June 12, 2018

Kim: Another Admired Strongman

It is a good thing that the United States is now interacting directly with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Our reluctance to acknowledge and talk to communist regimes in the past has not been especially productive. It was years before we recognized the Soviet Union, and for long periods, we had no intercourse with the People’s Republic of China or Cuba. Like it or not, North Korea is a real country, with a real government, headed by a real ruler.

Whether a leader-to-leader meeting, especially one of such short duration, was a good idea at this juncture is an open question. Each of the participants in the just-concluded summit in Singapore had his own reasons for wanting a meeting. Each was looking for some measure of validation. Kim Jong-un wanted recognition as a world leader; Donald Trump was looking for a win that he could point to in anticipation of the mid-term elections.

One wonders if the “agreement” signed in Singapore is worth the paper it’s printed on. Its provisions are largely unremarkable and become important only if they are carried out. The jury will be out for a long time. I doubt that the president accomplished much of substance, but I am willing to withhold judgment. I would like to have seen a formal end to the Korean War and the exchange of ambassadors, neither of which would have been an immediate game-changer but which would have created a more favorable environment going forward. That denuclearization was neither guaranteed nor even defined by the agreement is unfortunate, but for it to have been otherwise would have been like winning the lottery on three successive days, i.e., unlikely beyond belief.

Kim and Trump in Singapore
Generally, I refuse to quibble with the made-for-TV summit. I do have one complaint, however, and, although some may consider it trivial, I do not. Trump declared that he was “honored” to be meeting with Kim Jong-un. What sort of “honor” was that? A brutal dictator who demands veneration from his starving populace, mercilessly murders his political rivals, and achieves a summit meeting by threatening our country with nuclear missiles “honors” Trump with his mere presence? Of course, we should not be surprised, as Trump appears to idolize strongmen—Vladimir Putin most notable among them—and have little real respect for the leaders of Western democracies. Trump declared more than a year ago that he would be “honored” to meet with Kim. I could understand “pleased,” even “happy,” by not “honored.”

What sort of man seeks such an honor?

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