As the world watches with a fine mix of hope and trepidation the upcoming meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, both men have set out their stalls on what they hope to achieve. History is about to be made at the Singapore Summit but what are the risks, the benefits, and the ramifications?
Kim Jong Un
There is one thing that Kim wants to achieve: his security. He has witnessed other leaders being toppled; some outcast, some tried in the Hague, and others, like Libya’s Gadhafi, being beaten, dragged through the streets, tortured and ultimately executed.
The simple truth is that Kim wants to retain control of his regime, ensure that he and his family are free from threat, and in the end, make North Korea a wealthy country.
Upon arriving in Singapore, Kim spoke with the city-state’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong about his hopes for the summit. He said:
“The entire world is watching the historic summit between (North Korea) and the United States of America, and thanks to your sincere efforts… we were able to complete the preparations for the historic summit.”
There was little hint of threat or bravado. Kim appears determined to make this summit work and although it may be a beginning rather than an end, much will depend on how the two powerful men relate to each other on a personal level.
Donald J. Trump
President Trump understands “legacy” better than most. He is aware that a presidential legacy can be almost entirely erased by the following president; as a builder of monumental buildings, he seeks permanence. Bringing North Korea into the international realm after more than half a century of being an outsider would arguably be one of recent history’s most notable events. If he wins this time, his legacy is assured.
Trump has made it clear that this is the first meeting of many. He has stated that this will be more a “get to know you” session than anything else; perhaps in an attempt to manage expectations. If the two leaders can build a base level of trust, with assurances that they can work together without threats, there is every chance that talk can progress to denuclearization.
One thing Trump will be wary of is putting himself in the same position as Obama over the Iran deal; any agreements the leaders make will need to be based on mutual openness, watertight legal frameworks, and most of all trust.
The anti-Trump media appear to be in a frenzy to point out deals the president made in his days as a business mogul that went wrong, invariably hinting at hubris and character flaws. It is difficult to read the diatribes without sensing a childish spite and the excitement that Trump might fail. Quite what this signifies about the authors and editors who produce such pieces is concerning, to say the least. Would they rather 20 million people continue to live under a brutal regime, and that the whole world be poised in fear of a nuclear attack, rather than have a president they despise make a success where all others have failed?
One of the main criticisms leveled at President Trump’s pre-summit preparation is that he is ignoring high-level advisors as they seek to counsel him on making a deal. It is being suggested that Trump “does not do research” and that he thinks those that do not follow his own vision “do not exist.” Yet here is the historical root of the North Korean issue.
The same D.C. desk wonks that are decrying Trump’s strategy are the same voices that have failed to achieve anything of substance in the last 50 years of “strategic patience.” It is their own hubris that leads them to make snide remarks and belittle Trump’s chances of success; for if The Donald can succeed where they have failed, it would show that they have been wrong since the beginning. A Trump victory (which would, in fact, be a world victory) would expose them for what they really are: armchair strategists who have failed to understand the world in which they live.