Remember Lucy pulling the football away just as Charlie Brown was about to kick it? Imagine if Charlie Brown, instead of being dejected, ran around the field with his arms stretched high shouting that he had just kicked the winning field goal. North Korea’s nuclear threat is gone!! We can now all sleep easily. Mission accomplished!! Peace in our time!! That’s Donald Trump’s message in the wake of the Singapore summit, notwithstanding The Washington Post’s masterful compilation of all the president’s recent fabulist claims.
After months of bellicose rhetoric that frightened the world, it clearly is better that the two mercurial leaders gather to talk genially about creating more peaceful relations. For that we – and millions of Koreans—should be grateful. One can also appreciate that, in the summit run-up, three hostages were released without facing the fate of Oscar Warmbeir. But carefully choreographed events aside, the unmistakable message —including the vague wording of the closing statement– is that Kim got most everything he wanted and the Master of the Deal got snookered bigly.
That’s the same Trump who excoriated Obama for the Iran nuclear agreement, which included specific verifiable measures, because Obama and his negotiators – unlike Trump- didn’t gleefully prattle on about trusting their Persian adversary. When Ronald Reagan dealt with the Russians, he admonished, “trust but verify.” None of that applied here.
Prior to the Singapore summit, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the United States would insist upon a North Korean commitment to “complete, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization.” But photo op-hungry Trump was satisfied with a gauzy undefined commitment toward “complete denuclearization” of the Korean peninsula, without any “verifiable” or “irreversible” measures. Nothing about North Korea freezing plutonium and uranium programs, destroying intercontinental ballistic missiles, allowing inspectors to return to nuclear sites, nothing about North Korea making a full declaration of its nuclear program, nothing about a timetable, verification, nor even any clear pledge to permanently halt testing of nuclear weapons or long-range missiles.
Kim merely “reaffirmed” the same commitment to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula that North Korea has repeatedly made since 1992, notably in the US-North Korea declarations from 1993 and 2005, both of which were breached.
To make matters worse, Trump, apparently without consulting South Korean and Japanese allies, offered troop reductions and a freeze in military exercises—which—sounding like a North Korean propagandist– he disparagingly called “war games” “expensive” and “provocative” These concessions long sought by Kim and his Chinese benefactors yielded nothing of substance in return. Surely any negotiator worth the title would have extracted more.
Meanwhile Kim got the international recognition he and other North Korean leaders have long craved. His nation’s flags standing beside Old Glory in equal number, he was elevated to the same stage, with identical pomp and circumstance and interacted with the so-called leader of the free world as a nuclear power peer. More international rock star than Hermit Kingdom pariah butcher, he took selfies in Sheldon Adelson’s Marina Bay Sands Hotel with the Singaporean foreign minister. Kim’s only conciliatory gesture was politely telling Trump in English. “Nice to meet you Mr. President,” while Trump, often tongue tied in his own language, responded lamely with a grin and a thumbs up. Yecchh!
Sorely disappointed were any who thought Trump should raise human rights concerns or at least not appear to legitimize on the world stage Kim’s forced labor gulags, mass executions, planned starvation, and other atrocities. Though it seemed impossible for our moron-in-chief to make matters worse, he then appeared on Fox and dismissed North Korea’s and Kim Jong Un’s human rights violations, saying, “Hey, he’s a tough guy… a very smart guy. He’s a great negotiator.” When pressed further, Trump responded: “Yeah, but so have other people done some really bad things. I could go through a lot of nations where a lot of bad things were done.”
Trump could have used the summit to extract a confidence-building gesture to provide United Nations access to his forced labor camps, which could have boosted the credibility of Kim’s pledge to denuclearize. Instead, our president just found another authoritarian leader to admire.
At best, the Singapore accord is an opportunity to continue discussions building on a declaration lacking in timetables or specific steps to verify amorphous commitments. Complete denuclearization may never be achievable, but constraining the North Korean threat is a worthwhile goal. But this task will be made harder if, as Trump naively boasts, our national stance is that the North Korean nuclear threat is now passe.’ American pressure to tighten sanctions decreases and pressure from other countries—notably China– to loosen sanctions increases. It is way too soon to put up the “Mission Accomplished” banner.
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