The Trump-Kim summit in a nutshell:
Trump agreed to end U.S./South Korean military exercises in the area, a primary source of security for South Korea and Japan since the end of hostilities in the Korean War, because Kim finds them “provocative.” Kim agreed to “to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” something he has been promising but doing nothing substantially about for more than two decades. The “agreement” did not define “complete nuclearization,” nor did it contain anything about verification of North Korea’s dismantling of its nuclear arsenal. The two men did agree to work for “the building of a lasting and robust peace regime on the Korean Peninsula."
It did not say whose “regime” that would be.
If Kim had offered to sell Trump the Brooklyn Bridge, claiming ownership through some ancient family history, Trump would be out there today, fastening a big, gold “T” to the structure so that it lights up the East River.
So much for “touch and feel” diplomacy. Sizing up a potential partner in a real estate deal - something at which Trump has spent much of his life with, in truth, mixed results - is not the same as trying to convince someone who starves his people and murders his relatives to retain power that it would be better for him to destroy his nuclear weapons and, instead, build luxury hotels on the Korean coastline.
What Kim also got for showing up in Singapore - at a meeting, remember, he requested - was recognition on the world stage as a someone worthy of meeting with the reputed leader of the free world, a title which now appears to be up for grabs.
The Singapore Summit, of course, came on the heels of the Group of 7 meeting in Canada at which Trump insulted his host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and the rest of the U.S. allies attending, eventually leaving early and refusing to sign the group statement. Trump called Trudeau, democratically elected leader of America’s most faithful ally, “weak.” On the other hand, according to Trump, Kim, inheritor of a family dictatorship over a country with which America fought a brutal war, has a “great personality.”
Trump starts trade wars with friends and dreams of beaches in North Korea. Vladimir Putin must be smiling at this fracturing of traditional American alliances and values.
Naturally, South Korean and Japanese leaders were stunned by Trump’s statement about ending the joint military exercises. So were most U.S. military officials. This was followed by what has now become the usual scrambling around, trying to find out from White House staff what exactly Trump really meant, if indeed he knew himself. This may work in real estate deals (although that is debatable), but as diplomacy it is dangerous. Again, we’re dealing with a shrewd dictator with lots of nuclear weapons.
Flattery can be useful - Kim certainly has employed it to his advantage in dealing with Trump thus far - but it pales compared to solid principles. Ronald Reagan was also notoriously untroubled by details, but his approach in similar negotiations with the Soviet Union would serve Trump well: “Trust but verify.”