THE MORNING PLUM:
First, the good news. The fact that President Trump held this meeting with Kim Jong Un is a positive thing, in the sense that it means nuclear war is less likely in the short term.
Many experts were deeply alarmed this year (as was your humble blogger) when Trump rage-tweeted that his “Nuclear Button” is “much bigger & more powerful” than Kim’s. In that context, the summit has to be greeted with hope and relief.
But the announcement that came out of the summit was vague. While Trump announced that Kim had “reaffirmed” his commitment to denuclearization, The Post adds this important caveat: “Trump provided few specifics about what steps Kim would take to back up his promise … and how the United States would verify that North Korea was keeping its pledge … saying that would be worked out in future talks.”
The deal the two men agreed to, as Anne Applebaum points out, is similar to previous agreements in its vagueness, and those were followed by a North Korea buildup. And Kim arguably got a lot more than the United States did — an end to U.S. “war games” and a boost in legitimacy — though Trump probably sees this as a boost to his own standing, which is all he really seems to care about.
But for all this, as long as they are talking, war is less likely. “Any talks, while ongoing, significantly reduce the risk of a nuclear war that could kill millions,” says Max Fisher of the New York Times. “An empty Trump-Kim statement … is a normal, low-pressure way to keep that process going.”
But here’s a fairly big worry: Trump appears eager to pocket whatever he can call a victory, which raises the possibility that he won’t insist on a robust verification process. In an interview with ABC News’s George Stephanopoulos, Trump said Kim would be making specific denuclearization announcements very quickly:
“He’s de-nuking, I mean he’s de-nuking the whole place. It’s going to start very quickly. I think he’s going to start now. They’ll be announcing things over the next few days talking about other missile sites because they were, as you know, they were sending out a lot of missiles. … they’re going to be getting rid of sites.”
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, told me that this declaration provides a way to judge whether this process is actually bearing fruit. “The real measure of success in this entire process is whether there is or is not steady progress towards the goal of denuclearization,” Kimball said. “If we don’t see steady progress and demonstrable concrete steps, then we know the promises are not being fulfilled.”
“North Korea has dozens of major nuclear and missile sites — hundreds of buildings,” Kimball said. “They’ve got 10 to 60 nuclear devices. They have a nuclear testing site. They have production reactors. It will take a considerable amount of time, even with the best of cooperation, to disable, dismantle and disassemble that infrastructure. It will require unprecedented monitoring by international inspectors to confirm that it’s happened.”
Kimball said that real progress will require “at some point soon a full and complete declaration by North Korea of its nuclear program,” as well as “agreement with North Korea about who will verify the accuracy and completeness of the declaration, and how.” Progress, Kimball said, should be monitored by outside organizations such as the International Atomic Energy Agency, or possibly “a multinational team authorized by the United Nations Security Council comprised of experts from China, Russia and the U.S.”
In the interview with Stephanopoulos, Trump noted of Kim that “his country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor.” This was an appalling thing to say, given North Korea’s horrific human rights record, which includes a reign of fear enforced by a police state and the imprisonment without trial of enormous numbers of political prisoners under terrible conditions. But this provides an important glimpse into Trump’s mind-set here, as the exchange that came just afterward shows:
STEPHANOPOULOS: You say his people love him. Just a few months ago you accused him of starving his people. And listen, here’s the rub. Kim is a brutal dictator. He runs a police state, forced starvation, labor camps. He’s assassinated members of his own family. How do you trust a killer like that?
TRUMP: George, I’m given what I’m given, okay? I mean, this is what we have, and this is where we are, and I can only tell you from my experience, and I met him, I’ve spoken with him, and I’ve met him. … he wants to do the right thing.
I’ve spoken with him, and I’ve met him. Trump appears to have bottomless faith in his instinctual ability to size up the person on the other side of the deal-making table, and he’s operating from that assumption here as well, as if this is an ordinary real-estate transaction.
Last week, Michael Kruse took a careful look at Trump’s history and found that in many ventures over the years, what has most marked Trump’s attitude is a kind of blithe lack of concern about their consequences beyond how they affect him personally. “What has made him fearless is what has made him careless,” Kruse concluded. “Because he’s never had to pay a lasting price for his mistakes.” This has left Trump with unshakable confidence that he can “spin” pretty much anything, regardless of those consequences, “into a win.”
The big worry now is that Trump will be so eager to pocket signs of progress — victories he can “spin into a win” for himself — that he won’t insist on rigorous verification to ensure the process is actually producing results. “It’s encouraging that Trump and Kim seem to have a good personal rapport,” Kimball told me. “But this is not a real estate deal. We can’t just go on whether Trump feels that Kim wants to deliver.”
* A STARK CONTRAST IN TRUMP’S APPROACHES: Just before his meeting with Kim Jong Un, Trump was tweeting brutal attacks on allies such as Canada as part of his trade war escalation. Mark Landler comments:
Mr. Trump’s harsh words about the nation’s closest allies stood in stark contrast to his expression of sunny feelings toward Mr. Kim, a brutal dictator who is known for human rights abuses and who ordered the execution of his own uncle. “Great to be in Singapore, excitement in the air!” tweeted Mr. Trump, before setting foot outside his hotel.
Remember, Trump didn’t even want to attend the Group of Seven and had to be pressured into it by his aides.
* TRUMP SHOWERS KIM WITH FLATTERY: Philip Rucker and Anne Gearan note:
Trump … turned a blind eye to differences of principle and history — refusing to directly confront the reality that Kim oversees a vast police state, starves his citizens and assassinates his rivals — in the interest of completing a transaction. … Trump showered him with respect and even flattery, enthused to shake hands with a monstrous figure in part, perhaps, because his monstrosity is his source of power.
The key is that in this transaction, of course, Trump thinks he comes out as a winner.
* MEDIA RESTRICTED FROM PARTS OF SUMMIT: Typically, representatives from all forms of media are permitted to attend all presidential meetings and events open to press. The Associated Press reports that access to Trump and Kim was restricted:
During the photo-op at the start of Trump’s one-on-one meeting with Kim, text reporters for newswires The Associated Press, Reuters and Bloomberg were kept out of the pool … Some, but not all, were later allowed in for the photo-op of Trump’s larger meeting with Kim … No independent journalists were allowed in for another photo-op at the start of a working lunch meeting involving Trump, Kim and top aides.
A cameraman and sound technician were allowed into the first, but overall, the AP says it is “troubled by the decision to curb media access.” One wonders what off-the-cuff Trumpisms we may have missed.
* LOYALTY TO TRUMP IS GOP LITMUS TEST: The New York Times reports that Republicans who have shown the tiniest concern about Trump find themselves getting challenged for it in primaries. One such Republican, Rep. Mark Sanford, says this:
“If somehow dissent from your own party becomes viewed as a bad thing, then we’re not really vetting and challenging ideas in the way the founding fathers intended.” Broadening his argument, Mr. Sanford said America was meant to be “a nation of laws, not men” and that “we weren’t a cult of personality.”
Republicans should vet ideas, and the GOP shouldn’t be a Trumpian cult of personality??? Forget it — this guy is toast.
* LOYALTY TO TRUMP IS GOP LITMUS TEST, PART II: The Post’s Dave Weigel reports on many of the races in which this is happening, including this one:
In [South Carolina’s] 4th Congressional District, where Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-S.C.) is retiring this year, 13 Republicans are competing for a reliably red seat. Several worked to elect Trump; no one is echoing Gowdy’s occasional criticism of the White House, or his admonishment of the president for accusing a “deep state” of forging a conspiracy against him.
One candidate claims “deep state is a great term” that describes Obama people who are “trying to undermine this president.” Republicans are mimicking Trump’s assaults on the rule of law.
* ONE PARTY IS ‘HOPELESSLY, IRREDEEMABLY CORRUPT’: Paul Krugman looks at the fact that challenging Trump in any way means instant death in GOP primaries:
Any Republican politician who takes a stand on behalf of what we used to think were fundamental American values is at high risk of losing his or her next primary. And as far as we can tell, there is not a single elected Republican willing to take that risk … One of our two major parties appears to be hopelessly, irredeemably corrupt. And unless that party not only loses this year’s election but begins losing on a regular basis, America as we know it is finished.
If Democrats don’t win back at least one chamber of Congress this fall, it will effectively entrench all of Trump’s corruption and make accountability impossible.
* AND GOP CANDIDATE SAYS DIVERSITY IS ‘UN-AMERICAN’: Meet Seth Grossman, a Republican who is running for Congress in New Jersey, who had this to say to a roomful of fellow pols:
“In my view, the best way to bring diversity to the Republican Party is for Republicans to openly say that the whole idea of diversity is a bunch of crap and un-American … diversity has become … an excuse by Democrats, communists and socialists, basically, to say that we’re not all created equal.”
This man has a bright future in Trump’s GOP.