‘The World has taken a big step back from potential Nuclear catastrophe!” Including his excessively capitalized letters, that was President Donald Trump’s summary of his three-day adventure in Singapore.
In fact, what he is writing and saying is more like the blaring headline on an advertising billboard, because Trump will continue to sell this summit — like the real estate tycoon he was and remains.
We all want to believe that something terrific was accomplished. We yearn to be convinced that Trump was not exaggerating when he tweeted, upon his return to Washington Wednesday morning, “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.”
Yet his summit partner, Kim Jong Un, has not given up a single nut and bolt from one of his nuclear bombs. The young dictator offered no timetable or precise definition of their joint statement’s “commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” Doesn’t Trump know that? Was he merely hearing what he wanted to hear during his 40 minutes alone with Kim and the more than four hours that followed?
It is hard to escape the feeling that Kim, though only 34 and lacking any experience conversing with an American billionaire more than twice his age, is playing Trump.
Unhappily one might recall British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain’s return from talks with Adolf Hitler in September 1938. Chamberlain, now an icon for fatal naiveté, waved a piece of paper that he and the Nazi dictator had signed and declared that he “returned from Germany bringing peace with honor. I believe it is peace for our time.”
Chamberlain advised the worried British people, “Go home and get a nice quiet sleep.” One year later, he realized he was wrong about Hitler, and World War II erupted.
Here are actual quotes from Trump’s tweetstorm in the hours after his flight back from Singapore: “Everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office.” And: “North Korea was our biggest and most dangerous problem. No longer — sleep well tonight!”
Experienced diplomats and former officials had publicly urged Trump to be far more cautious as he flew to a summit that would greatly elevate Kim’s prestige. They suggested that Trump should listen and certainly try to develop a human relationship, but don’t say yes to anything.
The president, guided by the gut instinct that got him elected in 2016, instead lavished praise on Kim as impressive, trustworthy and even gracious in agreeing to hand over the remains of U.S. soldiers missing in the Korean War that ended in 1953. Human rights abuses by the Kim dynasty were barely on the agenda.
Trump’s grand gesture was agreeing to stop “war games” with South Korea — military exercises on the Korean Peninsula — much to that country’s consternation.
It is true that if the North Koreans don’t truly begin to give up nuclear weapons, all of Trump’s sweet words and conciliatory steps can be reversed. Americans who worked for more conventional presidents say this new relationship has gotten off to an odd start, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other serious officials do now have something to build upon.
Perhaps thanks to dumb luck, Trump’s highly personal diplomacy could work. But students of history will watch with worried skepticism.
Dan Raviv covered the U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore for i24NEWS.