North Korea Still Hasn't Figured Out Who It's Dealing With

FILE - In this March 7, 2018, file photo, people watch a TV screen showing images of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, right, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, center, and U.S. President Donald Trump at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has always wanted to lead the diplomacy aimed at ending the North Korean nuclear crisis, even as he was overshadowed in his first year in office by a belligerent standoff between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. Korean letters on the screen read: "Thawing Korean Peninsula." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)

(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)

Yesterday, Donald Trump let the North Koreans know that, okay, the talks are over before they began.

I mean, after all, the North Koreans were raising such a ruckus about how they weren’t sure the talks should happen, given the “evil” actions of the United States – actions no different than any other actions that have caused North Korea to rattle their sabres (or whatever scraps of metal they can afford at this point) at us.


And, lo and behold, hours after Trump let them know, they started making noise about how they actually really wanted to have the talk and also they were sorry for acting out like that because they don’t know what got into them at the time.

Now I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating because North Korea, the U.S. foreign policy establishment, and other global leaders still haven’t figured out the most simple of truths in this brave, new world: Donald Trump isn’t playing by any rules except his own.

Trump is crazy. He’s nuts. This isn’t up for debate. He is acting in ways that go against everything we believe to be a societal norm. And yet, amazingly enough, he somehow stumbles across the correct answers from time to time. His dealing with the craziest actors in global politics – Iran, North Korea, and others – has shown that the only way to deal with crazy is to out-crazy them and call their bluffs.

This isn’t an inherently good quality, and it isn’t an inherently bad one. It’s just different, and many of us who have watched and commented on politics for a few years at least have never really seen this before, and I have come to believe that it still secretly stuns a lot of the people who voted for him.

North Korea’s bluff was called. They said “We’re not so sure we want these talks anymore,” and Trump shrugged and said “Okay.” That is clearly not what North Korea expected. They are used to being coddled and hugged until their tantrum is over and they get a lollipop. The Trump Administration appears to be fresh out of lollipops, however, and the North Koreans are stunned.


In all honesty, you can’t do anything other than laugh, really. It’s funny to watch decades of the conventional wisdom in the foreign affairs community get turned on its ear, people scream about it, and the world decidedly not come to an end over it.

It is probably for the best if we do walk away for the moment. We shouldn’t ignore North Korea completely, but if we’re being honest with ourselves, the Korean Peninsula is not a problem that can feasibly be “fixed” in a single presidential term, much less eight years. There are decades of neglect in how North Korea has been dealt with, and it will take time to deal with it.

That’s not to say that Trump is necessarily right here. It’s far too soon to call this a victory for Trump. But, you can’t call it a defeat, either. It’s simply different, and people are freaking out about it.


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