Issues & Insights

Trump Tweets, Kim Comes. Now What?

Vladimir Putin may be the expert on interfering in U.S. elections, but this past weekend Donald Trump gave North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un the power to tilt the 2020 election decidedly in favor of whoever his Democrat opponent ends up being.

The president on Friday evening tweeted: “I will be leaving Japan for South Korea (with President Moon). While there, if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!”

Assuming the tweet didn’t disguise previous secret arrangements, it was a shortest-of-short-notice cold invitations. Press reports say it was entirely spontaneous, the president’s own idea, and at variance to the advice of national security aides. Had Kim rebuffed him, it would have been arguably the greatest embarrassment of Trump’s presidency and would have dominated the coverage of the establishment media for days, and provided fodder for heavy attacks from the Democrats running for president.

Instead, Kim came a running to the infamous Demilitarized Zone at the South Korean border. Trump’s tweet, from Japan, was at 6:51 p.m. Eastern time on Friday; he and Kim met just before 2 a.m. Eastern on Saturday. To get a notorious dictator to show up at a place of your choosing in seven hours is a dazzling rarity, if not a first, in the annals of diplomacy.

After shaking hands at the line dividing north and south, Kim invited Trump, and we saw the dramatic spectacle of the first sitting president of the United States setting foot on North Korean soil. Their encounter went on for an hour, much longer than expected, and in its practical effect it clearly erased the stalemate in Hanoi; they agreed to arrange for officials to meet and discuss the differences left unresolved at that second summit in Vietnam in February.

Where will it lead? Possibly to the same dead end previous presidents of both parties ended up. Critics warn that as impressive as the visual was, the meeting will make enforcing sanctions against the regime more difficult. But it is also possible there will be a breakthrough, in contrast to all the previous frustrations over the past decades in dealing with the communist wasteland.

The best case scenario is widely regarded as a fantasy: Kim gains enough prestige within the North Korea power structure that he could set the woefully impoverished collectivist state on a confirmed path toward economic freedom without inciting a military-backed coup plot. It is far from outlandish to imagine Kim’s ego being seduced by the prospect of being the Gorbachev or Yeltsin of North Korea in the eyes of the world and in the judgment of history.

Short of expecting the moon, though, Kim might be convinced to shutter, or at least freeze, North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, or some aspects of them. In exchange, we would almost certainly have to guarantee the extended survival of his abusive regime. And sanctions would cease.

Any such happy conclusion would amount to an extraordinary feat many observers had concluded to be impossible. At this point it can’t be known whether any progress, modest or massive, will come. But it’s worth imagining the ecstasy and superlatives of CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times and Washington Post had it been Barack Obama who snapped his fingers and made Kim Jong-un materialize at the DMZ.

— Written by Thomas McArdle

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  • Well, he certainly is an odd duck. Imagine a politician willing to risk his political future for the sake of world peace.

  • Isn’t TALKING more better than NK firing Missiles? Idt’s basically irrelevant whether each time they meet and speak something positive happens. Naysayers are generally confused…apparently most of them preferred Obama’s do-nothing attitude.

    • Sometimes *not* talking is what leads to peace, like when Reagan walked out of Rejkajavik in 1986. I think Trump is taking the correct course here, risky though it is.

  • Trump shows he’s not afraid to take risks. I don’t think, though, that if had Kim refused that it would make Trump look bad. It would have strengthened Trump’s hand when/if he had to play more roughly.

    But Donald had set it up with Kim by openly treating Kim with respect. Kim craves that. He wants to be seen as equal in every way, to include the ability to conduct foreign affairs with the big boys (the US and China). Setting it up by Twitter made Kim look good by showing that he follows Twitter and can react quickly.

    IOW, Donald had already made it almost certain that Kim would respond positively.

    • I think Kim could have made Trump look *very* bad. I didn’t get into this in the editorial, but imagine if Kim had just spoken to him at the line for, say, 3 mins, then *not* invited him to cross over. It would have been an absolute humiliation for Trump, and I don’t think it an exaggeration to say that it could even have cost him re-election. As it is, Trump came out of this smelling like a rose.

  • Thomas McArdle, I guess you are not particularly impressed with Trump’s impromtu visit with the devil Kim Jong Un. I have only this comment: Who else would have been capable of pulling off this visit other than Trump? It took a lot of moxie to walk across that border into NK and shake hands with Kim. There is no other president living or dead who would have attempted this.

    • Read the editorial again. I am very impressed (as I am with most of his policies and appointments) and I do make that clear. But I’m not the President’s press secretary and I’m not going to write as if I am.

  • There appears to be a conservative double-standard here. Such an agreement as described in this article, would be comparable to – if not worse than- the JCPOA that had, until recently, constrained Iranian nuclear ambitions. The silence of conservatives in the face of this blatant hypocrisy is the actual “pink elephant” in the room.

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