Trump's White House was caught flat-footed by Kim Jong Un.
In less than 24 hours, Trump’s White House has gone from making space on the mantle for his Nobel Peace Prize, to shrugging off nuclear diplomacy like it’s an invitation to coffee.
On Wednesday morning, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders spoke to reporters on her way to the West Wing, and was asked about Kim Jong Un’s recent threat to scuttle the planned nuclear summit with Trump. After hours of time to prepare a response, the administration’s strategic message appears to be “This is fine.”
Sanders told reporters that Kim’s move was “fully expected,” and that “if they want to meet, we’ll be ready. And if they don’t, that’s okay, too.”
She concluded with a Dear Leader flourish of her own, telling reporters Trump is “100 percent confident,” and “we all know that you’re aware that he’s the best negotiator.”
But if Trump was expecting this move, his actions certainly don’t show it. While he was quick to engage with Kim Jong Un on Twitter prior to the planning of the summit, he has been silent on the subject since North Korea made the threat on Monday.
And according to State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, the administration was caught off-guard, telling reporters Monday that the threat “would be news to me.”
Anyone with a moderate grasp of nuclear diplomacy would have seen this coming. For example, former CIA Director John McLaughlin said a month ago that “North Korea has been studying [Trump] very carefully. They understand he likes to claim credit for success. And they’ve already given him one thing that is potentially positive.”
And Kim himself has been repeating this pattern for over twenty years.
But instead of proceeding with caution the way other presidents have, Trump rushed in and gave Kim a huge propaganda victory by agreeing to meet directly with him, and delivering a meeting with the sitting secretary of state.
Now, Kim stands on the brink of an even greater public relations coup by being the one to cancel that meeting.
Whether or not Trump’s administration is able to get the North Korea diplomacy back on track, their actions so far demonstrate that they are not taking this as seriously as they should, and it’s making it difficult for them to be taken seriously as well. None of this is “OK.”