The Trump-Kim summit is a positive small step. Positive because it is better than the incipient crisis that the reckless behavior of these two men created only months ago. It could, possibly, lead to a more secure peace for Korea. Small because we can’t have any great confidence that it will actually lead to that desired outcome. The meeting produced nothing but a statement of good intentions by both sides: no specific agreement, or even an agreement on how to pursue an agreement.
In any case, let’s be clear: whatever Trump achieved, he achieved not because he was tough, but because he was easy. He gave the North Korean dictator pretty much everything he could have dreamed of getting out of this meeting: a personal face-to-face with the President of the United States, followed by a torrent of effusive personal praise from said president; a promised halt to US/South Korean war exercises; and a pledge to guarantee North Korean security.
It’s ironic to see the two US political parties flip their usual roles in reacting to the summit. (A somewhat similar flip has occurred on Russia.) The Democrats, generally more dovish, are now the more hawkish of the two parties, expressing views ranging from cautious hopefulness at best to near-disdainful skepticism. The usually more hawkish Republicans are unaccountably dovish on the opening to North Korea. Republican reactions that I’ve seen to the president’s moves range from cautious hopefulness at worst to barely qualified enthusiasm. The Republican about-face is the more dramatic, raising well-grounded suspicions of hypocrisy. Just imagine their reaction if Obama had done what Trump has done. APPEASEMENT! TREASON! Why does Obama love Kim more than he loves America???
The most troubling aspect of the whole affair is that Trump doesn’t seem to care that his prospects for success seem to rest on his “special bond” with his newest sales prospect and good buddy–the homicidal dictator of the world’s most repressive regime, probably history’s closest replication of Orwell’s 1984. It’s understood that foreign policy involves working, sometimes closely, with repellent people (cf. Roosevelt and Stalin), but that doesn’t mean you have to shower them with praise.