The Singapore Summit: No Ponies

The Summit in Singapore is going so well that Trump is leaving early:

Donald Trump has decided to leave his historic summit with Kim Jong-un 15 hours earlier than expected, flying back to Washington on Tuesday night instead of Wednesday morning. The White House says that this change of plans is a product of talks moving more quickly than expected. But there’s reason to suspect that it is because they are barely moving at all.

Basically, before the face to face begins they’ve agreed to not agree. Everything is off the table. Human rights are off the table. Denuclearization is off the table. I’m not sure there is a table.

On May 30, Pompeo met with North Korean spy chief Kim Yong-chol in New York; their discussion concluded two hours earlier than expected, as Kim refused to make any commitment whatsoever on denuclearization, according to the Washington Post. Days earlier, in the North Korean village of Panmunjom, negotiations between diplomats from Washington and Pyongyang stalled when North Korea’s vice–foreign minister Choe Son-hui said that denuclearization “should not be on the table for the Singapore summit” — a demand that would nullify the meeting’s purpose from the White House’s perspective.

Now, both sides appear prepared to let Tuesday’s historic face-to-face between the sitting leaders of the U.S. and North Korea function as more of an ice-breaker (and photo op) than a high-stakes diplomatic showdown. “We are hopeful this summit will have set the conditions for future successful talks,” Pompeo said during his remarks Monday.

As it is, I’m not sure this summit will even rise to the level of a dog-and-pony show, but I suppose there’s hope. I’ll let you decide which one is the dog and which one is the pony.

The summit will open at 9 a.m. Tuesday in Singapore (which is 9 p.m. tonight in Washington) with Kim and Trump shaking hands and taking a walk in the view of the media, according to an official who spoke with Bloomberg News.

Then the two leaders, accompanied only by translators, will meet one-on-one, an event I imagine will go something like this:

Okay, so they’re both dogs. There are no ponies.

Among those flanking Trump will be Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton, whose belligerent rhetoric toward North Korea briefly derailed the summit last month.

At least, I hope they keep a muzzle on Bolton. But however the talk(s) go, it appears Kim has already won:

For Pyongyang, the summit is itself an affirmation of its nuclear program immense value. It is inconceivable that the world’s leading superpower would make time for an isolated, impoverished Chinese client state if said state did not have weapons of mass destruction. In leveraging the threat of its nuclear program, by contrast, Kim’s regime has secured Washington’s ostensible endorsement of its right to violate human rights in perpetuity.

Given the tangible benefits of retaining its nuclear weapons; the dearth of reasons to trust America’s promises; the high likelihood that Washington isn’t actually willing to risk a mass-casualty war to force denuclearization; and the fact that one of North Korea’s chief security demands — the withdrawal of American troops from the region — is something that Trump has suggested that he wants to do regardless,for “America first” reasons, it is hard to understand why Pyongyang would ever commit to total denuclearization.

As I see it, Trump has no leverage whatsoever. After his stunt in Quebec he can’t even claim to be able to lead a coalition of nations to do something about North Korea. Trump only wanted this  meeting because he heard people praising him for it.

Update: There are reports Larry Kudlow had a heart attack.