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.
“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 created.
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 his country.”
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 Korea constituted a “rough situation,” 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.”
Here is the full “commitment”-related text of the document both leaders signed overnight:
1. The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new US-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.
In subsequent comments, Trump stated repeatedly that his expectation is total denuclearization, presumably including inspections and verification, before which no sanctions relief would arrive. (Is this what Kim has in mind, too? We don’t know.)
There’s a lot more in this exchange with George Stephanopoulos (emphasis added)…
GS: What other kinds of security guarantees did you offer, did you put on the table?
Trump: Well, we’ve given him, I don’t wanna talk about it specifically, but we’ve given him, he’s going to be happy. His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor. They’re gonna put it together, and I think they’re going to end up with a very strong country, and a country which has people — that they’re so hard working, so industrious. I think if you look at South Korea, someday, maybe in the not too distant future, it will be something that.
What jumps out first is Trump’s claim that Kim is loved by his people and that they have great “fervor” for him. That’s quite a statement since the only thing we see out of North Korea are the cult of personality type public rallies where people scream and weep and cheer for the leader in a kind of whipped up or feigned delirium. This seems in line with Trump’s general support and praise for dictators and autocrats.
But there’s a second part of this exchange. He seems to imply that he offered Kim some sort of secret or unofficial security guarantees. Indeed, he says this explicitly. What were they?
Notably, even Ben Shapiro is throwing water on the right wing victory lap.
“If you thought of the flag that was next to the American flag as a Nazi flag rather than a North Korean flag, everybody would see the concern. This is slave state with 25 million prisoners and gulag system hundreds of thousands people wide. The president’s praise for the dictator of North Korea was disquieting. The triumphalism that seems to be appearing in so many places this morning, where everybody is excited that President Trump met with Kim, that’s not justified by the outcome yet.
“The piece of paper that got signed yesterday is frankly weak. This is not a strong piece of paper. I’m deeply skeptical that Kim Jong Un and President Trump are going to be besties and that this will suddenly change the world. But I’m happy to be proved wrong.” – Ben Shapiro, speaking today on Fox & Friends.
— FOX & friends (@foxandfriends) June 12, 2018
Lindsay Graham has a few issues:
“I don’t think cancelling a war game is going to matter over the arc of time. One thing I would violently disagree with is removing our troops. I can’t imagine I would vote for any agreement that requires us to withdraw our forces. That would destabilize Asia. That is what China wants. That doesn’t make the world more peaceful, it makes it more dangerous. The goal is for them to give us the weapons program, missiles and bombs in return for security and prosperity.”
– Sen. Lindsey Graham, speaking this morning to NBC News.
And Erick Erickson, son of Erick (after some liberal-bashing to show he’s still a red meat conservative) writes:
The whole design of this is offensive. The President pees in the punch bowl of the G7, insists the Russians come back into the organization, then flies off to Singapore to make kissy face with a man who routinely murders his own people.
Had Barack Obama done that, Republicans would be demanding his impeachment.
I generally think Donald Trump has run a pretty mature foreign policy that works for American interests. But this past week has been a diplomatic farce, and I suspect those generic ballot numbers that have had Democrats panicking are suddenly going to swing back in their direction.
Having the American President abdicate his leadership of the G7 to flirt with a communist monster is unacceptable. Diplomacy to get rid of North Korea’s nukes would be great. But that’s not what happened. Instead, we gave the North Koreans a considerable PR win in Asia, gave them credibility in South Korea, and came home with just a participation trophy.
Maybe what happened in Singapore doesn’t matter, because (as usual) the Trump Administration can’t even come to a consensus as to what happened:
Less than 24 hours and already there are two versions of what happened. In one, NK called the Chinese to tell them Trump agreed military exercises would cease. Now Pence is telling GOP senators those same exercises will not cease. https://t.co/TROZ2EQK6x
— Christina Wilkie (@christinawilkie) June 12, 2018