If you take it as a given that the North Koreans will not get rid of their nuclear program, at least not based on anything that happened in Singapore, then disappointment and anger is inevitable. Again, this time may be different. But the only new variable on the American side is Trump’s personal charisma, his unseemly praise of a murderer, and the whole spectacle of the summit. On the North Korean side, Kim Jong-un is a somewhat new figure, but there’s scant reason to believe he wants to take up Trump’s suggestion and trade his nukes for beachside condos on the North Korean coast. Kim left Singapore with many wins; America’s remain to be realized.
Comparisons to Munich fall apart in all sorts of ways, but there’s still some connective tissue between Chamberlain’s “Peace in Our Time” pronouncement and Trump’s the-threat-is-over tweets. The most obvious is that both men were wrong. Chamberlain didn’t buy “peace in our time,” and Trump has in no way eliminated the threat on the Korean peninsula. More relevant though: Munich ultimately made war more likely, not less. Why? Because by giving Hitler the benefit of the doubt in exchange for promises he never intended to honor, it made Hitler’s subsequent aggressions all the more clarifying. The West could feel like it had gone the last mile for diplomacy and that there were no options left when Hitler invaded Poland.