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The Trump-Kim Summit

The summit in Singapore was brief, and judging from the official statement [1] released after the meeting it did not accomplish very much. North Korea has committed to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” That is the same vague, aspirational language that their government has been using for decades, and it still remains as unlikely to happen as ever.

The good news is that the summit did not cause a collapse of talks following a walkout by either side. The two sides committed to hold further talks. Bolton’s efforts to wreck diplomacy with North Korea will undoubtedly continue, but they have not succeeded yet. North Korea committed to nothing that it has not said before in previous statements, but the meeting did not sabotage inter-Korean engagement. The statement reaffirmed the process that DPRK and South Korea began at Panmunjom this spring. The two leaders got the photo op summit they desired, but it has so far proved to be less harmful than I feared. It is difficult to credit the claim that it was “an epochal event of great significance,” as it says in the statement, because we have yet to see what, if anything, will follow from it.

The danger now is that one or both sides will misinterpret what the summit statement means and have unreasonable expectations for how quickly things should progress. The president this morning was already building up expectations [2] that North Korean disarmament would begin soon:

President Trump said Tuesday that he was suspending joint military exercises with South Korean forces and that he was confident North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, would begin dismantling his nuclear arsenal “very quickly.” [bold mine-DL]

This seems to be a case of reading too much into the North Korean commitment and misinterpreting it to fit the U.S. definition of denuclearization. When North Korea doesn’t begin dismantling its arsenal “very quickly,” there is a good chance that the president will overreact and anything that might actually be achieved through negotiations could be lost. North Korea’s arsenal is the reason they were able to receive the recognition and status that they now have, so they have every incentive to keep it.

The U.S. and its allies should now focus on making North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile testing moratorium permanent. Once that has been agreed, it can serve as the foundation for further negotiations. If the administration continues to operate on the assumption that North Korea is giving up its nuclear weapons, it will miss the opportunity to obtain more modest but achievable changes in North Korean behavior.

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30 Comments To "The Trump-Kim Summit"

#1 Comment By connecticut farmer On June 12, 2018 @ 7:59 am

Well put. Couldn’t agree more.

#2 Comment By Uncle Billy On June 12, 2018 @ 8:16 am

I doubt that Kim will totally get rid of his nukes, but if he agrees to a freeze with no new testing or additional nukes in exchange for removal of US troops from South Korea, it might be enough.

#3 Comment By Eric On June 12, 2018 @ 8:59 am

There’s been a lot of ideologically confused and nuance-free commentary on this summit, particularly criticism from people who would have supported Obama doing this, and praise from people who would have hated Obama doing it. A better take IMHO:

– There’s nothing inherently wrong with meeting bad people without preconditions. Some measure of “legitimization” may be a fair price for warmer relations. (This was Obama’s view in ’08.)

– This particular summit handed Kim more legitimization than it had to. Trump saying that North Korea “loves” Kim, among other obsequious moments, was appalling.

– Summitry in pursuit of warmer relations, wherever they lead, creates conditions for future peace. Summitry in pursuit of impossible outcomes like North Korea giving up its nuclear weapons just creates conditions for future conflict.

So, I give Trump credit for figuring out how to get away politically with meeting Kim (something Obama could not have done given right-wing opposition). I fault him for his effusiveness. And I fault him for setting an impossibly high bar for success, which sets the stage for the inevitable charges of North Korean betrayal/bad faith and resumption of mutual hostility.

If the administration wanted to truly go bold on this, they’d drop the demand for denuclearization. Nixon didn’t go to China insisting they give up their nukes.

#4 Comment By Eric On June 12, 2018 @ 9:00 am

To clarify: my post was not a criticism of DL’s post, just offering my own take!

#5 Comment By Michelle On June 12, 2018 @ 9:19 am

It was a nice show, complete with insubstantial pronouncements of goodwill. Now, the real work begins. We’ll see if President Instant Gratification has the stamina and patience genuine negotiations require.

#6 Comment By SteveM On June 12, 2018 @ 9:22 am

This is a repost from a comment I made prior to the Trump-Kim meeting:

It could be that Xi is pulling the strings, not Trump. Xi has had two heart to hearts with Kim. Xi tells Kim, fix it with the U.S. and China will guarantee your safety against U.S. instigated regime change.

Xi also tells Kim, look we’ve built a much more prosperous society based on technocratic management while keeping the Party Nomenklatura happy and satisfied. You could replicate the same model to advance economically like South Korea while maintaining your leadership hierarchy. And moreover, the future is with Eurasia, not the U.S. Play nice with the U.S. now because they have the muscle and then get in bed with us (BRI, AIIB, SCO) for economic development.

If Kim has had that epiphany, then Xi gets what he wants, removal of the NK nuisance while China continues its inexorable development of the massive Eurasian marketplace.

From my PoV, Kim’s meetings with Xi, Moon and Trump are too much too fast given North Korea’s historic reluctance to engage diplomatically.

I have a feeling that Xi told Kim, “look, it’s not going to get any better for you from our end either. Either you do a Deng Xiaoping and make major reforms or you’re out.”

If Kim does maintain his momentum over the next few months, Xi will be implicitly steering him and the changes will be much more than modest.

Not surprisingly, Trump of course will take the credit. Because the Washington Elites are essentially clueless about China.

#7 Comment By liberal On June 12, 2018 @ 9:22 am

Agreed–well put. Sane comments, sandwiched between “Trump shouldn’t negotiate with that horrible regime” and “Trump deserves the Nobel, he’s already accomplished so much”.

#8 Comment By swb On June 12, 2018 @ 9:56 am

Perhaps Canada needs to develope nukes.

#9 Comment By S On June 12, 2018 @ 10:00 am

The US should work on building up some credibility first. There are too many examples of how a treaty with the US is broken at the US government’s convenience. For examples of this sort of thing – We can start with all the Native American tribes who have been driven almost to extinction by having treaties broken.

#10 Comment By collin On June 12, 2018 @ 10:46 am

I am more positive on the summit than you are, mostly because Trump is the master of exaggerating his accomplishments and as long as Kim is contained Trump will be friendly to him. And if leads to denuclearize or no more missile test that is a good thing. Or if Trump just claims friendly relations is mostly a good thing. (The dunking on Obama is eye rolling who was heavily criticized for visiting Cuba and leading the Iran deal.)

#11 Comment By GregR On June 12, 2018 @ 11:04 am

I can’t stand Trump but had this summit worked I would have applauded for the result, even if I can’t and the man who would have accomplished it. But despite the US proclamations, we gave up a huge chip in these talks and got bupkis.

The annual training exercises are a major thorn in the side of NK, and they have been protesting them for years. So we agree to stop doing something that actually pisses off the regime in exchange for a promise to at some point think about denuclearization. What a joke.

#12 Comment By james On June 12, 2018 @ 11:46 am

If Trump has proven anything in life, it is that he cannot be trusted to honor any agreement with anybody. This was a delightful photo op for both “leaders”, but time will tell if there is any substance whatsoever. I am not holding my breath.

#13 Comment By Pear Conference On June 12, 2018 @ 12:05 pm

“Trust, but verify.”
– Ronald Reagan

#14 Comment By grumpy realist On June 12, 2018 @ 12:45 pm

North Korea and China must be grinning ear to ear. They’ve discovered exactly how easily manipulated Trump is: tell him he’s wonderful, allow him to play “statesman” with a lot of photo opportunities, and they can easily wheedle whatever concessions they want out of him.

How many times has North Korea made promises? And how many times have they reneged on them?

What this has just proven is how gullible Trump is.

#15 Comment By Kent On June 12, 2018 @ 12:56 pm

NK will not give up its nukes. Mr. Kim knows it is his only protection from going the way of Saddam Hussein or others who dared defy the empire. But just giving up ICBM research should do the trick. As long as he can drop a couple of nukes on invading US forces but can’t drop one on Spokane, he ought to be fine.

#16 Comment By CRB On June 12, 2018 @ 1:02 pm

I don’t think the full details of the talks have been made public, so conclusions of productive vs. meaningless vs. dangerous are more opinion than fact at this point.

Understand why the DPRK doesn’t like our joint exercises. Exercises can be an easy ruse for a follow-on invasion, one with little advance notice. Giving up the exercises is a stabilizing move and appropriate.

#17 Comment By The Other Sands On June 12, 2018 @ 1:02 pm

NK will never denuclearize, so every concession we give to them is for nothing. Best case is peaceful relations instead of saber rattling, and we can move toward ignoring them rather than worrying about them. But we probably could have achieved that without sending the POTUS halfway around the world to kiss the ass of the murderous Hermit King on live TV.

#18 Comment By TheSnark On June 12, 2018 @ 1:02 pm

So the BEST DEALMAKER the world has ever seen just spent 5 hours with a homicidal thug, and offered to stop the military drills designed to deter him. In return we got a vague statement offering the same things the North Koreans promised decades ago (and didn’t do).

Oh, and he claimed this homicidal thug is now his new best friend.

It beats going to war, but that is about it.

The biggest take-away is that if you want to be Mr Trump’s friend, you have to first threaten the US with nuclear attack (holding a significant percentage of your population is concentration camps is a plus, too).

Maybe our old allies in the G7 and NATO will try that…being reasonable and logical doesn’t seem to work.

#19 Comment By One Guy On June 12, 2018 @ 1:31 pm

Let’s not ever forget that Trump said if he turned out to be wrong, he wouldn’t admit it.

#20 Comment By Patrick On June 12, 2018 @ 2:25 pm

“So we agree to stop doing something that actually pisses off the regime in exchange for a promise to at some point think about denuclearization.”

I love how liberals are pretty sure everything Trump says is a lie…except for this! We’re definitely going to stop military excercises because…well, Donald Trump said we were, right? I mean, if Donald Trump said we are, then there’s no way the guy would just make s–t up.

I don’t know what peoples’ expectations are with North Korea to begin with, but for anyone who wants the U.S. to have less of a role in the world politics, unilaterally ending any military excercises abroad is a good idea it seems to me. I could be convinced otherwise, but, viewing all foreign policy as what is in America’s national interest, anything that makes U.S. involvement in a war less likely is almost always a good idea.

But it is still hilarious that liberals now take Trump at his word. Thought he was a big orange con man, guys.

#21 Comment By Youknowho On June 12, 2018 @ 3:31 pm

So, Trump makes a major concession in exchange for a promise that “something will be done” in teh future.

With those negotiating skills, no wonder he ended up in bankruptcy court so many times.

#22 Comment By Clifford Story On June 12, 2018 @ 4:18 pm

A first date. One of those where you shake hands at parting rather than kiss, but Donnie seems still smitten.

#23 Comment By EarlyBird On June 12, 2018 @ 4:35 pm

There is a lot of fretting that a US president meeting with Kim “legitimizes” the regime. You know what? The fact that the Norks can nuke the west coast of the US has already made them a force to contend with, whether we like it or not.

While I don’t trust Trump to have the patience or humility to do the hard diplomatic work of following through on this tiny first step, I’m cautiously hopeful it will yield something positive.

And let’s all note how hysterical the right would be if any Democrat had met with our enemy face-to-face. It would have been political suicide for any Democratic president to have taken this step.

This may go nowhere, or it may be seen by history as a Nixon in China event, that leads to the amelioration of so much misery in North Korea, and the averting of a catastrophe on the Peninsula.

While I can’t stand anything about Trump, I’m rooting for his success.

#24 Comment By Richter rox On June 12, 2018 @ 5:18 pm

Trump got the ball rolling, where it rolls we can only hope is a better place.

He is the first person in seventy years to move the ball and he deserves his props for this

#25 Comment By Carlo Cristofori On June 12, 2018 @ 5:36 pm

North Korea is never going to give up its nuclear arsenal — I hope no one seriously thinks that is going to happen. The hope should be that they behave in a somewhat reasonable manner — like other nuclear powers –such as India, Pakistan.

The problem with the Iranian agreement was they continued to fund actors in their never ending war against the Sunni Muslim world (even if sometimes they were on the “right” side — like supporting the Syrian government against ISIS, al nusra and the rebels who wished to install the Muslim Brotherhood or such in Damascus).

From the U.S. perspective “denuclearization” can only mean North Korea will use the money they have bled from their citizenry to develop nukes (and the money they will be able to realize through the lifting of sanctions) to enrich their long suffering people– Not to stir up trouble ala Iran.

#26 Comment By b. On June 12, 2018 @ 6:18 pm

“U.S. President Donald Trump made a stunning concession [..] about halting military exercises, pulling a surprise at a summit that baffled allies, military officials and lawmakers from his own Republican Party.”


Cue Chucky and The ‘Crats.

Here I was, about to write this off as “diplomacy as theater”. Obama avoided Congress and tried to make his mark in passing, by executive order and presidential edict, which any successor would have dismantled expediently. Trump just tweets – a lot of drama, a lot of damage, but ultimately just mimes and high wire acts – dangerous, but unlikely to enlighten.

Now he made a sensible concession that disables DoD and Bolton/Pompeo skunkworks, and we will witness the next hysteria performance of the loyal opposition.

“Munich!” calls in three, two, one…

#27 Comment By Mia On June 12, 2018 @ 8:30 pm

Besides the fact this whole summit and its goals is beyond unrealistic given actual international politics, the treaty text that was released was so outrageously vague as to be pointless. I saw this interesting article over at Huff Po talking about Trump’s high turnover in the White House. The Bannon quote is highly telling and shows the level of irresponsibility involved:

“This is how he won,” Steve Bannon, Trump’s former chief strategist, told the Times. “This is how he governs, and this is his ‘superpower.’ Drama, action, emotional power.”

His “superpower” is this kind of baloney? I’ve worked in the business sector for years, which is where we got this turkey, and all of these things, including high turnover, are NOT things anyone hopes to have in a functioning office. High turnover is usually a sign to outsiders that it’s a bad work environment, and business sense and growth really isn’t meant to work with “drama, action,” and all of this other unimportant crap. So we have a true reality show presidency. We should hang our heads in shame that we think this is leadership. The real world is not a TV show put on just for our entertainment but has serious ramifications for stupidity and vapidness.

Here’s the article link:


#28 Comment By sglover On June 12, 2018 @ 9:11 pm

Trump’s a festering symptom of deeper ailments, but if the doofus managed to stumble into an arrangement that ratchets back at least one theater of omnidirectional belligerence (Larison’s phrase, I believe) — hey, what’s not to like?

And yeah, it’s typical brain-dead Dem “leadership” to try and Singapore as some kind of defeat, “appeasement”, whatever they’re going to pull out. I don’t know if there’ll be a “Blue Wave” or not, but in my view it won’t mean a helluva lot if it doesn’t also include wholesale turnover in Dem “leadership”. In my state the dinosaurs aren’t facing any serious primary challenges.

#29 Comment By SF Bay On June 12, 2018 @ 9:26 pm

What Mia said.

I’m embarrassed that this fool somehow ended up in the White House. Each passing day brings another list of reasons why we are the laughing stock of the world.

I have no idea how long it will take to repair the damage Trump is inflicting on us and the world. At this point I don’t care how ticked off his supporters are, he needs to be removed from office by whatever means necessary.

#30 Comment By rayray On June 15, 2018 @ 4:55 pm

Could be that you are missing the point. After all this drama, after all this discussion of what to do about NK…Trump gives away a key concession that SK desperately wanted to save as leverage for when NK ACTUALLY DOES SOMETHING. And – without consulting with SK or his own military.

So to be clear…in return for absolutely nothing but a photo op and the chance to suck up to a thug and a dictator, Trump has given away a key concession that the North Koreans have desperately wanted.

The promises that Trump got from Kim were the same ones that NK has given many a time. And now, if Trump follows through on his promise (which he won’t cause he’s a liar and because SK and his own military will counsel heavily against it) then we will officially have LESS leverage in the future.

Yeah sure, it could all work out. Anything is possible. But the point is that Trump did a predictably terrible job negotiating…which is what he’s “the best” at.

And the crisis that this whole thing supposedly brought to an happy end was a crisis largely ginned up by Trump’s vulgarity. So he created the crisis with his enemy, then he solves the crisis, by giving the enemy what the enemy wants.