There’s something to be said for a to-the-point headline.
I hesitate to call the summit a “win” because, well, what did we win? The repatriation of POW remains is good but that’s something the NorKs have promised before. The Great Negotiator could and should have demanded it as a precondition to the summit, not as his big takeaway from the meeting.
Post-presser, let’s just say it: Trump is a dove on North Korea. There is nothing ‘strong’ about the following: 1. Gave the summit for nothing. 2. Ducked human rights. 3. Gave up milex with S Korea for no concrete concession. 4. Declared desire to remove USFK, also for nothing /1
— Robert E Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly) June 12, 2018
The more Trump talks about the deal, the worse it sounds. U.S. stops exercises, pledges to remove troops, no new sanctions, all in exchange for vague promises of denuclearization. #trumpkim
— Josh Rogin (@joshrogin) June 12, 2018
I won’t hesitate to call the summit productive, though. Go back to this post. If the goal of the summit was denuclearization, it’d be a failure. But if the goal of the summit was deescalation, reframing the U.S./North Korea relationship as a sort of partnership, as Ed calls it, rather than a conflict between antagonists, it succeeded. You can’t get to denuclearization without a pit stop for deescalation first. (You almost certainly can’t get to denuclearization at all, but deescalation is a necessary precondition.) That box has now been checked. Onward.
I’m also less bothered than some by the propaganda value of the summit for North Korea. These people run the most notoriously Orwellian propaganda shop on the planet; the state itself operates as a cult with Kim as its god-king. The people have been conditioned to believe anything the regime tells them. If Kim wanted them to believe that he’d held a summit with Trump even if it hadn’t happened, his video editors would have spliced together some footage of the two and they’d have put it on state TV. If Kim wanted them to believe that Trump had surrendered the United States to Pyongyang, they’d put that on too. The idea that a state that’s willing to lie to its citizens in the most outlandish ways to secure their loyalty somehow needs a toehold in reality to further aggrandize itself in their eyes is strange to me. The propaganda value of the summit isn’t a steep cost to pay *if* it leads in the long run to NK liberalizing. (Imagine the hotels!)
But listen. It’s one thing to shrug at what the NorKs will do with this for propaganda. It’s another thing to sound like a North Korean propaganda outlet yourself. Ed already touched on one insane Trump soundbite this morning, in which he assured George Stephanopoulos that Kim’s country “does love him.” Insofar as all death cults love their leader, that’s true but reeeeeally offensive given the brainwashing and horrendous abuses to which North Koreans are subjected. He didn’t stop there, though. When Greta Van Susteren asked him how things went, he uncorked this:
Van Susteren: What surprised you about Kim Jong Un?
Trump: “Really, he’s got a great personality. He’s a funny guy, he’s very smart, he’s a great negotiator. He loves his people, not that I’m surprised by that, but he loves his people. And I think that we have the start of an amazing deal. We’re going to denuke North Korea. It’s going to start immediately and a lot of other things are happening, including getting the remains back…
Van Susteren: “But he’s starved them. He’s been brutal to them. He still loves his people?”
Trump: “Look, he’s doing what he’s seen done, if you look at it. But, I really have to go by today and by yesterday and by a couple of weeks ago because that’s really when this whole thing started…
Van Susteren: “Because this is Voice of America it will be heard in North Korea by the citizens of DPRK of North Korea. What do you want to say directly to the citizens of North Korea?”
Trump: “Well, I think you have somebody that has a great feeling for them. He wants to do right by them and we got along really well. We had a great chemistry — you understand how I feel about chemistry. It’s very important.
He’s the overseer in a nation of slaves. He’s Stalin without an empire. It’s atrocious to lie for him this way, even as a strategic matter of trying to butter him up. And it’s gratuitous. Kim’s not going to refuse to meet Trump again if POTUS had said something anodyne like, “Our conversation went well, he seemed interested in liberalization, we agreed to keep talking.” He had nicer things to say about the dear leader of North Korea this morning than he had to say about the prime minister of Canada this weekend. It’s not that the NorKs will use his words as propaganda; as I say, that doesn’t matter. It’s that it dishonors the people who have suffered under the regime. It’s on the spectrum of Holocaust denial: When you cover for Kim, even for your own strategic reasons, you become a tiny bit complicit. (What the hell does “he’s doing what he’s seen done” mean? We can’t expect Kim to stop committing crimes against humanity because, hey, that’s how he was raised?) There was no reason for Trump to go this far, particularly when he got nothing meaningful on nukes in return.
If you want to hate the summit, don’t hate it for the propaganda it deliberately handed to North Korea. Hate it for the lesson it inadvertently taught other regnant degenerates, starting with Bashar Assad. All you need to do to earn a face-to-face meeting with — and the warm personal regards of — the president of the United States is get yourself some nukes. I think Assad’s already learned that lesson but if anyone else was having trouble grasping it, they won’t now. Here’s the White House summarizing the visit with a NorK-TV-ready video.
Update: Good question via Jonathan Last. Has Kim said anything similarly complimentary about Trump? Who holds the power in this relationship?