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There is much sniffiness about President Trump’s meeting with “Rocket Man,” the Ricky Gervais lookalike who runs the horrific regime in North Korea. The criticism that followed the surprise announcement mostly missed the point. Trump is not a normal President. He should be seen in terms of celebrity wrestling, with its ridiculous fake contests and televised tests of strength. He’s done the stomping about swearing vengeance part of the entertainment. Now, he wants to shake hands, hoping that he can produce a dramatic twist in the narrative. It’s not my cup of tea, but it’s preferable to an increasingly dangerous nuclear stand-off, no?
The lofty critics are scathing.
“In some ways there’s a symmetry,” Wendy R. Sherman, a former diplomat for Clinton and Obama, told the New York Times. “You have two leaders who believe fundamentally that they are the only people who matter.”
Bill Clinton never suffered from that problem… oh no.
Sherman’s scepticism about the meeting was pretty typical of what we heard from analysts today: “This is very serious business. It is not a reality show. And it’s our national security that is at stake.”
Another Obama-era official told the NYT that Trump sees himself as a master negotiator, but he is not particularly good at it. Colin Kahl, a former national security adviser under Obama, said: “He isn’t thoughtful or steeped in the types of details required for this type of diplomacy. He is prone to manipulation and flattery. He often makes threats he doesn’t follow through on and promises he can’t or won’t keep. And he often throws allies under the bus. This does not add up to a recipe for success, and the stakes could not be higher.”
Was Obama ever a good negotiator? Not really, no.
This Trump play on North Korea is worth a go. There is little risk attached. With low expectations, Trump won’t be seen to have failed. He will be seen to have tried. And what a show it will be.
I’m a sceptic on Trump – on account of his behaviour, the lying, the naff Trump branding, and much of what he says – but there are double standards being applied. If Obama had managed to bring Kim to the negotiating table, he would this weekend being hailed as the heir to Gandhi, Mother Theresa and Princess Diana combined.
The daft tariffs aside, Trump is also getting somewhere on the economy. The jobs numbers announced on Friday were the best since 1983 and the corporate tax cuts seem to have inspired US business. Re-election looms.
It could all come crashing down, and Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating collusion with Russia, is not someone Trump needs on his tail. Mueller is an all-American hero, a marine with a Purple Heart to his name, a church-going pillar of the community, and a former FBI director. He is out to get the truth. Perhaps Trump should ask for the summit to be in North Korea. And seek asylum.