President Donald Trump's air trip to Vietnam cost taxpayers $5,695,000 just for the president's flying Taj Mahal. Plus millions more for his retainers, the presidential limo, hotel rooms, meals, security details and only Ho Chi Minh knows what else.
For what? A nice photo op and a cheery dinner for the two leaders in Hanoi. Just about everyone who follows Asian affairs knew in advance that North Korean dynastic strongman (aka king) had no interest or good reason for giving up his nuclear program. The director of US national intelligence, Dan Coates, told Trump as much last week.
Many moons ago, I worked in Jamaica on land and port development projects. The boss of my firm, a self-important, bigwig, used to brush off each new problem by saying in his melodious English-Jamaican accent, 'don't worry, I will neeeegotiate it!' But more often than not, the chief negotiator made a mess of things.
America's self-proclaimed chief negotiator just did the same in Vietnam. Either he was so anxious to get out of Washington to avoid the rising storm of scandals he faces or he thought he could flatter the North Korean leader into giving up his nuclear weapons, the only thing that prevents a US invasion of North Korea or a regime change operation.
One also doubts that Trump & Co. realized just how much North Korea's neighbors, Russia and China, were whispering in Kim Jong Un's ear. Where did North Korea's nuclear technology and missiles come from? Did Trump really believe crafty Vlad Putin would allow him to charm the pants off Kim?
So-called "denuclearizing" North Korea was always snake oil. The only effective way to reduce Pyongyang's nuclear arsenal is to engage in patient quid pro quo concessions over years. A better way would be to declare an end to the 1950 Korean War and slowly lift crushing US sanctions against North Korea, then let South Korea take the lead in rebuilding the North. And, most of all, cease US threats to invade North Korea and/or overthrow the Kim dynasty.
For their part, the North Koreans could demand the US denuclearize the region, removing its nuclear weapons from Japan, South Korea, Guam and the Fifth Fleet. Pyongyang could also insist that the more than 30,000 US troops and air bases in South Korea be removed. These are the true diplomatic issues, not hugs and professions of undying love.
President Trump is an amateur diplomat even though he thinks he's a king. All the attention he gets from US media has clearly gone to his head. His "Art of the Deal" did not work in Hanoi.
Interestingly, the American media didn't devote much attention to the irony of Trump's first brush with Vietnam in the late 1960's, when his wealthy family secured for him a reported six medical deferments over a tiny foot problem that kept him out of the US Army during the Vietnam War. I enlisted in the army and limped through basic and advanced infantry training with a broken bone in my left foot during the same conflict because I believed it was the duty of every US citizen to do military duty.
Trump's insistence that North Korea scrap most or even all of its nuclear weapons in exchange for a moderate lessening of US sanctions looked like a non-starter before Trump left for Hanoi. It's very likely that arch war-monger John Bolton, who sabotaged previous nuclear deals with Iran and North Korea, played a major role in this fiasco.
Interestingly, Trump earlier told reporters that Russia's Putin had told him that KGB reported that North Korea's nuclear arsenal was mostly bluster. KGB has a reputation for accuracy.
Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim must make another two day train journey back to Pyongyang. He has to get over his fear of flying which is more secure than train travel. The Hanoi failure may undermine Kim's hold on power. This is not good. The Kim you know is far better than the one you don't. A wobbly North Korea would be much more dangerous than the kingdom of Kim. North and South Korea are making important progress to building better relations.