It has now been more than 24 hours since the historic summit between President Trump and North Korean Dictator Kim Jong Un, a meeting partisans are either declaring mission accomplished, or an utter failure. In reality, it’s neither.
The fact that the summit even took place just days after Trump wrote a letter cancelling it is remarkable in itself. Compare the dialogue between the two leaders now to six months ago, when many feared Trump was taking us toward all out war with his “Little Rocket Man” taunts. Trump’s repeated threats of military action were taken seriously by the North Korean regime.
A realistic assessment of the summit is that while neither leader made any official concessions, it established what will hopefully be the beginning of meaningful peace talks that could ultimately lead to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.
Folks in both parties have been piling on Trump for his handling of the summit, however, which should be seen as a positive step forward, considering the alternative last fall was literally nuclear war.
Countless critics slammed the president for “legitimizing” Kim on the world stage, and said his meeting with the dictator will be used as propaganda by the regime. The truth is that Kim became a legitimate threat to the entire region as well as the United States. There were legitimate fears that his missile program was capable of a catastrophic nuclear attack. So if a face-to-face meeting between our president and the dictator was the only deterrent from him launching rockets at South Korea, Japan, or California, it was clearly a risk the Trump administration was willing to take.
While Democrats are predictably behaving like a bunch of whiny Debbie Downers since the summit wrapped up, the sharpest criticisms are actually coming from the right.
GOP strategist Steve Schmidt declared on Twitter that Trump “got nothing” and that he was “taken to the cleaners” by Kim. Apparently he has already forgotten that just weeks ago, we got our three American prisoners out of North Korea without giving anything in return. Sanctions are still in place. And North Korea has already suspended its nuclear testing, something they were actively pursuing six months ago. So it’s preposterous to claim Trump had the losing hand.
Fellow Never Trumper Erick Erickson insisted that if President Obama did what Trump has done at the summit, Republicans would be “demanding his impeachment.” Did GOP lawmakers draft articles of impeachment when the Obama administration unveiled the Iran Nuclear Deal without ratifying it through Congress? Nope. Did they call for Obama’s ousting as he was doing “The Wave” with Raúl Castro in Cuba? Of course not.
There has been bipartisan frustration with Trump’s supposed concession of ending the joint military exercises in South Korea. What is ironic is that Kim’s obscure promise to denuclearize was quickly dismissed by the skeptics, while Trump’s equally obscure promise to pull these exercises has been treated like gospel. Neither Trump nor anyone in his administration set any sort of time frame. And the next major exercise isn’t even scheduled until next spring, which gives Kim plenty of time to start complying with our demands. If North Korea is no longer an immediate threat by then, maybe such drills won’t be necessary. And if they don’t curb their behavior, then neither will we.
Ben Shapiro expressed a rather heavy dose of pessimism on Tuesday morning, which isn’t irrational on his part, since previous administrations have tried and failed to make peace agreements with North Korea in the past. He also slammed the American flag standing side by side with the North Korean flag, invoking Nazism due to the regime’s brutal human rights violations. Meghan McCain echoed the sentiment on “The View,” saying that Kim is in the “same vein” as Hitler, and blasted Trump’s coziness with the dictator.
Shapiro and McCain make completely valid arguments when invoking Hitler and Nazi Germany. The comparisons are obvious. One clear distinction, though, is that Hitler never had the nuclear capability Kim has.
While it’s easy to slam Trump for being so complimentary towards a ruthless leader like Kim, none of us know for sure if the glowing rhetoric prevented him from walking away from the table. It may be uncomfortable for us to call Kim “very talented,” but in order for Trump to keep these peace talks alive, he has to earn Kim’s trust. We all know what Kim is capable of. He starves his people, has thousands of them in interment camps, has his own relatives assassinated, and is responsible for the death of Otto Warmbier. Kim is a monster, but he’s also an existential threat to the rest of the planet. And if kind words are what is keeping the possibility of denuclearization alive, maybe we should give Trump a pass.
In a perfect world, Kim would give up his nuclear program and stop the suffering of his people without us giving him anything in return. Since that’s not happening, the Trump administration is walking on a tight rope in order to make a historic peace deal with the regime. Trump and his supporters should not consider this summit to be victory, but it is certainly a positive step forward.
North Korea has acted in bad faith for decades, so it will take time for meaningful change to take place. We should allow breathing room for these negotiations and be cautiously optimistic. We are without a doubt in a better position now than we were last fall. And the critics, who were wrong about Trump’s handing of North Korea leading up to the summit, are better off reserving their judgment at this point.