WHEN MADMEN SHAKE HANDS
In prAising one Another’s stAtesmAnship, Kim And Trump did All despots A fAvour
After leaving no sidebar unturned, not one prominent expert unquestioned and not a single outlandish remark unparsed, the efforts of thousands of journalists assigned to chase down every conceivable angle to the reality television spectacle in Singapore choreographed by U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un this week leave only one small question unanswered. What the hell just happened? The obtuse and hopelessly opaque joint statement Kim and Trump issued after the event contains nothing to affirm or contradict Trump’s accompanying announcement that he intends to call off the annual military exercises between U.S. forces and the South Korean military and remove the 28,500 U.S. troops deployed in South Korea as a security guarantee to the democratic government in Seoul, which Kim says will now be extended to Pyongyang.
“President Trump committed to provide security guarantees to the DPRK,” Kim boasted in his own account of the summit, contained in his personal propaganda organ, the Korean Central News Agency. It wasn’t immediately clear what that might mean exactly, but nothing the North Korean regime says about anything can be trusted.
For all the hype about the historic nature of the Singapore summit, we have been here before, more than once.
Back in the early 1990s, when George H.W. Bush was president, the Kim dynasty that runs North Korea like a vast family owned slave plantation entered into a solemn commitment to “denuclearize” the Korean Peninsula. The Americans kept their end of the bargain in 1993 and removed their tactical nuclear weapons from South Korea. Within the year, Pyongyang ’s supreme leader Kim Il Sung was already trashing the nuclear non-proliferation annex he’d signed.
Then his son Kim Jong Il came along and secured a huge trade concession on the promise that he’d suspend plutonium production, but by 2002 he was caught refining weapons-grade uranium, which scotched the arrangement. North Korea bolted from the international Non-Proliferation Treaty and set off its first nuclear test bomb in 2006. Ever since Kim Jong Il’s death in 2012, North Korea has been run by his son Kim Jong Un, who has played the same game, except upping the ante.
By last year, Kim Jong Un was shooting missiles across Japan into the sea and pouring his slave state’s limited resources into a capacity to strike U.S. targets with nuclear missiles several times more powerful than the bombs the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945.
It seems like only yesterday that Trump was calling Kim a madman, a sick puppy, a short and fat loser and Little Rocket Man. And Kim responded to Trump with similarly adolescent name-calling: Gangster-like imperialist! Cancer-like entity!
Now Trump and Kim are praising one another’s statesmanship like they were old pals and, as usual, there was no shortage of what would have been spectacularly amazing stupidities for any world leader to make, except in Trump’s case it’s all perfectly unexceptional. “I don’t wanna talk about it specifically, but we’ve given him, he’s going to be happy,” Trump said of Kim, whatever that might mean. “His country does love him. His people, you see the fervour. They have a great fervour ... 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 ... 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 like that.”
Still, for all the expressions of mutual admiration there is nothing in the post-summit joint statement released simultaneously by Washington and Pyongyang, describing an agreement they may or may not have reached, that goes any further than the credible or otherwise commitments Kim has already made.
In the April 27 Panmunjom Declaration — a far more detailed and specific agreement with the South Korean government of Moon Jae-in — Kim had already promised to carry through with a complete “denuclearization” of the Korean Peninsula. He’s made a thrilling public show of blowing up tunnels where he claims his missiles were stored. Whatever advance in the cause of nuclear de-escalation Trump might want to claim, there’s nothing in the joint Singapore statement that strengthens commitments Kim has already made in the “Six Party Talks” between North Korea, the United States, Russia, China, Japan and South Korea.
There is absolutely nothing in the Trump-Kim talks that even touches on the basic human rights of the enslaved North Korean people, but absolutely everything Russia and China had hoped for — Trump’s apparent promise of an American military withdrawal being at the top of their wish lists, at least as some kind of explicitly uttered pledge, if not a formal codicil to the joint statement.
Whatever the content of the Trump-Kim talks — they are reported to have had less than an hour of talking time together — the function of the Singapore summit is perhaps the telling thing.
Trump arrived in Singapore directly from the G7 conclave in Quebec, where he’d disgraced himself by (among other things) arguing for a return of the mass murderer and war criminal Vladimir Putin to the G7. In Kim, Trump sees just another strongman whose regime he wants brought back into the welcoming arms of the civilized world.
This brings us to the defining failure of the international epoch, the post-war “rules-based international order,” that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Chrystia Freeland have been so eloquent in defending. When the policestate thug Xi Jinping shows up at Davos and everybody slobbers on his slippers, that should tell you something.
You can get away with anything, so long as you at least pretend to play by the rules of free trade and comply with at least the letter of undertakings you’ve made to the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization.
There are a great many differences between North Korea and Iran, but what fundamental moral difference is there between welcoming North Korea into the community of advanced democratic countries, as Trump is explicitly proposing, and normalizing relations with Iran, as President Barack Obama squandered his foreign-policy legacy in attempting?
There isn’t one. And that is the most noticeable feature of “world stage” diplomacy at this moment in history. You can be Kim Jong Un and the president of the United States will treat you like an honoured son entering his father’s house.
In Kim, Trump sees just another strongman whose regime he wants brought back into the welcoming arms of the civilized world.