- - Tuesday, June 12, 2018


No one at the White House or in Foggy Bottom envies the job at hand for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo or John Bolton, the president’s national-security adviser. Someone has to peel President Trump off the ceiling and bring his feet closer to earth, and they have to do it.

It’s much too soon for a verdict on who won and who lost at the Singapore summit, but the president clearly acquired something of a schoolgirl crush on the man he called Rocket Man only weeks ago. The Donald just can’t stop talking about their bromance.

By the president’s telling, Kim Jong-un has a little smoke in his eyes, too. After just 65 minutes together, he says Mr. Kim is “personally committed” to giving up the nuclear weapons that ensure his grip on power. If that’s so, Mr. Trump is every bit the deal-maker he’s eager to tell everybody he is.

“My whole life has been deals,” he told reporters and pundits in Singapore. “I know when somebody wants a deal. I just feel strongly, my instinct, they want to make a deal.”

The presidential euphoria bewildered some of his friends, who noticed that Mr. Kim was getting the benefit of many doubts, and that he had done nothing to earn it. Mr. Trump gave him the benefit, anyway.

“Yeah, I do trust him,” he told ABC News. “He really wants to do a great job for North Korea. He’s de-nuking the whole place, and I think he’s going to start very quickly. He really wants to do something I think terrific for their country.”

Mr. Trump gets excited easily, and speaks the language of the salesman — everything is terrific, or wonderful, fabulous and maybe even stupendous — and he punctuates with lots of exclamation points. His certitude about Kim Jong-un recalls George W. Bush’s enthusiasm early in his first term for Vladimir Putin, when he famously looked deep into the Putin soul and concluded that all would soon be right in the world. Later he changed his mind.

“This is complete denuclearization,” the president said of what he heard in Singapore, “and I really believe that it’s going to go fast.” He’s impatient with skepticism. When a reporter asked how he will ensure the Kim follow-through, he snapped: “Can you ensure anything? Can I ensure you are going to sit down properly when you sit down?”

Enthusiasm is good, usually, and ours is an age when enthusiasms are bought on the cheap and many people speak in exclamation points, signifying not very much. But a president is supposed to be a different animal, and everything he says will be examined clause by clause, phrase by phrase, word by word. But it’s always difficult to parse this president’s words, which mean what he wants them to mean.

He told reporters in Singapore that Pyongyang will “de-nuke” everything and will start immediately, or maybe later, but probably immediately. The final word changes between editions. “You know, if you look at it, if you talk to the experts, you can’t just do it immediately,” he says. “It takes a period of time. But they’re gonna do it. They’re gonna start immediately.”

Talking is better than war in everyone’s estimation, until time runs out and talking is no longer better. “We’re in a better place today that we were a year ago,” Antony J. Blinken, who was deputy national security adviser and deputy secretary of State in the Obama administration. Negotiating at the top was worth trying because the usual approach, made by Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama clearly didn’t work.

Now Mike Pompeo has to do the hard work of translating the vague promises President Trump heard into something real. North Korea has always been a slippery foe, whose words haven’t often meant much because words only mean what Mr. Kim and his men want them to mean.

Mr. Pompeo and John Bolton must remind the president that he is, after all, dealing with a knave and brute behind the smile (think Otto Warmbier), and is not a jolly old elf who just wants to do right for his people. Mr. Kim, like his father and grandfather before him, runs a gulag every bit as barbaric as anything Stalin presided over. Sometimes, it’s true, knaves have to be trusted, but with care and caution. “Trust, but verify,” in Ronald Reagan’s famous advice.

President Trump says that doesn’t apply to him because he took an accurate measurement of Kim Jong-un. “I don’t have to verify,” he says, “because I have one of the great memories of all time.” That’s not very reassuring.

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