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.

17 thoughts on “The Singapore Summit: No Ponies

  1. Inviting Bolton into the meeting with Kim is an affront after Bolton indirectly threatened to off Kim, same as Khadafy. The show is set according to both leader's intentions. Trump wanted to pull troops out of S. Korea and that "concession" will be in exchange for a "peace treaty" that Kim wants. Do note that Kim gets everything. Relative to our stated intentions, we get nothing.

    The real victim is gonna be Moon, leader of S. Korea. He brokered peace with the North expecting that a relaxed border and commerce would tame his neighbor over time. If Trump pulls out US troops,  South Korea will be assimilated by the military dictatorship. (My opinion – I'm taking bets.)

    I shed no tears when Saigon fell, and I was offshore. South Vietnam was as corrupt as North Korea is. South Korea is a different story. It is a true democracy with its own industrial base. (I own a Hundai, because it's a quality car.) The people are industrious and if the DMZ became porous, freedom would infect the North. Kim knows the threat and I think Trump will be a tool this week of ending the threat of democracy overtaking North Korea, which was Moon's dream. 


  2. Doug, what do you mean by " South Korea will be assimilated by the military dictatorship?"

  3. Anyway, Lindsay Graham apparently said on national television that if Trump doesn't get what he wants, we must declare war against North Korea and destroy them. 

    See, this is the stuff that worries me. I could care less about appeasing Kim or granting him legitimacy. Nobody has shown me any practical downside to this. I mean the notion that the president must refuse to meet with this particular vicious dictator seems sort of arbitrary to me.



  4. What I mean is that if the US eill not stick up for South Korea, Kim will bully Seul into surrender. It will be called unification. In the end, democracy will die and South Korea will be looted.

  5. No matter how this ends, Kim has already won.  Its up to Trump and company to figure out how to sell this to their base as a "win."

  6. Doug, I suppose if I had to bet,  I'd bet against you on that. That's about all I have to say about it.

  7. In  the economics of markets information asymmetry refers to market participants with more and less information about the product or about one another.  The one with more information has an advantage over the one with less. The used car salesman knows more about the cars on the lot than the customer does, and this gives the salesman an advantage over the customer. The more that Google and Facebook learn about us, the more their information asymmetry enables them to target us; we know less about them than they know about us. Hence all the concerns about the uses of our personal information.

    Today in Singapore,  two negotiators are meeting about an important issue. One of them is the most transparent political leader in the world (possibly in all of history). The other is the most opaque leader in the world. One will know exactly what makes the other happy, what makes him mad, what gets his goat, what his emotional needs are, what he wants to come home with…you get the idea. His counterpart will go into the room with a disadvantage because even the nation's experts have very limited information about him and what he is up to and what he is seeking, and this disadvantage will be exacerbated by his avowed disinterest the opinions of experts.

    Does the economics of markets help us to predict which one will be in a better position to take advantage of the other? (Hint: if the one with less information thinks that everything is going very, very well, the principle of information asymmetry is operating as expected.)

  8. No matter how the summit turns out you can rest assured that Trump is going to spin it as a total domination of Kim. And reason would tell you,that if you were Kim, don't put your fate or faith in the hands of Trump. His word is worth shit! So, we'll see how it goes. 

    He's going to paint it like the tin man trembling before the mighty Oz.

    Fire and fury like the world has never seen. DO NOT GAZE UPON ME!

  9. FreettoFU – Kim has his picture with the POTUS, smiling and saying he's "honored" to meet Kim. Kim is a brutal dictator who has resisted the preconditions of the world to accept political norms of human decency if he wants to be a member of the club. 

    If you want to be Trumpian, nobody's perfect, including the US. Kim has starved his people of any information about the outside world and demanded loyalty bordering on adoration, (Hmmmm, reminds me of someone – the adoration part.) 

    Trump is more comfortable with Putin and Kim. Those dictators have successfully molded the media and public perception around their carefully crafted reputation. Anyone who utters anything different in those countries risks their lives by telling the truth – literally. 

    That's not true in Canada, England, France, Germany, Japan or Italy. 

    The media isn't discussing it yet, but history might. North Korea and South Korea, if they have a peace treaty will be at war over the truth. An open border and ANY family reunification means the people of the North will be exposed to witnesses and people from the South who know the truth about the world. Kim must either assimilate the South, remain sealed from the South or Kim will be destroyed over time by nothing less than the Internet.

  10. Maha:  I get your intention with your picture of the dogs.  However, at this point, I think dogs are a higher life form.  The older I get, the more I wonder what went wrong with the human race.  My daughter tells me she thinks God made a mistake.  Perhaps she's right.

  11. Doug, my point was, from the little I know, it seems unlikely that NK would be able to "absorb" SK because the latter is stronger militarily, and that US soldiers there don't make much direct difference, except as a symbol of our willingness to back up SK in the event of war. Certainly they wouldn't just roll over. These seem to be common opinions anyway.

    I've read that more info has been getting through in recent years, due to the relatively porous border with China, and the availability of cell phones and the like, although Kim has done what he can to crack down on this lately.

    I just think we should follow Moon's lead on this, which is more-or-less what Trump is doing. I wish someone else were president, and I wish we would try to push them on human rights somehow, especially since there's no going back on nukes, but I don't buy the notion that this is just an idea that popped into his head out of nowhere, and I don't think frothing at the mouth about symbolism does anyone any good. Plus  powerful people have been talking about starting a war that could kill a million people lately. I'll take bad symbolism over that any day.

    Incidentally, the following gives me approximately zero insight into the situation, but I'll mention it anyway because what the hell: I spent about a year in South Korea back in the mid-'90s. Interesting place.

  12. I guess the word in quotes should have been "assimilated," not "absorbed." Working from memory.

  13. This one goes out to Michael Cohen.. "Then Robert Mueller came like a stranger in the night, praise the Lord. I saw the light"

    The big New York bad ass tough guy couldn't even answer to the opening bell. "Oh, I'll take a bullet for the boss". "I miss you boss, I love you".

    It's an affirmation of my mother's words of wisdom….When you're in trouble, you're in trouble alone.  

  14. Cohen is going to fold like a beach chair. I hear Cohen got a voice message on one of his just released burner phones from Robert Mueller that said: "What I'm going to do to you is going to be disgusting."

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