[See update at the bottom. Trump got the language he wanted. – J.E.]
It might have been one thing if Donald Trump had run in 2016 on a platform emphasizing North Korea. But on the other hand, it probably wouldn’t have (been one thing). It would still have been this thing: the thing we’re seeing, which is that everyone is confounded by the improbable reality of the Trump-Kim meeting, with nothing sophisticated, complex, or smarter-than-the-president to say about it.
It is what it is. It’s simple to the point of banality. Trump and Kim Jong-Un are meeting, on the clear understanding that establishing a further dialogue is about Kim completely dismantling his nuclear weapons program. If it ceases being about that, Trump walks.
This seems unbelievable to many observers, who caution that Kim will do everything in his power to push the envelope and try to fudge things on the margins.
Well, yes. It’s not clear to me why these observers still seem to think Trump doesn’t understand that. It’s actually crystal clear that he has understood it from the very beginning.
If the observers can’t bring themselves to credit Trump with that basic level of understanding, surely they realize Mike Pompeo, James Mattis, and John Bolton understand it. Those three men, and other Trump advisers at the next level down, have been criticized for years for understanding it too well, in other situations. Why they would have suddenly lost their perspective and judgment is beyond me.
A better interpretation seems to be that they haven’t lost anything, and this is a real opportunity.
Does the fact that it’s happening mean Trump does everything right, as opposed to other presidents who’ve done everything wrong, or critics who are idiots, or pundits who are just yammering partisans?
Of course not. But what’s remarkable here – what has so many people in a frivolous mood – is that the summit is highly significant (even epic, given the lurking armistice that will reach its 65th anniversary in just a few weeks); it is real; and there doesn’t seem to be any need for ponderous analyses, because everyone already understands (a) what’s at stake, and (b) what isn’t promised.
This is the basis for the reunification of the Koreas, a reordering of the status quo in the Far East, the ending of a stand-off that helped define the Cold War, and has shaped every perspective on the Pacific theater since 1950. It’s the possibility of actually denuclearizing a rogue regime, a model with ramifications for everyone else on the planet if it can be brought off. It’s about neutralizing North Korea as an arms proliferation state and source of paramilitary cadre, something that could affect the plans of China, Russia, and Iran on three continents.
But there is no promise of salutary outcomes in these regards.
And the thing is, everyone knows that. It’s no great insight to point it out. From what I can tell, in fact, the ordinary people who don’t follow these things closely are able to state the point more succinctly, and with less needless bloviation, than the specialists.
So most witnesses from the chattering class are dispensing with the pretense of insight, and going instead for the criticisms of symbolic outrage and snark.
Who knew that when the U.S. finally sat down to talk turkey with North Korea, the important thing would be whether Americans were being hypocritical about who really loves our flag the most?
Flag Code: Title 4, Chapter 1, section 7(c): "No other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America." But kneeling is bad, apparently, smdh. #TrumpKim #TrumpKimSummit pic.twitter.com/MtOQR5qabH
— MovieJay (@MovieJay) June 12, 2018
The American Flag Was Side By Side With The North Korean Flag.
Can you imagine how Trump Supporters Would Have Reacted If Obama Met With Kim Jong Un and Had Our Flag Side By Side With the Brutal Regime’s Flag?
They would lash out at Obama and call him a “Traitor”.
Am I Right?
— 🇺🇸🌊Serena 🌊🇺🇸 (@PikachuSerena) June 12, 2018
This is what disrespecting our flag looks like. 😡 You can’t stand for democracy & AMERICA while pandering to a murderous dictator & human rights violator while saying “its an honor to meet you”. #TrumpKim #BlueWave2018 #northkorea #traitortrumop #dicktatortots pic.twitter.com/DepaujBY5T
— Natalie (@SparkleSphere) June 12, 2018
FWIW, I think the North Korean flag is a piece of vile filth that stands for the dynastic rule of a racist cult that subjugates, tortures and enslaves it's own people. Ideally it would spontaneously combust when it even touches our flag. But nfw should it stand equal to ours. pic.twitter.com/GIhhYQenEd
— Jonah Goldberg (@JonahNRO) June 12, 2018
It really is a shame to see the American flag polluted in this manner. Let’s have some more of it, because that’s what matters.
— J.E. Dyer (@OptimisticCon) June 12, 2018
— J.E. Dyer (@OptimisticCon) June 12, 2018
— J.E. Dyer (@OptimisticCon) June 12, 2018
Disgusting. Outrageous. Kim Jong-Un could live to be 200 and never slaughter as many Koreans as the forces of Mao Zedong slaughtered Chinese, and yet there was Nixon all up with Mao’s henchman Chou En-Lai, acting polite and giving Communist China global credibility.
Reagan with Gorbachev at Geneva in 1985? Don’t get me started. Flag abuse. Obama with Raul Castro – still to this day a Communist regime with fresh blood on its hands that will never wash off. Yes, let’s hear from everyone out there about consistency as regards respect for our flag, and where it should be photographed, and how stupid and hypocritical other people are with their opinions on what players of team sports should do when it is hoisted before them.
But why stop there, when there’s the whole field of “right-wingers would have puked all over Obama for holding this summit,” versus “left-wingers would love this summit if it were Obama”?
Sigh. The accusations here are both pretty accurate, and neither one means anyone is an inconsistent hypocrite.
Right-wingers wouldn’t trust Obama to handle such a summit, and in any case don’t think Obama could have arranged it. Left-wingers assume Obama, if he had arranged such a summit, would have a better perspective on it than Trump, because Obama had nuance and subtlety and understood the limits of power, whereas Trump is a bull in a china shop.
The political perceptions about the two presidents are different, on each side of the aisle. There’s no inconsistency here; there’s a difference of opinion about what works, and who’s good at what.
This particular point is ultimately the important one. Nothing in international relations works like a machine. You don’t just follow “correct” procedures and have things happen like clockwork.
Negotiating for real stakes isn’t some occult algorithm you plug inputs into, and then have a rote, pre-packaged solution spit out for you at the other end. (Neither is using – or threatening – military force, a separate but related matter.)
Negotiating is heavily dependent on situational factors – and not just realistic assessments and feasible goals. Negotiating effectively depends on knowing how to negotiate.
What’s entertaining about the Trump phenomenon is that he does know how to negotiate, although he doesn’t do it in the grand-minuet format of international diplomacy.
His American supporters see clearly what he’s doing when he’s negotiating by putting down bold markers (“let’s get rid of all tariffs”) and walking away from time-wasters (why bother negotiating a G-7 communique? That point itself is the one that counts).
Trumpers see past the ritual and the collegial symbolism – because they’re not only not invested in it; they think it’s actively inimical to their interests and their country’s. The ritual, as opposed to the substance, has been accorded a sacred status that makes it a vehicle for exploitation and onerous mandates, rather than a servant of the people’s interests.
Thinkers in the conventional mold of post-1945 internationalism have a different perspective. And it’s not by any means a comprehensively flawed one. But they are slower to recognize the kinetic effects Trump is having – that he’s having them; it’s not just an eccentric cosmos toying with us – because they’re still back on the “violated conventions” aspect of things.
So here we are, facing the most significant moment in the saga of a divided Korea since 1953, talking about Trump’s and Kim’s coiffures, telling Justin Trudeau eyebrow jokes, and standing in sudden solidarity with Canada’s dairy industry because Trump is a horrible, embarrassing human being (I believe I have that right, but may be off by a syllable or two).
The prospect before us, at its ultimate reckoning, is of that insulting North Korean flag going away altogether, and a newly reunified Korea flying a flag that no one flies today. All while the star-spangled banner yet waves, o’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
If I were Trump, I’d ignore us too.
*UPDATE*: The document signed by Trump and Kim has been photographed and analyzed, although the State Department isn’t expected to publish it until Trump holds his press conference (very shortly at this writing; an hour or so from now, or 4 AM on the U.S. East coast).
Bloomberg has a summary of the contents, which comports with what Fox is reporting via broadcast at the moment. The key focus on North Korea denuclearizing is clear and emphatic:
Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un signed a document Tuesday asserting that the U.S. president would provide unspecified “security guarantees” to Kim in exchange for the North Korean leader’s “unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula.” …
They agreed to establish new relations between the countries and committed to “build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean peninsula,” where the U.S. and South Korea are still technically at war with the North.
Kim reaffirmed that he would “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” though there was no indication the two men had agreed on what that would mean.
And they also agreed to work together to recover “POW/MIA remains,” presumably American soldiers killed in the 1950-53 Korean War.
Courtesy of Bloomberg’s preliminary transcription, here is the text of the document:
Joint Statement of President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea at the Singapore Summit
President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) held a first, historic summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018.
President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un conducted a comprehensive, in-depth, and sincere exchange of opinions on the issues related to the establishment of new U.S.-DPRK relations and the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK, and Chairman Kim Jong Un reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Convinced that the establishment of new U.S.-DPRK relations will contribute to the peace and prosperity of the Korean Peninsula and of the world, and recognizing that mutual confidence building can promote the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, President Trump and Chairman Kim Jong Un state the following:
1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new U.S.-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity.
2. The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.
3. Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
4. The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified.
President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have committed to cooperate for the development of new U.S.-DPRK relations and for the promotion of peace, prosperity, and security of the Korean Peninsula and of the world.
DONALD J. TRUMP
President of the United States of America
KIM JONG UN
Chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
June 12, 2018
Obviously, there is much to be worked out here. John Bolton and Mike Pompeo are the men to get that done.