Seriously, is anyone really shocked that the much-ballyhooed Summit-of-the-Century between President Trump and North Korean President Kim Jong Un has been canceled?

From the start, this highly unusual meeting of the minds was undertaken in an unorthodox way, to put it mildly. Negotiated often by tweet and news communique rather than through established diplomatic channels, it began with threats and name-calling. Trump sought laughs from his base by dismissing the North Korean leader as “Little Rocket Man,” and Kim responded by calling Trump a “dotard.” When Kim referred to a Trump speech as “reckless remarks by an old lunatic,” Trump asked “Why would Kim Jong Un insult me by calling me “old,’ when I would NEVER call him short and fat?”

But while the schoolboy insults were bandied to the amusement of the world, there were also real threats of serious violence by players who at least in theory had the power to follow through if they chose to. Trump said ominously that “military solutions are now fully in place, locked and loaded.” He threatened to unleash “fire, fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before.” In one speech he vowed to “totally destroy North Korea.” Kim made equally rash threats. “The United States should know that the button for nuclear war is on my table,” he said. “The entire area of the U.S. mainland is within our nuclear strike range.”

Then, suddenly, the mood veered. Out of nowhere there was a summit on the table, and the two irresponsible players were unlikely besties. “There is a good chance that Kim Jong Un will do what is right for his people and for humanity,” tweeted a born-again Trump. He said he believed North Korea would honor its commitment not to conduct a missile test. This was such a “very special moment for World Peace,” that the U.S. issued an official commemorative coin with a picture on it of Trump and Kim face to face. Three American hostages were released and Trump reveled in the ludicrously premature suggestion that deserved to win a Nobel Peace Prize.

And then things turned ugly again over the past week, with Trump administration officials talking about North Korea potentially following Libya into ruins and regime change, and a top North Korean diplomat saying, “To borrow their words, we can also make the U.S. taste an appalling tragedy it has neither experienced nor even imagined up to now.” And here we are.

Veering back and forth between public taunts and flattery — between belligerence and brotherly love — is not the way smart diplomacy is done. Of course there’s an element of carrot and stick in any negotiation, and some posturing is often part of the game as well. But over time, the pursuit of meaningful foreign policy achievements requires substantially more. It requires an understanding of your adversary and your adversary’s interests. It requires the setting of short-term and long-term goals. It requires a clear-eyed assessment of costs and benefits of different options. It requires consistency, stability, authority and a long-term strategy.

Did the Trump administration have a sophisticated plan or a long-term strategy? There was no indication of one. At the editorial page, we vacillated between cautious optimism and rational skepticism about the idea of a meeting between the two hot-headed leaders. Diplomacy, after all, is almost always worth trying — especially when the alternative is military action. But it seemed highly possible that Trump’s great expectations would go unfulfilled.

The collapse of the summit — at least for the moment — is a disappointment but hardly a surprise.

Editorial by the Los Angeles Times

Visit the Los Angeles Times at www.latimes.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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