Donald Trump went to Hanoi for his second summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un and came away with nothing.
The Trump team’s spin was “It’s better to have no deal than to have agreed to a bad deal.”
Trump, himself said, “We had to walk away.”
Donald Trump is getting kudos from all quarters for having walked away if only because he didn’t give away the store just to be able to claim a diplomatic victory.
I think that’s an incorrect analysis.
Having had to walk away showed what is wrong with the Trump foreign policy: He doesn’t understand how it’s like buying a car where you walk into the dealership, negotiate, and either drive out with a new car or drive your old car back home.
This isn’t a perfect analogy, but it will do for our purposes.
Most of us, when we decide we need a new car, do some research. In the Internet age there are hundreds of sites that will help you understand the options you can choose from, the gas mileage, the probable price the dealer paid, what you are likely to pay, and so one.
In fact GeoMarketing.com reports that “Approximately 86 percent of car shoppers conduct online research before deciding to visit a local dealership according to new research from digital marketing agency Adtaxi.”
Trump is, effectively, in that other 14 percent.
The point is, you know a great deal about what is going to happen before you even drive onto the lot.
If you do buy a car, once you’ve driven it off the lot, the dealer is done with you. And you are done with the dealer. Even if you have contracted for a service contract, you don’t have to take your car back to that particular dealer.
In a diplomatic negotiation, you promise to do (or not do) something and the other side promises to do (or not do) something. Both sides have a continuing responsibility.
Trump’s theory of negotiating for a car is to drive in having no idea what he’s looking for, how much he’s willing to pay, nor what the car might cost the dealer, what his trade-in is worth.
Unfortunately, he also thinks that’s the way to negotiate with NATO or North Korea: No idea what he wants the outcome to be, no idea what he’s willing to give in return, nor any idea what the value of a deal is to the other side.
Walking away from a car deal is immaterial to both sides. The dealer knows another customer will stroll in pretty soon. You can always find another dealer. In fact, the National Automobile Dealers Association reports there are 16,794 franchised dealers in the U.S.
Failing at the summit, all Donald Trump knows is that Kim Jong Un still has all his nukes, all his missiles, and all his death camps. Kim Jong Un knows there’s only one President of the United States and Trump flew home completely flummoxed by Kim.
The almost universal sigh of relief at Trump’s having walked away from the Hanoi Summit isn’t because it demonstrated a level of diplomatic sophistication. It is because there was an almost universal fear that Trump and his team would trade a significant reduction in sanctions without getting very much in return.
Kim Jong Un is no diplomatic genius, either. There is no independent reporting coming out of North Korea so we don’t – and probably won’t – know what his thinking was as he stepped off his armored train car in Hanoi.
We also don’t know how offended Kim was when Trump left early, skipping a planned closing dinner with the two.
The only good thing about the Trump/Kim summit is, they can – and likely will – meet again.
Maybe this time Mr. Trump will spend some time on the Summits-R-Us website and go into his meetings with something more than his well-deserved dependence on charm and force of personality to move the ball.
On the Secret Decoder Ring page today: A link to why the title is a pun on a 1960s song title, and worthwhile analyses by Business Insider and CNN.com on the summit (they don’t agree).