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The first summit between President Trump and Kim Jong-un was a bad idea that resulted in multiple bad outcomes. The obvious conclusion in the White House is to have another one.
Yes, the North Koreans returned hostages, but two of them were taken on Trump’s watch, thus proving that hostage-taking is an effective tool of foreign policy. And yes, Pyongyang promised to agree to think about talking about working on nuclear disarmament.
In return, one of the weirdest and most brutal dictators of one of the world’s last totalitarian states was greeted by an American president with a red carpet and commemorative coins. Not only did the Trump administration recognize North Korea as a peer worthy of a “summit,” but the president himself lauded Kim with the sort of cringe-inducing tributes that Sammy Davis and Frank Sinatra used to lavish on each other on stage in Las Vegas.
For all of this, America got nothing. The North Koreans, according to U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, continue to pursue their nuclear program because the regime views nuclear weapons as intrinsic to its own survival. (Trump publicly challenged this finding, as though he had other evidence to the contrary.)
With this record of grandiose failure, Trump now intends to meet Kim again. Why?
It is difficult ever to explain why Donald Trump does anything, but the obvious answer is likely that Trump sees spectacle as equivalent to progress. As a recent report made clear, he does not listen to his briefings, and he becomes angry if they do not confirm his preexisting beliefs. He does not understand any of the intricacies of arms negotiations, nor does he seem to grasp how repressive states like North Korea, China, and Russia manipulate his ego to their own ends.
Another summit will simply cement North Korea’s gains over the past year. The President will see the coverage of the event, note the amount of media time it garners, engage in handshakes and smiles, and assume that he has made progress. This is the publicity sugar buzz that he finds irresistible, and our opponents know this.
As is so often the case with this president, America’s enemies will get something for nothing, but the president will believe he has made a great deal. Sometimes, it is better not to meet; in diplomacy, as in medicine, the first rule is to “do no harm.”
Tom Nichols is a professor of national security affairs at the Naval War College. The views expressed are his own.