The president of the United States is convinced that true power lies in fear.
Donald Trump’s status should worry us and should be submitted to an annual review like the State of the Union address over which he presides. In fact, it should even worry his praetorian guard in Washington, who ensured that the U.S. president would be alone with Kim Jong Un for the shortest amount of time possible during the failed Hanoi summit, out of fear that he would offer dangerous concessions to someone who is now considered a great leader and great friend. But Trump has surprised us again: He left the table abruptly and returned to Washington, unsuccessful.
Trump, who has made intuition, which he believes he possesses to the highest degree, his principal political virtue, went to the capital of Vietnam, the former enemy nation where the U.S. suffered its gravest defeat, with the desire to reach a resounding victory that would provide a way to the Nobel Peace Prize. He needs one to counteract the foreseeable result of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, and the black ink spilled in Congress by his former personal attorney [and] convicted criminal; scoundrel against scoundrel.
After legitimizing the most intolerable tyrant left in the world, Trump ingeniously intends to sell Kim a fantastic prosperous future, an economy welcomed in the global system, like Vietnam, a Communist country but with the economic system of China. He failed to negotiate just one small detail: North Korea has to step down as a nuclear state, disabling all its nuclear fuel production installations and ballistic missiles in an immediate and verifiable process, and then Washington would gradually lift the sanctions imposed on the hermit kingdom.
Kim, who behind his apparent crudeness hides astuteness, told him no. The sanctions are to be lifted totally and completely, or he would move only piece by piece. Trump did not have any rabbits in his hat and Kim will not be tricked into abandoning his nuclear power, as it guarantees his regime’s survival. Trump's motto is “I play with people’s sympathies,”* a motto which did not serve him and maybe will be insufficient to save his chaotic presidency.
Trump, who considers himself to be a great negotiator, as he says in his book ,“The Art of the Deal,” has fallen into a trap. His prefabricated image as a deal-making artist has been further weakened, much like his faith in the value of interpersonal diplomacy, which was weakened by inadequate previous preparation. But for the U.S. president, diplomacy is a duel between Wild West cowboys: “It’s leader versus leader, man versus man, me versus Kim,” (Trump’s affirmation in “Fear,” by Bob Woodward). It is the “all by myself” of children.
Trump is convinced that true power lies in fear, the capacity to instill it in an adversary. He also uses it in the trade war with China. And he believes in strategic unpredictability. “I always say we have to be unpredictable.”
These are bad elements that obstruct sensible foreign policy, which provides security in a world that morphs at great speed. The 45th U.S. president may end up demonstrating that his character is his destiny.
*Editor’s note: Although accurately translated, this quote could not be verified.