The long-anticipated meeting between President Trump and Chairman Kim occurred yesterday in Singapore. The most important impact of this meeting was a commitment to diplomacy and away from war. The risk of war is lower than it has been for quite some time. Although the importance of this cannot be overstated, the fact is there was no agreement, no substance, and no resolution. President Trump fled to Singapore from his incredible failure at the G-7 in Quebec, desperate for a deal. Any deal. Trump and Kim did sign a piece of paper. Let the shouts of “Nobel” from his sycophants begin.
Trump, the self-described master deal-maker, left with nothing tangible for the U.S. while giving Kim a victory. However, Trump got what was most important to him personally – a televised handshake and signature. In part, this was not his fault. Traditionally and procedurally, such a meeting and ceremony would have followed extensive negotiations by teams of skilled diplomats, often spanning years, that lead to an actual agreement worthy of the pomp and circumstance. President Trump lacked the patience, interest, and ability to do this correctly, even with its incredible importance. Instead, what was more important for the administration was a perceived victory, any victory, to use in the upcoming midterm elections, to shore support from their base, and to deflect attention from his failed trade policies and other failures.
The “agreement” signed was a simple, benign, short statement containing a mere four aspirational principles wherein the two countries basically agree to work towards peace. It was vague, lacking any substance or specifics. There was no timeframe for any anticipated action by either side. There was no verification mechanism, especially concerning North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. This framework was remarkably similar to previous so-called agreements North Korea signed with representatives from the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations. Those documents contained more specific obligations, but the North Koreans reneged on each. There is nothing in this document or meeting that suggests Kim will seriously dismantle his nuclear weapons program. That will require significant additional and sensitive diplomatic efforts.
Although the paper lacked any real substance, Kim did receive tangible benefits that were important to him. This isolated brutal dictator was now featured on the world stage with multiple embraces with a U.S. President, his flag prominently displayed on equal footing with the U.S. flag. Kim, like his predecessors, long yearned for such respect and recognition and this may have been the most important thing for him in the entire process. Kim has long objected to U.S./South Korea military exercises and believes the U.S. should remove all troops from the peninsula. Trump announced the immediate cessation of all exercises with South Korea (much to the surprise of our ally South Korea) and his intention to remove U.S. military personnel from the peninsula. This is a second huge victory for Kim. Kim achieved two major objectives while avoiding any identifiable commitments or obligations on the part of his own country. Who was the better negotiator? Based on appearances, President Trump blinked, and Kim ate Trump’s lunch.
The U.S. has been committed to Korean security for almost 70 years going back to the Korean War. Thousands of Americans have given their lives and our country has spent billions in defense of our ally South Korea. Consequently, South Korea was able to develop a stable democracy and strong economy, on the verge of becoming one of the top ten wealthiest nations. Japan, Australia, and others have been key regional allies while the geopolitical threat of China grows. Yet the President largely ignored our allies in this process. His announced decisions on U.S. forces, specifically the exercises, was made unilaterally and caught our allies by surprise. Including South Korea!
Having participated in the Korean military exercises multiple times, I can affirmatively state three things. First, they are the product of months of meticulous planning and preparation. That work is now wasted. Second, the exercises are entirely defensive in nature. They are not provocative to North Korea, who is informed in advance to avoid any misunderstanding or accident. Three, they are not the problem… Ironically, it is North Korea that acts provocatively by its continued missile tests, threats of nuclear strike, and occasional hostile activity along the border.
Diplomacy over war is a great thing. Ultimately resolving the Korean War and denuclearization is a critical step towards world and regional stability. While I support the emphasis on diplomacy, President Trump’s personal praise for Kim was atrocious and inflammatory. Kim leads a regime that has committed crimes against humanity for decades. They have over 120,000 political prisoners suffering in gulags, and that is just today’s number. The Kims have starved, tortured, and murdered their own people. The regime has kidnapped citizens of other countries, including Americans, and sent them to labor camps after sham trials. The lucky ones get sent home after being used as political pawns. Others die a painful, prolonged death. Trump even had the nerve to suggest the recent murder of Otto Warmbier by the regime was somehow an impetus for this meeting as a sign they recognized the wrongfulness of their ways. REALLY?! The regime never cared for Warmbier or others, never apologized, and never took responsibility. The President’s statement was shameful.
For diplomacy to work, we certainly must deal with Kim and the North Korean leadership despite their disgusting brutality and criminality. However, under no circumstances, should President Trump have heaped such extensive praise for Kim. Unfortunately, this fits his misplaced and inappropriate pattern of loving dictators and scorning the leaders of our fellow democracies. It was an affront to the Korean families in who lost innocent relatives to this brutal regime as well as international families who also tragically lost loved ones in unthinkable manners. Yet Trump slobbers and kisses Kim while singing his praises in a grotesque chorus.
This was nothing other than electoral politics when it should have been a thoughtful, deliberate, comprehensive process. The administration rushed to failure to have something before November. It was about a desperate, flawed leader who focuses more on scorecards than the interests of the nation. The big winner at this moment may be China. Although China did not have an official representative at the meeting, their influence was clearly felt. The signed document along with President Trump’s pronounced plans closely mirrors a Chinese proposal several months prior. The Chinese win because the U.S. actions relative to this agreement tend to weaken our regional presence and alliance. China may finally get resolution of their own “North Korean problem.” China will likely recognize a stronger geopolitical position and regional influence while U.S. involvement continues to decline. A gift from Donald Trump, but not for the American people.