We have now had several opportunities to see just what the president, practitioner of the art of the deal, can do when given an opportunity to negotiate with other heads of state. Short answer: give away the store.
Start with North Korea. Trump gave Kim Jung-un the gift of prestige and credibility by meeting with him to discuss North Korea’s dismantling its nuclear weapons infrastructure. Worth it, says Trump, since after the meeting Kim was rushing home to begin that process “right away,” so that “there was no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.” Half right. Kim was indeed rushing home, but to begin the acceleration, expansion, and concealment of his country’s nuclear production. U.S. intelligence agencies report that North Korea is stepping up its uranium enrichment program in at least one undeclared facilityÂ and upgrading another. It is also completing an expansion of a plant manufacturing solid-fuel ballistic missiles capable of reaching U.S. military installations in Asia. None of which is something one does as a prelude to destroying these facilities.
Meanwhile, our negotiator-in-chief, who did not see the need to bring along technical advisers, then proceeded to give Kim something he has long sought-cancelation of joint military exercises with South Korea-and an indication that America is impatient to withdraw its troops from the Korean peninsula. Not a bad day’s work for Kim.
The president also claims to be in touch with his Mar-a-Lago buddy, Xi Jinping. It seems that restrictions placed on ZTE, a Chinese telecoms equipment maker, for its multiple violations of U.S. sanctions against Iran and North Korea, threatened the company with a shutdown and all or most of its 75,000 workforce with the loss of their jobs. Xi spoke to Trump, who settled for a fine and an agreement by Xi to cashier the people responsible for the sanctions violations. Which Xi did, replacing the entire board of directors and firing dozens of top executives. So score one for Trump.
Except, not quite. As the Wall Street Journal reports, “The incoming board members were handpicked by ZTE’s state-backed controlling shareholder . . . and the majority are veteran officials of the shareholder or its state-backed parent companies.” And some of the outgoing directors hold stakes in the company-Trump apparently neglected to require them to divest those holdings. A game of musical chairs says Mark Stokes, a former China director in the Office of the Secretary of Defense.
And now Trump is on to a meeting with Vladimir Putin who, even before he sits down with America’s hard-nosed negotiator, has already been promised much of what he wants. Trump startled the G-7 by announcing that Russia, kicked out of the group back when his troops marched into Crimea and grabbed a slice of Ukraine, should be readmitted to a reconstituted G-8.
You may recall that Ukraine had given up its nuclear weapons in exchange for American, British, and Russian security guarantees and pledges “to refrain from the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of Ukraine.” If Trump was aware of the Budapest memorandum that contained these guarantees, he showed as little respect for them as did Putin, for whom readmission to the club of leading developed nations is an important goal.
Trump then mused about the possibility of recognizing Russia’s annexation of Crimea allowing Putin to retain his conquest while lifting sanctions because, reasons Trump, most of the people in Crimea are Russian-speakers. That sent chills up the spines of Estonians: Because some 320,000 people-about one-quarter of the nation’s total population-are ethnic Russians, and speak Russian. No one doubts that Putin has his eye on Estonia, and is weighing the possibility that Trump, unhappy with NATO, might pull out or reduce the presence of American troops in the Baltic. Trump has not yet promised to do that. But Putin has already caused yet another rift between America and its allies.
There’s more, but you get the idea. Our chief negotiator can be had, and easily, so eager is he to do three things. First, prove that he can get a meeting with whichever dictator desperately wants one. Second, give away the store in return for, well, not very much. Third, return to Washington waving some meaningless piece of paper that he claims shows just how great a negotiator he really is.
Meanwhile, Kim has his nukes, Xi has a functioning ZTE, and Putin gets to keep Crimea, with sanctions probably to be eased. It seems that “Trump” and “chump” do more than rhyme; they can be used interchangeably.