Before we travel too far down the road towards congratulating President Donald Trump for an important, surprising and historic meeting with North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong Un, before we completely let down our guard and take a breather from what had been a tense geopolitical showdown that only a few months ago seemed on the precipice of falling into a disastrous military confrontation on the Korean Peninsula, before we start planning business ventures and vacations along marketable beachfront property somewhere north of the 38th parallel, before we marvel at our leader’s negotiating acumen, let’s remember this: North Korea’s leader is a cruel, dictatorial, murderous thug with a nuclear arsenal in his hip pocket.
After the summit in Singapore, Trump told ABC News “you see the fervor” in North Koreans’ “love” for their leader, whom he called “very talented.”
Maybe Trump does not know that North Koreans who do not show their love of Kim are summarily executed. Such are the advantages of being a severe and merciless autocrat. According to a 2017 International Bar Association report, here are Kim’s talents on display: Torture, systematic murder, rape, forced abortions, starvation, overwork leading to hundreds of thousands of deaths and persecution of Christians.
The United Nations said the conditions in North Korea are unparalleled in the world. The country ranks 167th out of 167 in the Economist’s Democracy Index, and 180th out of 180 in the Heritage Foundation’s Index of Economic Freedom.
The summit ended with a hazy declaration of principles, several staged photo ops and this note of concern: Trump said he would suspend military exercises with South Korea as a gesture of goodwill to the North Koreans.
Not exactly President Ronald Reagan in West Berlin, saying, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!”
Indeed. Kim – the leader of a deeply impoverished country, an oppressive ruler who has somewhere between 80,000 and 130,000 North Koreans held as political prisoners, detained in brutal gulags – received all of the benefits of this meeting. He scored a huge diplomatic win in getting the president of the United States to fly half way around the world to meet, shake his hand (several times) and cancel military exercises with South Korea – our nation’s ally and his greatest enemy.
By appearing with Kim, by disrespecting Old Glory by allowing the North Korean flag to share equal stature, Trump elevated Kim on the international stage – lavishing him in respect and legitimacy.
For Kim, it was a diplomatic coup. And what did he give up? Not a thing.
Kim’s provocations, banging his spoon on the table, got Trump’s attention – and a “fire and fury” remark that put everyone on edge. Previous U.S. presidents from both sides of the political divide had simply ignored the irritable man-child.
Now, of course, is different. Trump probably felt as though he had to broker a meeting and offer Kim a very large carrot to convince him from further building out his nuclear arsenal – and ambitions.
The immediate concern – the doomsday clock ticking inexorably towards midnight – has been arrested, it seems to us, and that is to the president’s credit.
So, too, is taking the gamble of meeting Kim face to face – a first for our two nations. We think it’s helpful, just like President Obama once suggested, that we talk with our foes.
But this is a long-term relationship between the free world and Kim. He will be in power 40 years from now. Trump? Long gone, remembered in the history books for policies and their outcomes and his behavior. This is no time for bluster, for propaganda, or for giving away the key to the store.
Kim, still, must be contained. And, no, he’s not giving up his nukes.