Choose whatever metaphor you want, the last several days of Donald Trump "diplomacy" has shown that he's playing checkers while North Korea's supreme leader Kim Jong Un is playing chess, and Trump is apparently playing it without all his marbles.
His "I've got a bigger nuclear button than you do" escalation tweet Tuesday night not only put our country at greater risk of barreling headlong into a military conflict, it also played right into Kim's hands as he makes new efforts to reopen the lines of communication with South Korea.
During his New Year's speech Monday, Kim simultaneously warned that he had a "nuclear button" primed for action if threatened and called for urgent bilateral talks with South Korean officials.
Any diplomat worth their salt could have seen the trap being laid by Kim—he gets to make de-escalation overtures with South Korea while warning the world that he's prepared to defend his country against any aggression by the U.S. In other words, only a fool would then do something to make Kim look more reasonable by escalating tensions.
Enter Trump and his pissing contest tweet about having a "much bigger and more powerful" nuclear button that actually "works!"
That was Tuesday night. Hours later on Wednesday, Kim walked through the door Trump had opened for him, reestablishing a phone line between the North and South that had been dormant for two years.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un gave the order to open the line at 3:00 p.m local time (1:30 a.m. ET), according to an announcement on state media in the hours before the two phone calls to the South took place.
According to South Korea's Unification Ministry, the North Koreans made first contact at exactly the time ordered, and the sides were on the phone from 3:30 p.m. to 3:50 p.m. local time (South Korea is half an hour ahead of North Korea).
The move is being hailed as a potential "breakthrough" in relations between the two countries, though it remains unclear whether the momentary break in the ice will lead to a longterm thawing of tensions.
NPR's Rob Schmitz reports that "South Korean officials are calling the announcement a very significant step" but he cautions "[there] have been repeated attempts in recent years by the rivals to talk, and even when they do meet, the efforts often end in stalemate."
Nonetheless, Kim has managed to use Trump's egocentric ignorance to bolster his own diplomatic cred and pave the way toward diplomatically isolating the U.S. within days of the United Nations rallying behind another round of sanctions for North Korea.
In some ways, North Korea didn't have many good options—it was on the ropes both diplomatically and economically. But Trump—who never ceases to amaze—has now provided a new opening to a guy who was one of the few souls on earth that had the potential to make Trump seem relatively reasonable by comparison. That illusion can now be put to rest.