Saturday, July 07, 2018

Managing the Emperor

Drawing by Marian Kamensky/Cartoon Movement, Octover 2017.

We have a question from The New York Times:

Trump Starts a Trade War, but Does He Have a Plan to Win It?

Spoiler alert: He doesn't have a plan. He never has a plan, from the chaos of MuslimBan 1.0 a week after inauguration to the ongoing chaos of the Central American parent-child separation program, and the people who work for him don't have a plan either, whether because they simply don't have the ability or because there's some problem with what Trump wants them to do, like Mexico really isn't going to pay for the wall. In a sense he's the true Underpants Gnome president:
  • Phase one: Collect wall-building funds from Mexico
  • Phase two: ?????????
  • Phase three: Profit!!
What he has is a sense of how great he's going to look when he's successful, which is what he means by saying he "keeps his promises". He's going to look the way he told them he'd look, at the campaign rallies, and if the staff doesn't make him look that way they need to go.

Thus poor Pompeo, trying to work him through his fantasy of "solving" North Korea:
  • Phase one: Show the North Koreans you're tough
  • Phase two: ??????????
  • Phase three: Everything's cool!
Interested parties in South Korea (above all, and let me emphasize that President Moon Jae-in and Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha are still the only characters in this story I unambivalently approve of), Russia and China, and not least in Foggy Bottom, tried to make this narrative look real, and to give the impression that Trump's alternately threatening, insulting, and cajoling tweets were accomplishing something, and Trump got his meeting in Singapore and his vague document, and I think he really believed it was over. "I denuclearized North Korea!" He looked great! Unless you took the trouble to look at the document, and realized that it didn't say anything was in fact going to happen on the DPRK side.

Now, if you didn't understand it before, it's clear that nothing happened, as Pompeo reports that his two days of talks with Kim Yong-chol were "productive" and "in good faith" and made progress" while the North Korean foreign ministry announced that the meeting was "regrettable". Was what????
While Pompeo offered a relatively positive assessment of his meetings, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the U.S. betrayed the spirit of last month’s summit between President Donald Trump and Kim by making “unilateral and gangster-like” demands on “CVID,” or the complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea....
“We had expected that the U.S. side would offer constructive measures that would help build trust based on the spirit of the leaders’ summit ... we were also thinking about providing reciprocal measures,” said the statement, released by an unnamed spokesman and carried by the North’s official Korean Central News Agency.
“However, the attitude and stance the United States showed in the first high-level meeting (between the countries) was no doubt regrettable,” the spokesman said. “Our expectations and hopes were so naive it could be called foolish.”
Laura Rozen wondered why Pompeo would allow himself to look so clueless :
Really, what else is there to say? Pompeo may well have started out believing, like any bully-ass Republican, that North Korea is a nuclear power because the US hasn't treated it with sufficient Manly Firmness, but he has to have learned through the last few months that it's not going to be that easy and that in the best possible case it's going to take a very long time. But he can't tell Trump that because it conflicts with Trump's visualization of himself getting the Nobel Peace Prize, and this is how it works with an emperor: everybody has to manage up, not down, keeping him calm as the first order of business every day.
Who the hell cares?
I’ll speak to anybody.
Who knows? There’s a 10 percent
or a 20 percent chance that I
can talk him out of those damn nukes
because who the hell wants him to
have nukes? And there’s a chance —
I’m only gonna make a good deal for us.
(Atlanta, 15 June 2016)

Cross-posted at The Rectification of Names.

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