No other president has done it. But Donald Trump succeeded. Here's how:
First, his style of bluster and boasting topped Kim Jong Un at his own game. The North Korean leader was adept at making the world squirm by predicting the onset of nuclear war. Indeed, his nukes are likely mainly for that purpose of bluster in the first place.
But he never had a leader who gave it back to him in kind as President Trump has been doing. When Kim boasted of his nuclear "button," Trump shot back that he had a bigger button. In calling for "fire and fury" in response to any North Korean attack, he nullified Kim's "trump card" by giving better than he got.
Striped-pants diplomats the world over are not used to the style of the New York real estate mogul in the White House. Bluster is not their thing. And when they come up against it — whether it is Kim boasting that he will launch his nukes or Nikita Khrushchev in the 1960s saying "we will bury you," they recoil in shock. But not Donald Trump.
As former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger said recently: "Every country now has to consider two things: One, their perception that the previous president, or the outgoing president, basically withdrew America from international politics, so that they had to make their own assessments of their necessities. And secondly, that there is a new president who's asking a lot of unfamiliar questions. And because of the combination of the partial vacuum and the new questions, one could imagine that something remarkable and new emerges out of it."
Well, something "remarkable and new" just has. We need to be careful that the Kim statement is not a come-on but a serious concession, but we can trust Trump to master the "art of the deal."
The second factor is Trump's skill in formulating the sanctions we imposed on North Korea. With the assent of the U.N., won by Nikki Haley, we have cut North Korea off from the global economy. Some oil still likely leaks from China, but the sanctions targeting any company or person trading with Kim has likely had a drastic effect. By denying them access to the world financial system, we are stopping them from wiring money, receiving wires, getting loans and even opening checking accounts. No company can live under such proscriptions, and North Korea is feeling fear.
The recent cancelation of the usual three-month celebration by the North of its military might was curtailed to two weeks in February. Likely because of fuel shortages, the endless procession of men and weapons was not put on display. And when Kim cancels a chance to show off his weapons, we know something serious is happening. The North is hurting under the Trump sanctions.
And the North Koreans just blinked.