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Wednesday, November 29, 2023

Trump: Bested by Putin and an even-shorter fingered autocrat?


President Trump is notoriously overconfident, a trait that doesn’t work well when negotiating on highly complex and often nuanced topics with any country, let alone an adversary with nuclear-capable missiles. Donald Trump and N. Korean President Kin Jung-Un’s last handshake lasted 13 seconds (video), and the U.S. president may have been gloating inside thinking “and some people say I have short fingers.”

Considering the breaking news about Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, who has shown up in Hanoi, we have to wonder whether Trump will be representing the best interests of the United States in negotiations, or those of Vladimir Putin. TASS says Putin and Trump did not discuss forthcoming US-North Korean summit, however, they don’t say that Lavrov didn’t convey Putin’s wishes to Trump. In fact, Lavrov contradicts the TASS report:

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov on Monday said that the U.S. asked for Moscow’s advice in approaching this week’s summit between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The Associated Press reported that Russian state media revealed comments from Lavrov in which he said Moscow believes the U.S. should offer “security guarantees” to Pyongyang in exchange for a deal to abandon its nuclear arsenal.

Lavrov said the U.S. “is even asking our advice, our views on this or that scenario” ahead of the summit. From The Hill

We can’t be confident that the final handshake between Kim and Trump won’t be taking place with a Russian flag in the background.

Donald Trump is very sensitive about the fact that his shorter-than-average fingers have become the subject and in some instances derision and jokes. Republican presidential debate, Trump asked the audience Republican presidential debate asked the audience, “Look at those hands. Are those small hands?” and this joke from Vanity Fair “O.K., you, in the third row… Yes, you… I’m calling on you… Yes, that’s why I’m pointing… I’m pointing with my finger… My FINGER. This one… Why would you think I’m holding up a cocktail frank?” Here’s the Vanity Fair history of how the appellation “short-fingered vulgarian” was added to the list of pejorative descriptions of Donald Trump.

Donald Trump brings to his discussions with Kim the most overblown ego of any American president in modern history and the pressing desire to achieve self-aggrandizing goals first, political goals that will play well in the next elections second, and last and least to achieve goals that are both realistic and the best for the country.

Trump may probably didn’t run this tweet by North Korea experts:

Nothing like reminding the president of another country that they are an economic backwater in dire need to obtain American’s help in order to become an economic powerhouse and major player on the world stage. He might as well have told Kim that his country would always be a shithole nation without his help.

Trump also said on Sunday in remarks to the nation’s governors.“It’s a very interesting thing to say, but I’ve developed a very, very good relationship. We’ll see what that means. But he’s never had a relationship with anybody from this country, and hasn’t had lots of relationships anywhere.” True enough, but rubbing it in that Kim hasn’t had lots of relationships anywhere isn’t particularly diplomatic.

Not known to be a deep thinker Trump may be under the misapprehension that a diminutive leader is not a strong leader to be reckoned with and to be approached as an equal. After all, the president had handlers who photoshopped an image of him to lengthen a finger and whose latest medical report lists him as being 6′ 3″ tall though as Rachel

Maddow proved with photo comparisons of Trump standing next to other world leaders, he is really an inch or two shorter. If you look closely at the photos of Trump and Kim shaking hands their fingers seem to be the same length and only the North Korean’s palms are obviously smaller.

This would all be a ridiculously irrelevant exercise if we had a president whose compulsion to be the biggest and best impinges on some many aspects of his reasoning and hence his governing.

This is some of what Phillip Rucker and Josh Dawsey said about the summit in The Washington Post:

He sees his summits with Kim as television-ratings gold, aides said.

Aides have discussed with Trump that Kim is not a rational actor, and that he could be mentally unstable, according to a person present for those private conversations who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe them.

In 2017, when the two leaders traded insults, White House officials explained to Trump that there was no predicting or controlling how Kim might respond or possibly retaliate, the person said. At the time, Trump mocked Kim as “Little Rocket Man,” while Kim said Trump was a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard,” a word suggesting senility.

The president’s position then, according to the person, was “you have to deal with a bully by bullying them — and if someone is going to be tough, you’ve got to be more tough back.”

The last sentence here is not reassuring.

Neither is the last sentence in this quote from the OpEd by political economist and North Korea specialist Nicholas Eberstadt describing the challenge of this meeting succinctly in The New York Times: 

Mr. Kim bested Mr. Trump at their first meeting in Singapore in June last year. And he is poised to do so again.

The reason is simple: He has a strategy and the Americans do not. The United States hopes to somehow keep the world safe from North Korea. But Mr. Kim has an actual plan to make the world safe for North Korea.

Mr. Kim’s plan — the same as his father’s and grandfather’s, and one breathtakingly revisionist — is nothing less than unconditional reunification of the Korean Peninsula under the control of his government in Pyongyang. Nuclear weapons are indispensable to achieving his vision. And rational actors do not bargain away their core interests; only fools or traitors do.

This one should give Americans chills: “… rational actors do not bargain away their core interests; only fools or traitors do.”

Update 02/26/19 7PM EST

“A bad deal for the United States”: top South Korean official, Moon Chung-in, a special adviser for foreign affairs and national security to South Korea’s president slams proposed Trump-Kim pact – VOX

A proposed agreement for President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to sign during their Vietnam summit this week “is a bad deal for the United States.”

That’s not the view of a cynical expert, or a Democrat. It’s the view of a top national security adviser to South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

For one of his (S. Korean Pres. Moon Jae-in) top advisers to trash the proposed agreement is more than surprising, because it could drive a major wedge between US negotiators and their South Korean counterparts. That matters for the North Korea talks as the South Koreans have proven to be important conduits in certain diplomatic moments.

Still, a top adviser of a critical ally in the US-North Korea talks just trashed the general outline of what Trump and Kim may sign in two days. And if South Korea isn’t happy, it’s possible Trump’s negotiators may have to scramble to either satisfy their ally or change the proposed deal altogether.

Final thought: “Why is everyone looking so happy” think a befuddled president.

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