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Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Kabuki featuring fools and madmen

by digby

Think Progress:

In a statement released by a state-run North Korean news agency, North Korea’s First Vice Minister of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Kim Kye Gwan, threatened to pull out of a summit with President Trump scheduled for June 12 in Singapore.

North Korea’s threat to cancel the summit puts Trump in a very awkward position, after he’s spent weeks portraying it as a key part of his historic legacy.

Kim Kye Gwan wrote that the United States’ offer of extending “economic compensation and benefit” to North Korea in exchange for getting rid of its nuclear weapons is insufficient, and criticized National Security Adviser’s John Bolton’s comments about Libya serving as a model for North Korean denuclearization.

“[I]f they try to push us into a corner and force only unilateral nuclear abandonment, we will no longer be interested in that kind of talks and will have to reconsider… the upcoming summit,” Kim Kye Gwan wrote, adding that Bolton’s comments represent “an awfully sinister move to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq which had been collapsed due to yielding the whole of their countries to big powers.”

Just last week, Trump — alluding to the mere fact that he had scheduled a meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, who he recently described as “very honorable” despite his record of flagrant, brutal human rights abuses — floated himself as a Nobel Peace Prize candidate.

At a rally late last month, Trump encouraged the crowd to chant “NO-BEL! NO-BEL” during a portion of his speech about the North Korean summit.

While speaking to reporters following the return of three American hostages from North Korea last week, Trump said, “My proudest achievement will be – this is part of it – when we denuclearize that entire peninsula.”

With that goal suddenly in jeopardy, White House officials responded to North Korea’s statement on Wednesday by pretending they never actually expected the Kim-Trump summit to take place after all.

But by raising expectations about the meeting, and characterizing it as reflective of his superior deal-making skills, Trump has put himself in a position where he might need the summit to happen more than Kim does.

The president did himself no favors by violating the Iran nuclear agreement last week — a move that signaled to the North Korean regime that the U.S. government’s word can’t be trusted, even if North Korea lives up to the terms of a deal.

It’s possible that North Korea’s statement is just part of an attempt to extract added concessions from the Trump administration if a Trump-Kim summit does eventually happen. Trump officials have already signaled they might accept something short of full denuclearization, with new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo telling Fox News on Sunday that “America’s interest here is preventing the risk that North Korea will launch a nuclear weapon into [Los Angeles] or Denver or into the very place we’re sitting here this morning… that’s our objective” — a position different than calling for North Korea to denuclearize altogether.
As long as they don't incinerate Americans we're fine with it?

It's interesting that they picked up on Bolton's Libya comments. He's been a lot more explicit in the very recent past:
As the nuclear crisis with North Korea enters a critical period, Trump’s choice of Bolton as national security advisor dims the prospect of reaching a peaceful solution. Bolton, like McMaster, sees Kim Jong Un as fundamentally irrational and undeterrable — a view that seems to justify launching a preventive war if North Korea refuses to denuclearize. But McMaster supported diplomacy and, as a military man with extensive combat experience, understood the costs of war. Bolton, on the other hand, has spent his entire career sabotaging diplomacy with Pyongyang and seems downright giddy about a possible military confrontation. 
A little history is helpful here. Bolton was undersecretary of state for arms control and international security when President George W. Bush’s administration made the fateful decision in 2002 to kill the 1994 Agreed Framework with North Korea. The Bill Clinton-era accord froze North Korea’s plutonium program under effective verification. But when it was discovered that Pyongyang was pursuing a separate uranium enrichment program with the help of Pakistan, a key decision had to be made: re-engage in diplomacy to expand the agreement to prohibit uranium enrichment or tear it up, isolate a member of the “Axis of Evil,” and push for regime change. Bush, guided in part by Bolton, chose the latter approach. And once the Agreed Framework collapsed, North Korea took the secured plutonium under its control and built about half a dozen additional nuclear weapons, testing its first in 2006. For many arms control and nonproliferation experts, this case represents a cautionary tale about the risks of foreclosing diplomatic engagement. In Bolton’s mind, however, North Korea’s actions simply prove that diplomacy doesn’t work with rogue states and that the only solution is to end these regimes all together, through U.S. military might if necessary. 
More than a decade later, Bolton continues to cling to this dark worldview. In a Sept. 3, 2017, Fox News interview, Bolton declared that the only option left to address the North Korean nuclear challenge is “to end the regime in North Korea” and strike first. “Anybody who thinks that more diplomacy with North Korea, more sanctions, whether against North Korea or an effort to apply sanctions against China, is just giving North Korea more time to increase its nuclear arsenal,” Bolton warned. “We have fooled around with North Korea for 25 years, and fooling around some more is just going to make matters worse.”
In an echo of the rationale that drove the United States to topple Saddam’s regime, Bolton painted an apocalyptic picture of the gathering danger posed by Kim’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. The North Koreans “are very close to being able to hit targets all across the United States … with thermonuclear weapons,” Bolton said. “Moreover, this regime will sell anything to anybody for hard currency. They could sell these weapons, ballistic missiles and the nuclear devices themselves, to Iran in a heartbeat.… The metaphor of the Axis of Evil is not really a metaphor — it is a reality. North Korea can sell these devices to terrorist groups around the world. They can be used as electromagnetic pulse weapons … destroying our electrical grid’s capabilities. They can be used for nuclear blackmail.” If we fail to act, “it would be a lesson to every would-be nuclear state in the world that if you just have patience enough, you can wear the United States down.” Instead, “we should heed Franklin Roosevelt’s advice.… When you see a rattlesnake poised to strike, you don’t wait until it has struck before you crush it.… I would argue that today North Korean nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, and Iran’s while we’re on the subject, are the rattlesnakes of the 21st century.” 
To further lay the groundwork for taking military action, Bolton penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal just last month titled “The Legal Case for Striking North Korea First.” Recalling the Bush administration’s flawed analysis in the run-up to the Iraq War, Bolton argued that “the threat is imminent” and that the United States has every right to take launch a preventive war before it is too late.
They're not idiots. They know what Bolton thinks. And they also know that Trump is a fucking moron who cannot be trusted while they themselves have broken every agreement they've ever made.

I think hopes are a little bit high for this summit.