:

              Greece is slighted by the implication that the Italians know how to do corruption.Report

          • Stillwater in reply to LeeEsq says:

            American politics used to be plenty corrupt but without much in the way of authoritarianism. In big city politics voters used to prefer the openly corrupt candidates because they were better at providing services.

            Lee, I don’t think this is a counterexample to Chip’s claim since the it relies on those particular politicians acting on an authoritarian impulse: that without the authoritarian power of gummint the type of corruption in question wouldn’t be democratically legitimized or tolerated. (See: The Stationary Bandit Theory. 🙂

            Btw, is this comment directed at Bill deBlasio or maybe Cyrus Vance?Report

          • Chip Daniels in reply to LeeEsq says:

            Authoritarianism is almost always wildly popular.
            That’s how it comes to power in the first place.

            Some of this may be that we are just playing fast and loose with highly charged terms as if these are binary states of being, instead of regions with fuzzy borders.

            Maybe its that the two regions have a lot of overlapping territory, with some outlying exceptions.Report

  4. Jaybird says:

    I don’t know what kind of comment to leave because I don’t know how likely it is that my comment will age well.Report

    • Marchmaine in reply to Jaybird says:

      Based on current developments, we’ll either get War, Status quo, or a negotiated denuclearization plan that may or may not contain the seeds of normalization or even reunification. {which, given NK’s history, they may unilaterally decide to subvert and abandon}

      At least that’s how I see it so far.Report

      • Jaybird in reply to Marchmaine says:

        Driving home from work last night (or the night before?), NPR was interviewing someone who was talking about how much of a mistake this summit was.

        Driving into work today, NPR was interviewing someone who was talking about how much of a screwup the cancelling of this summit was.Report

  5. FWIW Mark Knoller is reporting a “Senior WH” source that President Trump dictated the letter “every word”. I am skeptical but since I openly questioned that very thing earlier only fair I put it out there.

    • Kolohe in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

      I mean, it does read exactly like Trump used a speech to text program that also puts a letterhead on the final output.

      Eta it also explains how it came out at kinda a weird time of day for this sort of thing.Report

    • Stillwater in reply to Andrew Donaldson says:

      I don’t understand why you think there’s more going on than a common-sense view would suggest. That Trump wrote statement, didn’t consult any advisers regarding the substance conveyed, didn’t notify any stake-holding allies in the region about the decision, and didn’t consider how the North Koreans would view the statement. All that is perfectly consistent with his MO.Report

      • Stillwater in reply to Stillwater says:

        @andrew-donaldson: from NBC

        “The decision occurred so abruptly that the administration was unable to give congressional leaders and key allies advance notice and…the move exposed significant disagreements among the president’s top advisers.”

        Here’s the deal with Trump: he plays off the media’s inclination to attribute rationality to his decisions, thereby allowing the media in all it’s myriad forms to determine a publicly appealing narrative even while – and precisely while – his decisions are impulsive and irrational, except on a purely politically self-interested calculus. Get with it bro.Report

  6. Saul Degraw says:

    I just saw a bit of Trump’s speech on TV and now I wonder whether we are going to war with North Korea.Report

    • Kolohe in reply to Saul Degraw says:

      Looking on the bright side, we’re still technically at war with North Korea (except in the even more technical sense that we haven’t been at war since V-J day), and also Trump being a total BS artist whose utterances are meaningless warble garble cuts both ways.Report