Last month, President Trump abruptly announced he was pulling out of a planned summit in Singapore with leaders from North Korea. The summit — which was first announced almost as hastily as it was canceled — was to be an historic meeting with Kim Jong Un, who has, until recently, furthered his family’s proclivity for global isolation and dictatorial rule.
In a characteristically petulant letter, Trump scolded the North Korean leader for saying mean things about Mike Pence, threatened him with the United States’ nuclear arsenal, and left the door open for a future attempt at diplomacy.
Within days, however, perhaps sensing that the country was laughing at the dissolution of his latest crack at foreign policy, the White House announced that the summit was back on. Experts — including those from within Trump’s own administration — conceded that the summit’s original date of June 12 was simply too close at hand, citing a need to coordinate travel and other logistics, as well as to prepare remarks, policy proposals, briefings, and other crucial intelligence gathering for what should, by all accounts, be a very delicate and potentially significant meeting.
That word, “prepare,” brings us to this week.
On Thursday, when asked how he was preparing for the upcoming summit — which the White House insisted move ahead on the original date, set for next week — Donald Trump said that “preparation” was not something that interested him.
“I think I’m very well prepared. I don’t think I have to prepare very much. It’s about attitude,” Trump said during a brief pool availability with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. “It’s about willingness to get things done, but I think I’ve been preparing for the summit for a long time, as has the other side. I think they’ve been preparing for a long time also.”
Only North Korea can speak to how long they’ve been preparing, but there has been no indication Donald Trump can locate North Korea on a map, let alone convince them to forego their nuclear weapons program and enter the global economy. Dennis Rodman perhaps would be better suited to lead these negotiations.
Trump’s disinterest in preparation is, of course, in keeping with everything we know about how he approaches his current job. He either won’t or can’t read. The only way his staff can keep his attention during briefings is by either invoking his name every 30 seconds or relying on picture books. He spends the majority of his time watching cable news and then commenting on it via Twitter.
Friday’s comments from Trump give up the ghost: His cavalier approach toward his own North Korea summit isn’t so much indicative of his general ignorance of foreign policy as it is of his condemnation of the very concept of preparation.
CBS News caught up with Trump early on Friday morning as he was preparing to depart for a G-7 summit and asked him to clarify his remarks from the day before.
“Were you serious about really not needing to prepare for the Korean summit?” asked a reporter over the din of whirring helicopter blades.
“I didn’t say that, I said I’ve been preparing all my life,” said Trump, echoing the final scene of Rudy. “I always believe in preparation.”
Trump’s mistake seems to be his equating “life experience” with “preparation.” If the summit in question were about how to further drive North Korea’s decrepit economy into the ground, then yes, Donald Trump’s lifetime of experience as a failed businessman would be relevant. Instead, what Trump needs — what any president in this situation would need — is Merriam-Webster’s definition of preparation: the action or process of getting ready for some occasion, test, or duty.
Trump reacted to such a notion by attacking Hillary Clinton and the media. “These one-week preparations, they don’t work. Just ask Hillary — what happened to her in the debates,” he said.
“I said I've been preparing all my life. I always believe in preparation. But I have been preparing all my life,” President Trump says. "These one-week preparations, they don't work. Just ask Hillary [Clinton] — what happened to her in the debates." https://t.co/gPokHDkAxK pic.twitter.com/iJ65SfOI7h
— CBS News (@CBSNews) June 8, 2018
Clinton’s one-week preparations are in fact partly what led her to overwhelming victories in all three presidential debates. But more to the point, nobody is suggesting that one week of preparation is all that’s separating Donald Trump from even an elementary grasp of the intricacies of North Korean policy. A summit of this nature requires months of preparation, close consultation with a team of experts who have studied the Korean peninsula for years. That is the reality the White House’s own officials recognized when they dismissed the possibility of a June 12 summit.
But this is Donald Trump we’re talking about. Almost every decision he has made — whether it’s changing the U.S. military code, imposing tariffs, or running for president — appears to have been done without a hint of preparation. And that’s why almost everything he has done in his life has either been done poorly, by cutting corners, or by outright cheating.
Just the kind of man you want negotiating with North Korea.