Giuliani as Master Diplomat

Photo by Marc Nozell | CC BY 2.0

Former New York Mayor and Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani said Wednesday in Israel:

“Well, somehow North Korea, after he [Trump] canceled the summit because they insulted the vice president, they insulted his national security adviser and they also said that they would go to nuclear war against us, they were going to defeat us in a nuclear war, we said,   ‘Well, we’re not going to have a summit under those circumstances.’ Well, Kim Jong Un got back on his hands and knees and begged for it, which is exactly the position you want to put him in.”

This is as historically accurate at Giuliani’s insistence that Donald Trump never had sex with Stormy Daniels because, well, look at her.

The real history is that, after the summit had been set, National Security Advisor John Bolton (April 29) and Vice President Mike Pence (May 22) both made extremely stupid, ugly, smug statements comparing North Korea to Libya. Bolton suggested that the “Libyan model” of disarmament would apply. This means the model of negotiating disarmament followed by regime change in the newly vulnerable state. It conjures up visions of Muammar Gaddafy’s grotesque demise, which Hillary Clinton so savagely cheered. It was not an inadvertent reference. Bolton has long advocated regime change in North Korea and is probably the most toxic of all the neocons. In the past Pyongyang has called him “human scum” and refused to deal with him as a diplomat. State Department officials have acknowledged that Bolton is attempting to sabotage the summit.

Pence followed up that the Libyan model would only apply if Kim failed to fully denuclearize. “There was some talk about the Libyan model last week, and you know, as the President made clear, this will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn’t make a deal.” Asked if this could be interpreted as a threat, he replied, “Well, I think it’s more of a fact.”

This of course only made things worse. A top official in Pyongyang called Pence a “political dummy” and issued this message:

“Before making such reckless threatening remarks without knowing exactly who he is facing, Pence should have seriously considered the terrible consequences of his words.

It is the US who has asked for dialogue, but now it is misleading the public opinion as if we have invited them to sit with us.

I only wonder what is the ulterior motive behind its move and what is it the US has calculated to gain from that.

We will neither beg the US for dialogue nor take the trouble to persuade them if they do not want to sit together with us.

Whether the US will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behavior of the United States.

In case the US offends against our goodwill and clings to unlawful and outrageous acts, I will put forward a suggestion to our supreme leadership for reconsidering the DPRK-US summit.”

Following this, Trump announced the cancellation of the summit, presumably to avoid the indignity of a North Korean announcement. But the North Koreans then unexpectedly issued a message praising Trump’s courage and regretting the cancellation. Plans to conduct the summit were resumed following a high-ranking DPRK official’s visit to the U.S. The North Koreans, fully aware of Trump’s instability and contradictions among his advisors and officials, have no doubt warned Trump that there are people around him who want no deal but rather the overthrow of the Kim regime. Trump has perhaps acknowledged awareness of that, allaying North Korean concerns temporarily.

But then his personal lawyer makes his amazing statement, in a rambling interview in Tel Aviv in which among other things he said sex between Trump and Stormy was impossible due to her appearance. That’s what you’d expect from a (sexist) personal lawyer, as opposed to spontaneous geopolitical analysis offered Israeli journalists.

He attributed the temporary suspension of the Singapore summit to Trump, as a response to North Korean insults (directed to the two top U.S. officials who’ve suggested a Libyan fate for the DPRK) and a nuclear war threat. He depicts Kim Jong-un (in his pronunciation, Kim Yong-un) as groveling before the president begging to get the meeting back on track.

Giuliani’s chuckly garrulousness does not suggest premeditation. He is ignorant of the history and context. He perhaps does not realize that portraying a very proud and powerful man as kowtowing to his boss looks designed to do what Bolton and Pence couldn’t do: sabotage the summit. Talk about an insult.

I think it likely that at any moment Pyongyang might issue a statement calling off the meeting.

Giuliani is not a U.S. government official, but he is a longtime Trump intimate and his personal attorney responding to multiple scandals, making a fool of himself and perhaps not long in his job. Daniels’ lawyer is calling for his firing due to his ridiculous comments about his client. Trump may see him at this point as a liability. His immediate dismissal would be understood and welcomed by the media, which has come to despise the one-time 9/11 hero as a thuggish stooge. More importantly, it could be seen by Kim Jong-un as an expression of regret that someone close to the president had said something so totally, totally stupid, maybe jeopardizing his Nobel.

Giuliani might not know that for centuries Korea sent envoys to the Chinese court where in presenting credentials to the emperor they prostrated themselves (kowtowed) before him. The Chinese emperor thought he was the Son of Heaven, China the Central Country, all the world’s peoples protected by its benevolent leadership. It was appropriate that foreign leaders get on their hands and knees showing deference to him. Korea was for centuries the most important participant in what’s sometimes called the Sinocentric tribute system.

The former mayor’s smirking suggestion that the North Korean leader had gotten down on his hands and knees (“again”—as though he had done so earlier to Trump) has to infuriate the North Koreans. If Giuliani had planned it, he could not have said something more explosive.

There are apparently some very astute, well-informed people in the DPRK Foreign Ministry. They realize chaos reigns in the White House and that if they meet, Kim will engage with a man who’s not all there. Their point is to stoke his vanity to get a deal which avoids war and leads to normalization of relations. But they realize that Trump is surrounded by people who still envision regime change—even at this point, five days before the summit. It will require restraint on Chairman Kim’s part to go through with the planned meeting.

Gary Leupp is Emeritus Professor of History at Tufts University, and is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900 and coeditor of The Tokugawa World (Routledge, 2021). He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: