The daily news, it is said, is the first rough draft of history. As I peruse the news coming out of Singapore I see:
- “A Historic Breakthrough or a Historic Blunder in Singapore? ~ Kim Jong Un May Have Outwitted Trump at the Summit” in Foreign Affairs;
- “Critics say US-North Korea summit deal leaves Kim the winner ~Pyongyang likely to be emboldened as Trump is accused of making big concessions” in the Financial Times;
- “North Korea’s Kim Jong-un rewrites the book on the art of the deal with shrewd handling of Donald Trump in Singapore ~ Kim shows poise and diplomatic flourish to walk away with a win on one of the biggest points of contention” in the South China Morning Post;
- “Trump commits weight of U.S. foreign policy to gut feeling that Kim will act in good faith ~ The U.S. President leaves a historic summit with North Korea’s leader with little in the way of details” in the Globe and Mail; and
- Always more restrained, The Economist says that “Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un sign the blandest of agreements ~ All the details are left to underlings to sort out.”
Are they all wrong? Is it all just ‘fake news?’ Is only Fox News correct when it says that the “Singapore summit went beyond all expectations ~ Fox News national security strategist Dr. Sebastian Gorka praises the Trump administration’s swift efforts to denuclearize North Korea”?
My immediate concerns are:
- As The Economist says, the document is “wooly,” it is, if anything, “even woollier than the statement signed by Mr Kim and Moon Jae-in, South Korea’s president, after their first meeting on April 27th, during which the two Korean leaders committed themselves to achieving peace on the Korean peninsula. There is nothing in the latest screed that is specific enough to be enforceable. The hard work of turning rhetoric into substance will be left to others;”
- President Trump appears to have made some pretty firm commitments ~ notions which were, I think, close to his heart ~ to step back from working with South Korea to deter North Korea by cancelling, without consulting South Korea or the Pentagon, combined (South Korea-USA) military exercises which aim, in part, to show North Korea that the USA is prepared to “go to the wall” to defend South Korea; and
- President Trump appears to have demonstrated why poor, weak second and third rate tyrants like Ali Khamenei and Kim Jong-un should try to acquire nuclear weapons: President Trump will come and meet you and be your friend. If it works for Kim and North Korea then I predict he will have dozens of imitators.
Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro says, in Townhall, that “And herein lies the problem. Trump has a stake in not being wrong. That’s why presidents typically don’t hold face-to-face get-togethers with evil dictators until some sort of serious negotiation has already taken place. Trump is now invested in the success of his diplomacy, rather than in the strongest possible outcome alone. That’s a win for Kim, at the very least. Trump has given Kim an advance against the possibility of future concessions. If those concessions never materialize, Trump will be forced to choose between admitting he was bamboozled and brazening through the humiliation, pretending that Kim is in fact a moderate force willing to work with him.” I have said before that I think President Trump makes important decisions based on his own instincts, on his “gut feel” about people and things. That may work with his goal of cancelling NAFTA and having separate and more favourable, to the USA in the short term, trade deals with Canada and Mexico but I’m not sure that the situation in East Asia, where China is pulling North Korea’s strings, is quite the same.
I believe that China has a grand strategy which aims, inter alia, to see the end of America’s military presence on the Asian mainland and to reduce the perceived value of America to e.g. Australia, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Singapore and Viet Nam and, above all, to Taiwan. I also believe that now, in fact, arguably, since 1960, America does not have a true grand strategy of any sort. I think that successive administrations from Kennedy through Reagan to Trump have been, essentially, winging it as they say, trying to utilize America’s (relatively) declining power to seek short term advantages. In a “game” where one player has a coherent, long term grand strategy and the other does not I think the outcome is obvious.
The Wall Street Journal says in its headline: “The Unexpected Winner From the Trump-Kim Summit: China ~ Beijing had worried that its interests might get short-shrift in the Singapore summit.” I don’t think the outcome was entirely unexpected but I suspect that, wth Trump’s threat to pull US forces from South Korea, Xi Jinping “won” more than he ever dared to hope, much less expect. China’s long term economic and political interests are served best by a unified Korea that is friendly towards China. I have long believed that Xi was ready to dump Kim IF the US was ever willing to withdraw its military from South Korea. Now it may not have to … an American military withdrawal would, almost certainly, provoke serious reunification talks and China would get its wishes.
I fear that President Trump will prevail … that the US’ security guarantee to East Asia will be seen to be worthless and that North Korea, ever China’s lapdog, will do nothing. It will get away with doing nothing because its nuclear test programme may be on hold for a while. It will, likely, do some showmanship to e.g. dismantling some missiles while he hopes that Trump will do what it appears he (Trump) really wants and bring 32,000 US troops home from South Korea, leaving the peninsula ripe for reunification on China’s terms.