Donald Trump had a splendid, terrific, very good week by any president’s standards. The economic news was stunning, with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reporting that 313,000 new jobs were created in February, the unemployment rate was unchanged at 4.1 percent, with inflation still at bay, and unemployment sank to record lows among blacks and Hispanics who needed such a week most.
If these were mere “crumbs,” as Nancy Pelosi might say, let’s have more crumbs (and maybe we can afford a little butter, too).
Hundreds of thousands of Americans rushed into the job market in February, which was exactly what sullen Democrats, certain economists and assorted wise men have been confidently saying would never happen. There’s a new tune on the street of dreams.
“I love it,” the chief economist at Morgan Stanley tells The New York Times. “We were able to create enough jobs to accommodate new workers and keep the unemployment rate steady.” The gains were evenly distributed across low-, middle- and high-income trades and professions. President Trump took justifiable pride in dispatching the inevitable presidential tweet, with his usual capital letters (but only one exclamation point): “JOBS, JOBS, JOBS!”
Angst subsided on Wall Street, where fear of a trade war followed the president’s announcement that he would impose tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum. The president made it clear at week’s end that maybe he didn’t mean what everyone thought he meant. There would be exceptions for allies willing to be good allies. Maybe the threat of tariffs was a negotiating tactic, a further lesson in “the art of the deal.”
The surprises of the week were just beginning. Could it be that Mr. Trump had applied his art of the deal to the nuclear excess of North Korean bomb-building? Perhaps, but it’s also true that the drama of a surprise announcement is no substitute for actually doing something. Talk is cheap, and available at further discount in Pyongyang.
Still, the Donald’s agreeing to meet Kim Jong-un lifted both spirits and flags of caution in Asian capitals. The summit is the brainchild of Moon Jae-in, the new president of South Korea, a leader who clearly prefers dreamy dreams to harsh reality with all its sharp edges and unexpected rough places. There won’t be much time between now and sometime in May, when President Trump suggests is the right time to meet his nemesis, to stuff Mr. Trump’s brain with all the stuff a president has to know before reaching such a summit. But the reward goes to the bold. Sometimes.
“While there are concerns that the summit was arranged hastily,” says Isaac Stone Fish, senior fellow at the Center for U.S.-China Relations, “and that meeting in May won’t give the American side much time to prepare, this is the best chance for the reduction or removal of tensions in the Korean peninsula the world has seen in years, if not decades. Unless it’s a total disaster, or the North Koreans renege on a deal shortly after it’s signed, this could be a big win in the short term for [Mr.] Trump.”
Just getting to sit across a table as an equal of the president of the United States makes a summit already a win for Rocket Man. Neither his father nor his grandfather ever achieved that, and both men died disappointed. President Trump will feel pressure, from himself first of all, to get an agreement on something, and go home the slayer of little giants. Just a jaw-jaw, in Winston Churchill felicitous description, won’t suffice. Mr. Trump is new to high-stakes diplomacy, and he’ll have to restrain his enthusiasms of the moment (and keep his Twitter account closed for the duration).
It’s foolish to think Kim can be talked into giving up his nuclear weapons, nor is it likely that he will suspend manufacturing more weapons to add to his arsenal of perhaps a hundred bombs even while the two men talk. Kim, an accomplished boaster and bloviator, can make tempting promises with lots of escape holes because he knows that verification will be impossible.
Previous presidents have been taken for a ride by the North Koreans, who proved their promises to be worthless. Robert Gates, the secretary of Defense at the time, warned Pyongyang in 2009 that he was “tired of buying the same horse twice.” That same horse, curried and groomed, is on sale again. Buyer beware.