Lots of art, not much deal
As spectacle, President Donald Trump’s summit with Kim Jong Un probably exceeded expectations. The array of U.S. and North Korean flags behind them was stunning. Kim likened the scene to “a science fiction movie.”
For significance, it was truly historic — a first face-to-face encounter between a U.S. president and the leader of the pariah regime. Trump’s gamble has been that it’s worth building up North Korea’s prestige for the goal of an end to the nuclear threat it poses.
As for substance? At one point, Trump gave a stage direction to photographers to make him and Kim “look thin.” But nothing looked thinner than what the president got from their talks.
While Trump and Kim called jointly for denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula, there were no commitments or timetables on how to carry that out, let alone how to verify that North Korea — which broke past agreements — is keeping its word.
Trump pledged to halt joint war-game exercises with South Korea, but depicted it as doing U.S. taxpayers a favor, not just a concession. “They’re tremendously expensive.” He also seemed to accept North Korea’s beef that the muscle flexing is “very provocative.”
On the other big issues, the two sides agreed to keep talking.
My favorite mad dog dictator
Flattery works on him, so why be surprised at how thick Trump laid it onto Kim at a news conference and during a round of TV interviews?
“A great personality. He’s a funny guy, he’s very smart, he’s a great negotiator. He loves his people ...”
“His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor.”
“He is very talented.”
What about the atrocities against human rights? The labor camps? The starving of his own people? The killing of family members?
“Anybody that takes over a situation like he did at 26 years of age and is able to run it and run it tough, I don’t say it was nice.”
The buttering-up flowed both ways. “He said openly ... that he knows that no other president ever could have done this,” Trump said. “I think he trusts me, and I trust him.”
In case of failure, find alibi
As giddy as Trump sounded — “I think honestly he’s going to do these things,” he said of Kim — Trump has left himself an out.
“I may be wrong and stand before you in six months and say, ‘Hey, I was wrong,’ ” Trump said.
Maybe it was jet lag, but after a pause, he then let his inner voice come out: “I don’t know that I’ll ever admit that, but I’ll find some kind of an excuse.”
Trump did have a confession — he didn’t like making his past “fire and fury” threats at Kim.
“I think the rhetoric, I hated to do it, sometimes I felt foolish doing it, but we had no choice,” he said.
By Twitter-time early Wednesday, Trump seemed to have recovered his ability to make extravagant and unqualified boasts based on very little.
One of his "peace-in-our-time" messages went: "Just landed - a long trip, but everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office.
"There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea. Meeting with Kim Jong Un was an interesting and very positive experience. North Korea has great potential for the future!"
Janison: Enthusiasm curbed
Still, Trump in fact left Singapore to mixed reviews and grades of incomplete. The North Korean leader has given up “nothing yet,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)
“I think it’s important that we don’t lose sight of the fact that Kim Jong Un is ... a butcher of his own people and trying to reason with someone like that is like trying to hand-feed a shark,” said Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.)
Fumio Ota, a retired Japanese admiral and foreign policy adviser, was quoted by The Wall Street Journal as saying Trump had “conceded too much to North Korea” — including an end to military exercises with South Korea — without getting “concrete commitments” from Pyongyang on denuclearization.
But 15 House Democrats signed a letter to Trump saying they were “encouraged” by his efforts. See Dan Janison’s column for Newsday.
Another kind of boom
Big in Trump’s sales pitch was touting the economic benefits of peace.
“They have great beaches,” Trump said. “You see that whenever they’re exploding their cannons into the ocean. I said, ‘Boy, look at that view. Wouldn’t that make a great condo?’ ”
“You could have the best hotels in the world right there,” Trump continued. “Think of it from a real estate perspective.”
Trump also brought a video he commissioned and showed on an iPad during the meetings that imagined the two leaders as heroes who bring about world peace and North Korea transformed into a prosperous, ultramodern paradise presided over by a beaming Kim. (See it here.)
An apology? That’s special
In a rare White House apology, trade adviser Peter Navarro said he was wrong to declare “there’s a special place in hell” for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who is in a trade dispute with Trump.
“In conveying that message, I used language that was inappropriate and basically lost the power of that message,” Navarro said. “I own that. That was my mistake, those were my words.”
Trump is still steaming over Trudeau’s remarks on tariffs after the president left the G-7 summit, and vowed from Singapore to take it out on our northern neighbor. “That’s going to cost a lot of money for the people of Canada. He learned. You can’t do that. You can’t do that.”
What else is happening
- Trump said the North Korea summit would not have happened without Otto Warmbier, the Ohio college student who died shortly after 17 months in North Korean detention. Warmbier’s parents said they “appreciate” his remarks and “hopefully something positive can come from this.”
- For 13 months, the only major network that Trump gave interviews to was Fox News. But to get wide exposure for his take on the Singapore summit, Trump also spoke Tuesday to ABC News and Voice of America.
- It took longer than usual, but en route home on Air Force One, Trump tweeted his response to the profanities hurled his way Sunday night during the Tony Awards: “Robert De Niro, a very Low IQ individual, has received to [he meant “too”] many shots to the head by real boxers in movies ... Wake up Punchy!”
- Economic adviser Larry Kudlow remained hospitalized Tuesday after a heart attack, but was expected to “make a full and speedy” recovery, the White House said.
- Jared Kushner will travel to Israel, Egypt and Saudi Arabia next week to discuss the administration’s Middle East peace effort, Axios reported. The Palestinians still won’t meet with him after Trump’s move of the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
- Over Trump administration’s opposition, a federal judge approved AT&T’s $85 billion purchase of Time Warner.