The summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un is one week away. As the time approaches there will be a plethora of stories concerning one leader, the other, or both; about the location of the summit, the details and the expectations. When it is over, there will be many more stories analyzing the results.
I want to do something I’ve encouraged others to do: to present my thoughts on a subject before it happens. Any future analysis can then be compared not against the shifting expectations of the moment, but against a position I’ve staked out with consideration and forethought.
The two leaders come into this summit with vastly different desires. The obvious ones are as follows:
President Trump wants North Korea to denuclearize. He wants the credit that comes from a successful negotiation. He seems to want the Nobel Peace Prize, based on the way it was pushed by his closest allies, the people he confers with about political strategy. He wants the bump in his polls that the possibility of North Korean peace has brought him to continue and, hopefully, to grow.
Kim Jung Un wants economic sanctions to be diminished or lifted. He wants a measure of independence, as opposed to being a complete client state of China. He wants to maintain dictatorial power over his country. He wants to be viewed as a world leader by other world leaders.
The results I would like to see are as follows:
- Trump convinces Un to denuclearize in a way that is verifiable, with no lifting of sanctions until denuclearization is complete. Or,
- Trump walks away from the summit.
Anything else is a failure. Here’s why:
The goal of Trump that aligns with the goals of all Americans is denuclearization. Beyond that, there is another goal that would be helpful to America, as a generality, which is to increase the very limited amount of market independence that currently exists in North Korea. But, while that may be on the table as a bargaining chip, it would be a minor achievement and not worth diminishing our effort toward removing the threat – already issued repeatedly by Un over the last year – of nuclear weapon use.
Whereas Un is neither his father nor his grandfather, he has, in actions taken, shown to be even more belligerent and duplicitous than those two. Any deal which allows for sanctions to be lifted prior to denuclearization, particularly after North Korean leaders have demonstrated an unwillingness to hold to any bargains in the past, is akin to the “world’s worst deal” that Obama arranged with Iran. Most notable, just as with Iran, once sanctions have been lifted they may prove difficult to reinstate. The U.S. wishes to restore the sanctions on Iran, but the others who were convinced by Bush to be participants in that deal – E.U. countries and Russia most notably – are not interested in bringing them back. We should expect a similar situation with China and Russia, and possibly even a nuclear-threatened South Korea, should we accede to any removals of the North Korean sanctions.
Giving up nukes in a verifiable way is unlikely for Un. That has to do with his second and fourth objectives. Having nukes gives him some small measure of autonomy from China, and it puts him into a fairly exclusive group of worldwide leaders. More than that, it makes him celebrated and feted by countries who hope to be able to convince North Korea to provide them access to the technology.
If Trump can do it, though, he deserves the Peace Prize, and it will be a great day for all Americans – and for all people worldwide.
The second possibility, Trump walking away, would demonstrate strength. He will undoubtedly then get attacked by some for having spent so much time and effort hyping the event, and favoring Un and China with fawning praise while dismissing or minimizing our allies Japan and South Korea. That may all have validity… but it won’t matter. The fact is that this summit is going to happen, and while there are those who believe it should not have been arranged (including a few Senators who tried to speak up in defense of Trump after he’d called it off) that’ll be focusing on the past. If Trump walks away, his supporters will spin the inevitable comparisons to Reagan at Reykjavik, and… I don’t care. It will have been the second best result of the summit, and that’s why I will be thankful.
Currently, we are being told that if Un gets a McDonalds in North Korea, he’ll be happy and that Trump will be okay with coming out of it without actual details. The U.S. is saying that paying for Kim Jung Un’s grand hotel room is a sign of our dominance and Un is telling his people that getting us to pay for it is a sign of his dominance. Smoke and mirrors, and obfuscation…there’s going to be a lot more of it in the upcoming weeks and it’s going to be used to move goalposts in every conceivable direction.
In the end, the only things that are truly going to matter are the outcome of the summit; and on the personal stage, that we remain true to ourselves.