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.





  1. Jeffrey Herrmann June 13, 2018 at 6:02 pm

    How does John Bolton not resign now, borrowing the recent tRumpist phrase, “I was stabbed in the back,” as he stomps out of the West Wing?
    Oh, wait. That would require acting according to one’s principles. Never mind.

    • Peter June 13, 2018 at 11:06 pm

      Great comment & funny. Right on the nose.

  2. Elliot Linzer June 14, 2018 at 11:25 am

    As The Times and others have pointed out, Trump had zero technical and scientific advice leading up to this summit. He walked away from the nuclear agreement with Iran, which the International Atomic Energy Agency was monitoring, not realizing that it was working perfectly with only some trivial technical violations. Now, he somehow imagines that there exists a different system to enforce the agreement with North Korea.
    Nixon was able to go to China when Humphrey would never have been able to make that move. Now, China has more of a state-capitalist system than it had before. Could it be that both Kim and Trump are seeing a similar state-capitalist regime ahead for a new North Korea?

  3. Albert Kim June 15, 2018 at 1:01 am

    I agree with your balanced take on this. But let me add something that doesn’t directly critique you but the “Trump praising dictator too much” argument to criticize the summit itself.

    Part of what bothers me about this is that the whole rest of the world “condemning North Korea” does nothing to actually mitigate human rights abuses within North Korea. That North Korea is an appealing form of government and that it’s all fine within the country is not an attractive public position, to put it lightly. It doesn’t matter if Trump praises them or not.

    What does matter is North Korea’s isolation from the rest of the world, which serves to preserve the regime’s status quo. Doing everything you can to break that status quo will increase opportunities in the future to actually do something about the internal conditions of North Korea. And if Trump sucking up to Kim and his team is part of that, I’m for it. (And in fact, South Korean President did much more to suck up to Kim, including hugging in front of the cameras. They had a banquet together and everything. Why is the criticism disproportionate towards Trump?)

    People are either exaggerating the powers of symbolism or they imagine the U.S. could demand North Korea to fix its internal humanitarian situation or something, which is not going to happen.

    I would prefer to have human rights in our public stance in everything. Symbolism is better than no symbolism if you can afford it.

    On the North Korea issue however, we’re in a deadlock. There is absolutely no point in virtue signaling about North Korea’s crimes as if everybody except some marginal Stalinists doesn’t know already. The only thing worth doing right now is bringing about the right consequences so that one day, human rights will start to improve in North Korea.

    Trump probably goes overboard more than necessary with his comments, but going more overboard is better than a straining relationship with Kim. In any case, I think the symbolism here really is inconsequential in comparison to its material consequences on Korean geopolitics for the next half century. That should be the main focus, but it’s not.

    • tonygreco June 15, 2018 at 12:42 pm

      Good points. Perhaps I should clarify that I find Trump’s exaggerated praise for Kim troubling because it reflects a pattern of attraction to (if not envy of?) autocratic strongmen around the world, e.g., Putin, Orban, Erdogan, Duterte.

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