As the Good Book says, by their fruits ye shall know them. Summits mean nothing, their consequences everything.
We should resist the impulse of many of Trump’s supporters to instantaneously proclaim him one of the greatest statesmen to ever occupy the White House and the most deserving recipient of the next Nobel Peace Prize, just as we should resist the opposite impulse of many of Trump’s detractors to condemn him outright for shaking hands with a bloody tyrant at a meeting that delivers nothing for the former and only legitimises the latter.
In the latter group there is very little consistency. For most part, these are the anti-Trump liberals and Democrats, whose past idols have broken bread and made agreements (not to mention said nice things about) everyone from Stalin to, more recently, Cuba’s and Iran’s repulsive rulers. It’s nice to see the left suddenly caring about victims of communist oppression (of which there are many in North Korea still, not the least the tens of thousands imprisoned in Kim’s gulags), just as it has been nice to see them all of a sudden realise that Russia is a geopolitical threat. But we are better served by a consistent approach to these problems and challenges, not politically opportunistic bandwagoning that comes and goes depending on the benefit to the Democratic Party.
Trump’s neo-conservative critics on the right are more consistent, in that they and their predecessors have also condemned Nixon’s meeting with Mao and Reagan’s negotiations with Gorbachev. But I’m yet to hear any viable and reasonable alternative ideas on how to deal with Kim that neither involve (likely a nuclear) war nor repeating the same tried and failed policies of the past few decades. That aside, it’s hard not to cringe at any number of uber-Trumpism expressed aloud over the past few hours, from calling Kim a “talented man” who “loves his country” to waxing lyrically about North Korea’s “great beaches” (“You see that whenever they’re exploding their cannons into the ocean. I said, ‘Boy look at that view. Wouldn’t that make a great condo?’”). Less flowery bullshit and more dignity wouldn’t go astray.
Personally, I’m skeptical. Kim is a bloodthirsty tyrant and his government the most oppressive and grotesque regime on the planet at the moment. Whether he is a fanatic or insane, he cannot be trusted. If, however, he is neither of these things but instead a cold and calculating despot, it will still take a lot more than a few smiles and handshakes to ensure that North Korea gets rid of its nuclear weapons. And while this would be a great development for world peace, it surely is not the end in itself while Korea remains divided and one half of it grossly mistreated by its Stalinist rulers.
“Trust but verify” was one of the catch-phrases of the end of the Cold War. This time we need to mistrust and verify. And, most importantly, wait and see, while we continue to otherwise create the conditions where the long nightmare that has been the communist North Korea might sooner or later be over, and hopefully not as a result of a Korean War 2.0 that would likely make the first one look like a winter picnic.
P.S. Some interesting reflections from my friend Richard Fernandez.
P.P.S. Kim is not a laughing matter, but his expression is priceless:
— Shahjahan Khurram (@91Shahji) June 12, 2018