There was a time, only half a year ago, when President Donald Trump seemed clear eyed about North Korea. He invited a survivor of one of its gulags who had walked thousands of miles to freedom to be an honored guest at this year’s State of the Union. Behind the petty insults he once hurled at Kim Jong Un, Trump also spoke eloquently about the Kim regime’s true, horrific nature.
Well, it turns out all of that talk of Koreans yearning for freedom was prattle. Trump is in deal-making mode. So he lavishes his new dictator friend with the kind of puff and hyperbole one expects at an award show.
This was a theme of the summit in Singapore this week. From the choreographed handshake to show two leaders on equal footing to Trump’s musings about beachfront condos on the North Korean coast, the American president went out of his way to make one of the world’s most grotesque tyrants feel like a statesman.
Now it should be said that some diplomatic pageantry in the service of a comprehensive, verifiable and irreversible agreement to rid North Korea of its nuclear weapons would be worth it. But it’s telling that the vague agreement reached at the summit does not include any language on verification, or even a timetable for next steps. For now, Trump is asking the world to take his word on it.
And while Trump deserves some credit for getting Kim to halt his nuclear and missile tests now for more than seven months, it’s still inexplicable why he would go out of his way to lie about his negotiating partner. If there really is a deal to be done, then it won’t hinge on Trump’s flattery. It will hinge on Kim’s own calculation that his regime will not survive if he keeps his nuclear weapons.