Let’s hope Kim Jong-un doesn’t go nuts on his plane home and pull out of the communique he just signed with Donald Trump in Singapore. Maybe call Trump meek and dishonest for saying a few things to reporters the North Korean doesn’t appreciate.
Like making clear that the “total and complete” evisceration of his regime’s nuclear weapons capacity must be the goal of the process started at the summit. Presumably, Kim had understood that already, though, in which case all will be well and the Singapore communique will stand. Trump can behave like that, leaving summits, because he is Trump. No one else can.
After his own meticulously choreographed G7 summit was so rudely sabotaged, Justin Trudeau may secretly have been aching for a debacle in Singapore. Trump haters everywhere, including in the US, perhaps harboured the same notion. In which case they will have been disappointed.
True, the president’s critics will find plenty to grizzle about. Trump reminded us that there is no occasion he will not grace with his own special brand of crassness. Only he would see defusing the worst security crisis the world has seen in decades as a property development opportunity. “They have great beaches,” he mused openly. “You see that whenever they’re exploding their cannons into the ocean. I said, ‘Boy look at the view. Wouldn’t that make a great condo?’”
And there’s certainly room to nitpick. In the negative column feel free to note that barely any specifics were agreed on how to reach that goal of denuclearisation. When will it start and when will it be concluded? How will the rest of the world verify that North Korea is fulfilling its side of the bargain? How will it make sure the regime can’t reverse course and rearm? Hey Donald, you didn’t like the Iran deal because it wasn’t sufficiently airtight? Good luck with this one.
And, yes, if you weigh the concessions made by both sides, it looks suspiciously like Kim came out on top. Trump in particular made the rather astonishing commitment to end all joint military exercises with South Korea. They “were tremendously” expensive, he noted, and presumably thought it a gesture Kim would appreciate. Well, no doubt, but it’s less clear what Seoul is thinking right now. Or the roughly 30,000 US troops currently on the peninsula. Or Japan.
Trump, once again, comes off as a kind of seat-of-pants amateur. There are complaints that the final communique appeared to have been drafted too hastily. No doubt it was. But this is the Trump we have come to know. He was universally ridiculed on the campaign trail in 2016 for similar reasons. How could the American people possibly elect this bouffant buffoon?
Of course, he could have lost the race with Hillary Clinton. He sort of did. And there is absolutely no reason to be sure this dance he has engaged in with Kim won’t end with him flat on the floor and the world back in nuclear dread. Yet, the music is playing and we should be very glad of it.
Remember where we were just nine months ago. After a long stretch of firing increasingly potent long-range missiles hither and thither, Pyongyang had begun openly to speak of exploding a nuclear device above ground. There was talk of it being able to strike the US coast. Washington was raising the spectre of military action to stop it. And Trump was in the UN calling Kim “little rocket man”.
Some say the biggest gift of all from the US side was allowing Kim even to appear alongside a leader of the free world, maybe invited him to the White House one day, because it legitimises him or some such thing. Trump will have nothing of that and he is right. What does it even mean except to suggest that American presidents have special privileges with the gods? We do not forget the cruel dictator that Kim is with an estimated 120,000 political prisoners in his inhuman gulags.
But let’s take what we can get. We are no longer on the brink as we feared we were last autumn. Even the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Yukiya Amano, has given his welcome to a joint statement just issued that includes a North Korean commitment, “towards complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”. His agency, “will closely follow the negotiations to be held between the two countries to implement the outcomes”.
In his first post-summit interview, with Sean Hannity of Fox, Trump looks back at that how he insulted Kim at the UN podium, his warnings of “fire and fury” if the regime didn’t end its belligerence and driving down with a set of sanctions harsher than any previously attempted. “I think without the rhetoric we wouldn’t have been here,” he said. “I really believe that. You know, we did sanctions and all the things you would do. But I think without the rhetoric... I think the rhetoric – I hated to do it, sometimes I felt foolish doing it – but we had no choice.”
Trump feeling foolish? Don’t believe it. He knew what he was doing. It was a risky strategy for certain, and the rest of the us watched in amazed horror. It was bad enough that we had a crazy man in Pyongyang. Having a second one in Washington DC was a recipe for calamity.
But where his predecessors had done everything possible to avoid bringing the North Korean crisis to a head, Trump was taking precisely the opposite tack. He would force Kim into the open one way or another. It was bold and risky. But as of right now, at least, not so crazy after all.