The Vacuity of Trump’s NK Policy

More evidence that Trump really doesn't know what he is doing. (Or just doesn't care).

“President Trump Meets with Chairman Kim Jong Un” by The White House is in the Public Domain, CC0

Since Doug Mataconis blogged about this general topic before I could (Kim Jong-Un Announces End Of Testing Moratorium), let me just add the following (via the Reuters/NYT):

“But he did sign a contract, he did sign an agreement talking about denuclearization. … That was done in Singapore, and I think he’s a man of his word, so we’re going to find out,” Trump told reporters at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.

You can see full video of the clip here. In the ellipsis above is omitted Trump noting how “denuclearization” was in the first sentence of the “contract.”

First, and most importantly, what was issued was a joint statement by Trump and Kim and it was wholly nonbinding. Trump either actually thinks it is a contract of some sort or he is consciously (and continually) lying about the nature of the document (or, really, he doesn’t care and only says what is of use to himself at the moment). At a minimum, whether through ignorance, untruth, or cynical manipulation of his followers, he clearly does not actually care about substantive policy regarding North Korea.

We are more or less where anyone who knows anything about Korea knows: this is pretty much where we were going to end up despite photo ops and very beautiful letters.

Second, it continues to astound and baffle that supporters of Trump just fall in line as he praises Kim Jong Un as being “a man of his word” let alone simply treating him like an honest broker. I get how a low information voter who may not know much about the country, save in the vaguest of terms, might think some progress is being made. However, the cravenness of leader of the Republican party, as well as huge chunks of “conservative” media, is pretty remarkable.

And yes, all of that behavior has to be viewed through the lens of keeping power (whether it be re-election or ratings) and thus is amenable to explanation. It still does not make it any less craven nor any less remarkable.

Regardless of explanations, the respect and deference that Trump shows to Kim Jong Un, in contrast to his rude disdain for G7 and NATO allies, is more than a bit sickening.

On the most minor of issues, I would note that denuclearization is not mentioned in the first sentence of the document (yes, I know, it is shocking that Trump exaggerated in a way that was false). Presumably he is referring to the following, the first sentence of the third paragraph:

Convinced that the establishment of new US-DPRK relations will contribute to the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula and of the world, and recognizing that mutual confidence building can promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un state the following:

Not only does this not equate to an agreement to actually do anything, as I noted in 2018, the US and North Korea have different views of what “denuclearization” means.

To get down to the bottom line: none of this advances US interests in the region. None of this makes South Korea safer. And while one can rightly note that Trump’s various PR stunts with Kim have been of marginal significance, they do continue to signal, given Trump’s broader interactions with world leaders, that the President of United States is more comfortable with dangerous dictators than he is with the democratically elected leaders of our allies.

So, in short: no progress on the national security front and general erosion of America’s global reputation and influence.

FILED UNDER: National Security, US Politics, , , , , , , , , , ,
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter


  1. CSK says:

    As long as Trump has a cheering squad telling him that he’s The Greatest President Ever–and his base does that constantly–he doesn’t care one way or the other. It IS important to him to perceive himself as the most beloved figure in American history.

    He has remarked, on more than one occasion, that if it weren’t for the Fake News, he’d have an approval rating of 75%.

  2. Sleeping Dog says:

    Will War Derail Trump’s Reelection?

    Saw this the other day and we can be assured that whatever action Tiny takes will be what he views as best for his re-election. I’m wary of an October surprise. Initially the country will rally to Tiny if war breaks out, but it won’t be long, perhaps only a few weeks before the mood will turn.

    But he did sign a contract…

    I read that as an admission that Tiny was duped and he knows it.

  3. Just nutha ignint crackerd says:

    OT I know, but I will note that for all of the fulmination and such of what a lard a$$ the President is, it’s interesting to not that the least obese person in that picture may well be Donald J. Trump.

    It could also be a tribute to the benefits of a well-made suit, but even then he’s still leaner than either Pompeo or Jong-eun.

    ETA: Please feel free to begin your Two-Minute Hate whenever you wish.

  4. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint crackerd: It’s the way Trump is sitting, leaning forward. And the guy on the far left doesn’t look too porky.

  5. Gustopher says:

    @Just nutha ignint crackerd: I like the way that the Presidents get chairs with arms, but the little people have to make do with no arms.

    And the posture hides the weight in that photo. But it does show the shoulder pads.

  6. OzarkHillbilly says:

    When has trump ever been bound by something as paltry as a contract? Yeah, never. Why would anyone else with half a brain feel bounded by a contract with trump?

  7. Teve says:

    @Just nutha ignint crackerd: The funny thing is how terrible the suits usually look given that I read somewhere that they’re Brioni.

  8. Guarneri says:

    Yes, we do have to admit that such sparkling progress has been made during the last 5 administrations.

    But malcontents will take the opportunity to bitch when given the opportunity. Its their nature.

  9. Ken_L says:

    Presumably Trump will now switch to bragging that if not for his diplomatic genius, America would have been in a terrible war with North Korea long ago. As evidence he will cite a conversation he had with Obama before he was inaugurated, which nobody else in the world (including Obama) knew about.

  10. inhumans99 says:


    Wait…you loathe libtards and Democratic Presidents and feel they are useless, and you just admitted that President Trump accomplished a whole lot of nothing, just like the past administrations….wow, progress, you are able to criticize President Trump when he said he would rise to the occasion and do what no other President but his perfectness could do and solve the NK nuclear missile problem but ultimately failed in that task.

    Like I said, progress G-dude, there is hope for you yet. Maybe we will turn out to be friends, stranger things have happened.

  11. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Teve: Even Brioni suits look so-so if you play the “I’m-too-important/busy-to-get-a-second-fitting” game, which I understand Trump does.

  12. Ebenezer_Arvigenius says:

    @Teve: This might be of interest to you.

  13. CSK says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: And…Trump has said that when he looks in the mirror he sees a 35-year-old.

  14. DrDaveT says:

    More evidence that Trump really doesn’t know what he is doing.

    Which begs the question, has there ever been any positive evidence that Trump does know what he’s doing, on any topic or in any area of endeavor, since he took office?

  15. CSK says:
  16. @Guarneri: Non sequitur.

    (Are you trying to prove Reynolds right about you?)

  17. mattbernius says:


    Yes, we do have to admit that such sparkling progress has been made during the last 5 administrations.

    I don’t think anyone is going to praise what happened over past administrations. At best they left us in a neutral position (like Obama).

    However, if you had a shred of intellectual honesty, you’d note that Trump has actively made the situation worse than how he found it. First he escalated the conflict. Then he gave the NK’s a number of PR victories and got nothing in return. He also destabilized our relationship with SK.

    And the worst part is most foreign policy experts predicted all of that. So, yeah, past polices haven’t work. But for the most part, they didn’t make things this much worse while not working.

    But hey, keep shitposting defenses of Trump for the LULZ and disappearing like the intellectual coward you are. Just stop pretending that you’re the smarted person in the room.