By Melito Salazar Jr.
President Donald Trump has cited, “The Art of the Deal” a 1987 book credited to him and journalist, Tony Schwartz as one of his proudest accomplishments and his second favorite book after the Bible. The book tells about Trump’s childhood, describes his early work in Brooklyn prior to moving to Manhattan, where he built up the Trump organization. It describes his actions and thoughts in developing his many projects.
Interestingly, the book contains an 11-step formula for business success. In light of the just concluded summit between North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and US President Donald Trump, one can use this formula to assess whether the outcome can be seen as successful, especially for the United States.
First step is Think Big. The most that the signed communique promised was the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. In the days before the summit US officials had floated verifiable and milestone deadlines for a process of accomplishing this, which provisions had been contained in previous agreements with other US administrations. It would seem that in this aspect, North Korea got its way by having as general a provision as possible.
Next is Protect the downside and the upside will take care of itself. Donald Trump was focused on ensuring the success of the summit despite remarks like, “I will walk out if I see he is not sincere.” He had just come from Canada where the rest of the G7 leaders were against him and where the United States declined to sign the joint communique. He could not afford another failed summit. North Korean leader Kim knew this and got what he wanted – international recognition as well as praises from President Trump- “Kim is a good negotiator and a talented leader.”
Third is Maximize your options. In agreeing to meet with President Kim, Trump had actually limited his options. It was either to accept whatever he could get or leave the summit which would have been a PR disaster for him. With limited options for Trump, Kim had the upper hand.
Know your market. Trump has always focused on his base constituency. He played the summit well showing this loyal group that he could accomplish what no US leader had done, begin a process of peace with North Korea. Bringing home the war dead and even promising the prospect of bringing back the soldiers appealed to this constituency.
Use your leverage. Trump did have more leverage than Kim- ending the economic sanctions that had been hurting North Korea, the prospect of economic aid, decreased tensions could allow Kim to decrease military spending and focus on bread and butter issues, and military war games. Trump got the upper hand by stopping the war games but keeping the sanctions in place.
Enhance your location. The denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula removes the threat of North Korean missiles targeting US territories. But the winner here is also China which has always seen these armaments as directed ultimately to it.
Get the word out. President Trump is an expert in this area. By bluster and keeping the world guessing, he was able to transform the event as an essential for world peace, despite the fact that he had fractured global peace with the US exit from the Iran deal and the US unilaterally increasing tariffs leading to a world trade war.
Fight back. All sweetness and friendship all around with even some back slapping. President Trump was in good behavior, a sharp contrast to the G7 Summit in Canada. Looked like he had used up all the animosity before reaching Singapore. Unlike Trump who had a lot of good words about President Kim, the North Korean leader never made any statements about Trump, just general comments on not letting the past stop the future. This meant that President Kim did not take back his previous harsh descriptions of Trump while Trump back pedalled on his past unflattering caricature of Kim.
Deliver the goods. Both leaders gave the world a spectacle and a promise of peace. But much more needs to be done down the road. All these were put aside as most were more than happy to see both shaking hands and not spurring. Low expectations made the summit successful for both.
Contain the costs. President Trump was able to achieve this by not giving much in terms of concessions. Sanctions still stay. The war games may stop but American military presence in South Korea will still be there. For North Korea, the return of the remains of the war dead is not much. It did not commit to a timetable for denuclearisation nor any verification process. It even got Singapore to pay for the hotel bills! That’s really containing costs.
Have fun. Both leaders certainly had a great time. President Trump dominated the news, which he loves. President Kim got to stand side by side as equal (?) to the leader of the Free World and even got to do some sightseeing, postponing for a few hours his trip back home.
But for me the ultimate winner is President Kim not the author of “The Art of the Deal.”