President Donald Trump’s much ballyhooed Singapore pseudo-summit this week with Kim Jong-un, North Korea’s hereditary strongman, was a bizarre event by any standards, even Trump’s high ones for strangeness and norm-breaking. The mere fact that North Korea, the world’s nastiest dictatorship, was invited to meet with the American president as a peer, on equal standing, was a huge diplomatic victory for Pyongyang. Just by showing up, Trump gave that ugly regime the official imprimatur it has craved, and never gotten, ever since Joseph Stalin placed Kim Il-sung, the current leader’s grandfather, on the communist throne in 1948.
As for actual diplomacy, there wasn’t much on display in Singapore. This was a glorified photo op, hardly a bona fide summit, much less a significant diplomatic happening—except for the fact that it happened at all. Pyongyang received the famous Trumpian thumbs-up before the cameras, for the world to see. In return, North Korea gave, well, nothing, really. There are vague assurances in the joint declaration signed by Trump and Kim in Singapore about “complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” notwithstanding that Pyongyang has demanded that for decades, by which they mean getting American nuclear weapons out of South Korea. Although the administration is promising “major disarmament” by Pyongyang imminently, no seasoned Korea-watchers consider that likely.
True to form, this week Trump has tweeted boastfully about his Singapore romp with the strangely coiffed fellow he so recently was dismissing as “Little Rocket Man.” As he stated plainly, complete with his customary weird capitalizations, “There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea.” This would be news to Pyongyang—and the U.S. military. Adding insult to injury, Trump promised his new friend that he would cease longstanding joint military exercises with American forces and South Korea’s, which is a serious blow to our military readiness and ability to deter North Korean aggression, not to mention a big win for Pyongyang—and their benefactors in Beijing. Tellingly, Trump has repeatedly called these exercises “war games,” a pejorative and propagandistic term used by the Kremlin and others who portray America as a global aggressor.
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