[Vision2020] Trump was Out-Foxed by Kim
ngier006 at gmail.com
Tue Jun 12 13:45:59 PDT 2018
Nicholas Kristoff, New York Times
It sure looks as if President Trump was hoodwinked in Singapore.
Trump made a huge concession — the suspension of military exercises with
South Korea. That’s on top of the broader concession of the summit meeting
itself, security guarantees he gave North Korea and the legitimacy that the
summit provides his counterpart, Kim Jong-un.
Within North Korea, the “very special bond” that Trump claimed to have
formed with Kim will be portrayed this way: Kim forced the American
president, through his nuclear and missile tests, to accept North Korea as
a nuclear equal, to provide security guarantees to North Korea, and to
cancel war games with South Korea that the North has protested for decades.
In exchange for these concessions, Trump seems to have won astonishingly
little. In a joint statement, Kim merely “reaffirmed” the same commitment
to denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula that North Korea has repeatedly
made since 1992.
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“They were willing to de-nuke,” Trump crowed at his news conference after
his meetings with Kim. Trump seemed to believe he had achieved some
remarkable agreement, but the concessions were all his own.
The most remarkable aspect of the joint statement was what it didn’t
contain. There was nothing about North Korea freezing plutonium and uranium
programs, nothing about destroying intercontinental ballistic missiles,
nothing about allowing inspectors to return to nuclear sites, nothing about
North Korea making a full declaration of its nuclear program, nothing about
a timetable, nothing about verification, not even any clear pledge to
permanently halt testing of nuclear weapons or long-range missiles.
Kim seems to have completely out-negotiated Trump, and it’s scary that
Trump doesn’t seem to realize this. For now Trump has much less to show
than past negotiators who hammered out deals with North Korea like the 1994
Agreed Framework, which completely froze the country’s plutonium program
with a rigorous monitoring system.
Trump made a big deal in his news conference about recovering the remains
of American soldiers from the Korean War, but this is nothing new. Back in
1989, on my first trip to North Korea, officials there made similar pledges
about returning remains, and indeed North Korea has returned some remains
over the years. It’s not clear how many more remain.
Trump claimed an “excellent relationship” with Kim, and it certainly is
better for the two leaders to be exchanging compliments rather than
missiles. In a sense, Trump has eased the tensions that he himself created
when he threatened last fall to “totally destroy” North Korea. I’m just not
sure a leader should get credit for defusing a crisis that he himself
There’s still plenty we don’t know and lots of uncertainty about the
future. But for now, the bottom line is that there’s no indication that
North Korea is prepared to give up its nuclear weapons, and Trump didn’t
achieve anything remotely as good as the Iran nuclear deal, which led Iran
to eliminate 98 percent of its enriched uranium
There was also something frankly weird about an American president savaging
Canada’s prime minister one day and then embracing the leader of the most
totalitarian country in the world.
“He’s a very talented man,” Trump said of Kim. “I also learned that he
loves his country very much.”
In an interview with Voice of America
Trump said “I like him” and added: “He’s smart, loves his people, he loves
Trump praised Kim in the news conference and, astonishingly, even adopted
North Korean positions as his own, saying that the United States military
exercises in the region are “provocative.” That’s a standard North Korean
propaganda line. Likewise, Trump acknowledged that human rights in North
a “roughsituation,” but quickly added that “it’s rough in a lot of places,
by the way.” (Note that a 2014 United Nations report
stated that North Korean human rights violations do “not have any parallel
in the contemporary world.”)
Incredibly, Trump told Voice of America that he had this message for the
North Korean people: “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.”
It’s breathtaking to see an American president emerge as a spokesman for
the dictator of North Korea.
One can argue that my perspective is too narrow: That what counts in a
broader sense is that the risk of war is much less today than it was a year
ago, and North Korea has at least stopped its nuclear tests and missile
tests. Fundamentally, Trump has abandoned bellicose rhetoric and instead
embraced the longstanding Democratic position — that we should engage North
Korea, even if the result isn’t immediate disarmament.
The 1994 Agreed Framework, for example, didn’t denuclearize North Korea or
solve the human rights issues there, but it still kept the regime from
adding to its plutonium arsenal for eight years. Imperfect processes can
still be beneficial, and the ongoing meetings between the United States and
North Korea may result in a similar framework that at least freezes the
North Korean arsenal.
Of all the things that could have gone badly wrong in a Trump
administration, a “bloody nose” strike on North Korea leading to a nuclear
war was perhaps the most terrifying. For now at least, Trump seems to have
been snookered into the same kind of deeply frustrating diplomatic process
with North Korea that he has complained about, but that is far better than
Even so, it’s still bewildering how much Trump gave and how little he got.
The cancellation of military exercises will raise questions among our
allies, such as Japan, about America’s commitment to those allies.
The Trump-Kim statement spoke vaguely about efforts “to build a lasting and
stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula,” whatever that means. But that
was much less specific than the 1994 pledge to exchange diplomatic liaison
offices, and the 2005 pledge to work for a peace treaty to end the Korean
In January 2017, Trump proclaimed
<https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-38492947>in a tweet: “North Korea
just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon
capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!” But in fact it
appears to have happened on Trump’s watch, and nothing in the Singapore
summit seems to have changed that.
All this is to say that Kim Jong-un proved the more able negotiator. North
Korean government officials have to limit their computer time, because of
electricity shortages, and they are international pariahs — yet they are
very savvy and shrewd, and they were counseled by one of the smartest Trump
handlers of all, President Moon Jae-in of South Korea.
My guess is that Kim flattered Trump, as Moon has, and that Trump simply
didn’t realize how little he was getting. On my most recent visit to North
Korea, officials were asking me subtle questions about the differences in
views of Mike Pompeo and Nikki Haley; meanwhile, Trump said he didn’t need
to do much homework.
Whatever our politics, we should all want Trump to succeed in reducing
tensions on the Korean Peninsula, and it’s good to see that Trump now
supports engagement rather than military options. There will be further
negotiations, and these may actually freeze plutonium production and
destroy missiles. But at least in the first round, Trump seems to have been
A society grows great when old men plant trees whose shade they know they
shall never sit in.
“Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.
Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance
from another. This immaturity is self- imposed when its cause lies not in
lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without
guidance from another. Sapere Aude! ‘Have courage to use your own
understand-ing!—that is the motto of enlightenment.
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