Let’s Get This Straight: No One “Misspoke”. There Was No “Mistake”. All You Need To Figure That Out Is A Timeline And Two Words: “Libya Model”
South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in will meet with President Trump in Washington today in what was intended as a cross-the-t’s-dot-the-i’s kind of thing, and has now turned into more of a salvage operation. Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, scheduled for June 12th, hangs in the balance. (We think Trump is still inclined to do it: he wants his “Nixon in China” moment, and he’s fascinated by Kim. But we’re less sure than we were a week ago).
If the meeting doesn’t come off, it’ll be almost entirely due to efforts to undermine it by Trump’s new National Security Adviser, John Bolton. We have no “secret sources” on this. So how are we so sure that’s the case?
- January 9th: First face-to-face meetings between North and South Korea in 2 years.
- February 11th: Winter Olympics in South Korea. Kim Jong-un’s sister attends.
- March 6th: South Korean diplomats visit North Korea.
- March 8th: Trump agrees to meet Kim.
- March 9th: Bolton, not yet National Security Adviser, says on Fox that the only value to a Trump/Kim meeting would be to ““foreshorten the amount of time that we’re going to waste in negotiations that will never produce the result we want”.
- April 1st: Then C.I.A. Director (now Secretary of State) Mike Pompeo secretly visits North Korea to discuss meeting with Trump. (Pompeo is no fan of North Korea either, but he’s loyal to the President and so presses ahead.)
- April 9th: Bolton’s first day on the job as National Security Adviser, replacing H.R. McMaster.
- April 27th: North and South Korean leaders meet at the DMZ; pledge to remove nuclear weapons and formally end the Korean War.
- April 29th: Bolton starts talking about applying “Libya Model” to North Korea.
- May 16th: North Korea balks.
- May 17th: Trump says “the Libya model isn’t the model that we have at all when we’re thinking of North Korea.”
Bolton didn’t say those “code words”, repeatedly, by accident. (Until he was finally “corrected” by Trump). His backers say he was referring to a framework, not an outcome. But c’mon, any reference to Libya carries with it images, if not outright implications of regime change and violent death.
Bolton’s a career diplomat (yes, you can be a diplomat without being diplomatic), and even a bad diplomat would know that.
He’d also know that North Korea would react by going into a defensive posture, insisting it’s not going to budge on nukes for anyone. And that’d give him and the White House cover to blame North Korea for the mess.
And we urge you to look again at North Korea’s statement from last week threatening to pull out of the meeting with Trump, which we believe was not properly interpreted by mainstream media. It actually speaks positively of Trump and Pompeo. It’s really all about Bolton, and warning Trump in the politest way they know how (which admittedly isn’t very polite) that he is poison.
What Happens Next?
All depends on what South Korea’s President brings to the table today. President Moon has proven quietly adept in engaging Trump, handing him a steady series of “wins” to keep him happy. Those include huge trade concessions, asking for Trump’s “blessing” in talks to try to formally end the Korean War, and even giving Trump full credit (according to Trump), for the success of the Winter Olympics. Will more of that be enough to convince Trump everything’s OK?
Later this week, North Korea is scheduled to destroy its partly-collapsed main nuclear bomb testing site, so that might be helpful too. Although South Korean journalists who were invited to witness the dismantling of the site have not yet been granted visas.
We’ve met John Bolton numerous times in the past, and he always makes a point of making it clear that he’s the smartest guy in the room. We have no doubt he sincerely believes the Trump-Kim summit would be a waste of time, will not solve anything, and North Korea is completely untrustworthy even if they do appear to agree to something. How are we so sure about that? He was instrumental in killing a Clinton-concocted North Korea deal when George W. Bush came into office. (He describes it as shattering the deal with a hammer.)
And Bolton may be right about North Korea. Whether he is or isn’t, isn’t really the problem. It’s that his job is to advise the President. Not overrule.