On the surface, the second summit between Messrs. Trump and Kim was unsuccessful. Mr. Trump embarked on a 17 hour plane ride to Vietnam (Kim travelled 60 hours by train.). Nothing substantive was agreed to, and Mr. Trump terminated the discussions abruptly. Abject failure? Perhaps. In my opinion, it depends on one’s point of view.
The negative view, which was widely reported on various media outlets was that, by meeting with Kim as “equals” Mr. Trump elevated Kim’s status as a world leader. Moreover, Mr. Trump failed to get Kim to agree to any concessions, such as disarming his nuclear arsenal, agreeing to inspections, or even agreeing to an official end to the Korean Conflict. It seems that Kim was insisting on complete relief from sanctions as a condition for committing to incremental denuclearization. Mr. Trump viewed that as a complete non-starter, hence the walk-out.
On the other hand, the more optimistic view is that (1) the two leaders are continuing to talk and seek diplomatic solutions, (2) the sanctions are remaining in place, (3) according to Margaret Brennan, who covered the summit for CBS News, the two leaders committed to continue to hold discussions among staff diplomats, and (4) best of all, we are talking, not fighting. I subscribe to the optimistic view. I believe diplomatic interaction with one’s enemies is preferable to ignoring them, which inevitably leads to war.
The sanctions against No Ko are extensive and, by most accounts, very effective. There are widespread food shortages and the country is severely strapped for currency. Kim may not care if his people starve and lack for other basic necessities, but the sanctions include not only weapons-related materials but also luxuries. This is intended to impact the elites, whose support Kim relies on. That is the “stick.” The “carrot” is that Mr. Trump has made it clear to Kim that if we can agree on a satisfactory deal NK’s economy can prosper along the lines of South Korea’s.
I was taken aback by much of the media’s and Dems’ attitude toward this summit. First, they criticized Mr. Trump for agreeing to meet with Kim. They expressed concern he was elevating Kim’s status in the world and would agree to a bad deal just to make a deal. Then, when he walked away from a bad deal, they criticized that as well. Par for the course. It was almost as if they would rather see Mr. Trump fail at securing a peace agreement than get a “win.”
To state the obvious, no deal is better than a bad deal. (I wish the Obama-Kerry-Clinton team would have realized that with respect to the Iran nuclear deal.) In my opinion, walking away was just part of the negotiating process. It demonstrated strength of conviction. The other side will not negotiate seriously unless they know you are willing to walk away. Mr. Trump has already gotten further along toward peace in Korea than any previous president.
At some point, there will be other meetings. I expect we will continue the process until we get NK’s agreement to denuclearize. In the meantime, talking is better than fighting, and there are no “test” rockets flying over Hawaii or California.