Thursday, February 28, 2019

My Dad Went to Hanoi and All I Got Was This Lousy Evidence That I'm in a Smurfing Conspiracy

Image via Medium.

Smurfing, or structuring, being the crime of making a financial transaction in a one-bit-at-a-time way sequenced and parceled so as to evade reporting requirements, like the $35,000 checks cut by the Trump Organization to Michael Cohen all through 2017 paying him back for his payoff of one of Trump's one-night stands (illegal under campaign finance law whether Trump repays it or not), of which we saw two on TV yesterday, one with Junior's signature on it.
Poor Junior!

Meanwhile, North Korea. Nicholas Kristof deals out some conventional wisdom ("After the Trump-Kim Failure"):

President Trump was right to walk away from his summit with Kim Jong-un rather than accept a bad nuclear agreement, but the outcome underscores that he was bamboozled last year at his first summit with Kim. Whatever genius Trump sees in the mirror, “the art of the deal” is not his thing.
At this meeting, Kim apparently sought a full end to sanctions on North Korea in exchange for closing only some nuclear sites. That was not a good deal, and Trump was right to walk rather than accept it.
I don't know if that's exactly the right formulation, if only because if that was the North Korean demand Trump had no choice but to reject it. The US clearly would have liked to get something they could sign, and were willing to make a pretty extraordinary concession, according to reporting from NBC that hasn't gotten a lot of attention—
HANOI, Vietnam — U.S. negotiators are no longer demanding that North Korea agree to disclose a full accounting of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs as part of talks this week between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, according to current and former senior U.S. officials.
The decision to drop, for now, a significant component of a potential nuclear deal suggests a reality that U.S. intelligence assessments have stressed for months is shaping talks as they progress: North Korea does not intend to fully denuclearize, which is the goal Trump set for his talks with Kim.
—in return for what amounts to a symbol of denuclearization in place of the real thing:
Negotiations between U.S. and North Korean officials in advance of Trump and Kim’s second summit, which begins Wednesday night over dinner in Hanoi, have focused heavily on a core component of Pyongyang’s program, the Yongbyon nuclear reactor, officials said. Dr. Siegfried Hecker, a nuclear scientist who has visited the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center numerous times to assess the country's capabilities, said dismantling elements of the facility would be the most significant step North Korea could take toward denuclearization.... Current and former U.S. officials note that North Korea has other sites with similar capabilities, however....
It's not a "significant step" if they're absolutely not intending to go any further. If you want me to go to the North Pole and I agree to spend a weekend in Montréal, you haven't gotten a great deal (though obviously most people would rather go to Montréal than dismantle a nuclear reactor, so it's not a perfect analogy). But the proffer still wasn't enough for the North Koreans, who aren't apparently interested in anything but their whole package of sanctions relief right now.

At the same time, Trump himself, and his loyal secretary of state Mike Pompeo, seemed to be working on a whole different timetable from the US negotiators, where they were lowering expectations by focusing attention on the next summit, like electrolysis or tattoo removal consultants cautioning that they can't tell you how many treatments you're going to need. "There may have to be another summit," Pompeo told Fox News on Sunday, and right up to the point he was walking into the Hanoi Metropole for the first session, Trump was saying "speed's not that important".

That prophecy played out pretty well. I don't know, but it's as if Trump isn't as concerned with the outcome of the talks as he is with the peculiar chemistry of his best-buds relationship with the young Caligula, or just likes scheduling summits with Kim because they push his poll numbers up or something like that.

Trump approval rating from its nadir, the week the Hanoi summit was announced on 18 January, to now.
Either way, there wouldn't really be any good reason to come up with a final deal, would there? Though it might look better if there was some kind of progress to report.

Or maybe it's just working with advice from President Putin (the same helpful guy who told him North Korea's ICBMs were imaginary), as Foreign Minister Lavrov was telling the Russian press just a couple of days ago when he coincidentally happened to show up in Hanoi on some business of his own:
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov says the United States has asked Moscow’s advice in dealing with North Korea before a summit between President Donald Trump and the North Korean leader.
Trump and Kim Jong Un are expected to meet on Wednesday and Thursday in Vietnam’s capital. Their first meeting last summer ended without substantive agreements on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament.
Lavrov, who is also visiting Vietnam this week, said in comments carried by Russian news agencies on Monday that Russia believes that the U.S. ought to offer Pyongyang “security guarantees” for the disarmament deal to succeed. He also mentioned that “the U.S. is even asking our advice, our views on this or that scenario of” how the summit in Hanoi could pan out. (AP via Steve Benen/MSNBC)
I don't know whether or not Trump was bamboozled, as Kristof put it, but he definitely wasn't the only one. But it's so hard for somebody like Kristof to understand that the interests of the United States and the interests of its president are not the same thing.

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