After negotiations between President Trump and Kim Jong Un collapsed last week, Ben Shapiro began tweeting furiously.
Dismayed that the Trump administration had not, in his estimation, prepared for the negotiations and angry that Trump had used flattering language to thaw-out the embattled relationship, Shapiro blamed the breakdown on a lack of “serious pre-negotiations.” He contended that only an amateur would have face-to-face meetings with Kim before such “pre-negotiation.”
He called Trump’s flattery of Kim “unconscionable,” suggested it was disrespectful to the memories of Americans that North Korea had killed, and lamented that the flattery was ultimately fruitless.
If there had been ANY serious pre-negotiations, none of this happens. And it is absolutely unconscionable for Trump to treat Kim with the kind of warmth he has for the last two years.
— Ben Shapiro (@benshapiro) February 28, 2019
Perhaps Shapiro would have preferred the approach taken by the past few administrations. You know, the approach that consistently failed?
Because even though past administrations had serious and fabulous “pre-negotiations,” they were light on the actual negotiations.
And even though past administrations had cold and unflattering language for Kim, that did not slow down his ambition or determination to get viable nuclear weapons and delivery systems. If anything, it spurred him to speed up his efforts.
But at least past administrations didn’t give Kim the satisfaction of appearing on stage with a U.S. president. Right? Gosh, Kim must have been crushed that he didn’t get to shake Barack Obama’s hand.
Effective threats are expensive. They require the wherewithal to follow through and increase the likelihood that such follow through will become necessary. Threats continually lose value unless you start making good on them. And the other side will relentlessly test your resolve to do so.
But flattery is cheap. Kim now has a picture with Trump and has stopped overtly testing missiles. But little else has changed. His country is still burdened by economic sanctions and he is under increasing pressure to denuclearize.
Trump took Kim’s narcissism and turned it into another bargaining chip. He gave him a taste of the good life and told him, “there’s more where that came from.” And if the relationship sours, Trump can easily go back to the “fire and fury” rhetoric. A couple of meetings do not validate Kim in perpetuity. Remember Yalta?
North Korean regime knows that words are cheap. They have routinely agreed to non-proliferation treaties, only to break them with impunity.
Remember when we withdrew nuclear weapons from South Korea “in part to persuade North Korea” to permit international inspection of its nuclear plants?
Or when we took them off the state sponsors of terrorism list because they promised to hand over a “declaration of their nuclear program” to China?
Or when we eased economic sanctions on them because they promised to temporarily stop testing long-range missiles?
Those deals no doubt had a lot of “pre-negotiation” — that would explain why they were so bad. But Trump was able to get Kim to stop testing long-range missiles by saying that Kim wasn’t fat.
Trump’s critics routinely say that he is staking “U.S. credibility” by taking a picture with Kim before securing a pledge for verifiable denuclearization.They believe that a picture and nice words are more valuable than eased sanctions. They are wrong.
These critics, often writers and journalists, are overly concerned with aesthetics and perception, often to the detriment of their understanding of reality. They opine on the power of rhetoric — largely because they have little else.
But posing for a photo op with North Korea’s leader is far less embarrassing than giving them Korea material concessions in return for a promise of a temporary suspension of their nuclear program.
We don’t know how the negotiations will end. Good negotiations are risky and volatile. But Trump disconnected his language from his actions — and that’s a good thing. By using them independently, Trump adds another tool to his arsenal. He knows perception is exceedingly malleable, words are cheap, and that he can change his mind on a dime. This gives him leverage.
But while President Trump deals in action, Ben Shapiro and many other columnists and journalists deal in words. Words are far less important for Trump than action. A little bit of flattery feels inconsequential with a nuclear arsenal at your fingertips and the world’s biggest military under your command.
But a few erudite-lite pseudo-intellectuals will say that the pen is mightier than the sword. Anyone who truly believes that should walk around the bad parts of town at 3:00 in the morning brandishing a Mont Blanc.
Karl Notturno (@KarlNotturno) is a fellow at the Center for American Greatness. He also serves as director of A Soldier’s Home, a nonprofit that helps homeless veterans. He graduated from Yale University with degrees in philosophy and history.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.