Littwin: Trump trapped by his own desire for success
June 16, 2018
The word of the day from pundit-world seems to be "snookered," which is being used to describe Donald Trump's, uh, accomplishments in Singapore, where, to put it nicely, nothing really happened.
But I'd say snookered is the wrong word.
Trump didn't care what kind of agreement or faux-agreement he got with his "very talented" friend, Kim Jung Un, with whom he now has an "excellent relationship." Trump just wanted to show that he could pull off something that Obama didn't while basking in the glow of nonstop TV news coverage.
And whatever Trump didn't say about human rights or didn't say about verifying denuclearization or didn't say about what denuclearization even means, it was all overwhelmed by a handshake, by pomp, by circumstance, by the world's first-ever denuclearization condo video and, not least, by a Trump fat joke.
Meanwhile, showing some diplomatic skills missing from the G-7 meeting, neither Trump nor any of his advisers suggested that Kim deserved a special place in hell, which is apparently reserved for desperately-in-need-of-warmth Canadians. Trump also didn't call Kim a "low-IQ individual," a description he saved for Robert De Niro.
Democrats and pundits predictably jumped on Trump for allowing the despotic Kim to take the world stage as an equal with the president of the United States and for signing a faux agreement that makes a joke of Trump having rejected the Iran agreement, which actually does set back the Iranian nuclear program.
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But I'll let Sen. Cory Gardner speak here, via Colorado Public Radio. Gardner, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee and chair of the subcommittee on East Asia, often tells us of the advice he offers Trump in this area.
Gardner calls it a "very thin agreement" and said that some Trump statements, especially about the war-game training exercises with South Korea, "need to be clarified." Gardner adds that the human rights component must be addressed, noting, "There's still 200,000 men and women in political gulags in North Korea. This should be a part of these conversations. North Korea will never be welcomed, nor should they ever be welcomed into the (global community) as long as they fail to treat their people with the dignity and respect that international law requires."
Later, Gardner said he had his clarification, tweeting that Pence told GOP senators that the "training exchanges will continue." Except that a Pence spokesperson said that such reports are "false." NBC later got a clarification saying that there will be routine training, but that there's a "huge difference" between that and war games, leading Gardner to — you guessed it — bravely switch to backpedal mode. It seems Pence did say, in fact, there wouldn't be any more war games with South Korea, leaving Gardner at a loss for more tweets.
Sure, Trump might have given something away for nothing in order to get a worthless piece of paper, but I have different take on the summit.
I'm glad Trump went. I figured Trump would praise Kim as he regularly praises autocrats, even, in this case, among the most vicious of them. I knew he would claim success regardless of what happened and that it was in Kim's interest to do exactly the same. I wasn't surprised that he had failed to inform South Korea about the war games. It's what he does.
But I'd much rather Trump absurdly praised Kim in a face-to-face meeting than go back to his Little Rocket Man tweet-taunt days. I'm glad this means that Trump probably won't attack North Korea in the coming days, weeks, maybe even months. I'd much rather have Trump and Kim saying they've moved toward agreement — whether they are or not — because, in the short term anyway, that suggests we're safer now than we were before the meeting. If Trump is trapped by his own desire for success, I'm all for him laying all the traps he can.
And in case you have any misunderstanding of what happened in Singapore, Trump made it clear enough in his post-meeting news conference. And this once, you can believe him.
Asked what he'd do if it turns out that Kim has snookered him, Trump said, "I may stand before you in six months and say, 'Hey, I was wrong.' I don't know that I'll ever admit that, but I'll find some kind of an excuse."
Oh, he will. Let's just hope that it's not attached to a missile.
Mike Littwin runs Sundays in The Aspen Times. A former columnist for the Rocky Mountain News and Denver Post, he currently writes for ColoradoIndependent.com.
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