Perhaps you’ve heard of the banqueting king who spots his favorite mastiff chewing a priceless rug and tosses the animal a rib to get it to stop. “Your majesty,” his chancellor whispers, “you have just taught that dog to eat carpets.”
This week in Singapore, Donald Trump did his best to teach North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un the same lesson. To persuade Kim to scrap his nuclear weapons, Trump, ever promiscuous in his choice of words, slathered the world’s most brutal dictator with over-the-top accolades for his integrity and statesmanship.
Remember Ronald Reagan’s constructive engagement with the PW Botha regime? Well, if you’ll excuse a salty epithet, this was constructive gatkruip. How constructive remains to be seen.
Greta Van Susteren, formerly of Fox News, who now reports for another state broadcaster, Voice of America, asked the president if he had a message for the people of North Korea. He replied, as if on the stump for his counterpart: “Well, I think you have somebody that has a great feeling for them. He wants to do right by them and we got along really well.”
Presumably Kim will let his people (other than the 120 000 in his gulag) hear that, along with Trump’s description of him as “very talented” — as anyone would have to be “who takes over a situation like he did at 26 years of age and is able to run it and run it tough…Very few people at that age, you can take one out of 10 000, probably (could) do it.”
Kim did a little counter-flattering of his own, which Trump proudly relayed as entirely sincere and meaningful: “He said openly that no other president could have done this.”
When FW De Klerk surrendered South Africa’s nuclear arsenal, some in the ANC chafed. They would have liked to keep the apartheid bomb for the clout. Trump’s fawning over Kim tempts one to say they had a point.
The summit was “a dream come true for Kim,” said Senator Chris Coons (the Democrat who gave SA such hell over chicken), “something his grandfather and father long hoped for — legitimacy on the world stage, an invitation to the White House, without concessions on human rights or a timeline for a process of denuclearisation.”
Lara Trump, the president’s daughter-in-law and “senior advisor to Donald J. Trump for President Inc.”, channeled Pyongyang’s style of spin with her statement on behalf of his 2020 reelection campaign: “History will demonstrate that the historic summit..and the initial agreement to denuclearise the Korean peninsula was an end product of President Trump’s bold and vigilant leadership on behalf of the American people.”
It is to be hoped that the agreement Trump and Kim signed is not an “end product” but the start of something genuinely constructive for parties other than Kim, his dynasty and its protector China. The omens are not good.
The ink was scarcely dry on their piece of paper when Trump unilaterally yielded to Kim’s demand that the US cease “provocative” training exercises with South Korea. In the same breath he expressed his desire to withdraw the US troops that act as a tripwire to deter a replay of the North’s invasion in 1950. The agreement itself commits Pyongyang to even less with regard to scrapping of nukes than accords signed with previous US administrations. The strongest concession Trump extracted was a pledge to return some bones.
I doubt Kim was much impressed by the propaganda film Trump showed him touting North Korea’s potential as the next south Florida complete with Trumpian beachfront condos. If Kim is as sharp as Trump says, he surely worries that rising living standards, and the economic opening required to achieve them, will be the death of his dictatorship. He has every incentive to eat keep eating the carpet.