We now know that President Trump is not only a practitioner of the “madman theory” of international politics but also at the negotiating table.
It’s ironic that while most pundits and the media kept up a steady drumbeat that he was going to give away the store, he did just the opposite, holding out for a better deal.
Maybe that shouldn’t be so surprising. After all, he wouldn’t be the first businessman to use that tactic in trying to clinch a deal. Brinkmanship is a piece of standard equipment for him and others in that world.
Exactly what happened is unclear and we will need to wait for the dust to settle. It’s hard to believe that Kim Jong Un wanted all sanctions lifted in return for just dismantling Yongbyon. He must have known going in that was a non-starter.
And whether the US position shifted away from the phase-by-phase approach back to one demanding more up front also remains unclear. As does the hidden hand of John Bolton who the North Koreans have called “the father of their nuclear program” because of his role in engineering the collapse of the 1994 denuclearization deal negotiated by President Clinton when he worked for President Bush.
The key question is, of course, what next? The two leaders are heavily invested in the process so hopefully, this failed summit will just be one more chapter in the rollercoaster ride that is the Trump presidency. But the danger is that as his domestic troubles mount and threaten to engulf him, President Trump may have little time to devote to propelling his North Korea initiative forward.
Now that many of the critics of that initiative have got what they wanted—a tougher approach to North Korea—they have to accept the consequences, whatever they may be. It remains to be seen whether this failed summit represents another historical hinge point like President Clinton’s failure to go to Pyongyang in 2000 or the collapse of the Agreed Framework in 2002, which resulted in the continued growth of the North Korean nuclear threat.