The Corner

National Security & Defense

Grading the Singapore Summit

President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un walk after lunch at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore June 12, 2018. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

How to grade the Singapore summit? I think the most fair-minded answer is that it’s too soon to tell, but there’s every reason in the world to be deeply skeptical that Kim will make good on his commitments to “de-nuclearize.” Why? Because: North Korea has promised to do exactly that — with far more specificity — in the past. The actual paper agreement that Trump and Kim signed is not just worthless on its own, it’s less than worthless given that it literally recycles past worthless promises as if they are new ones. That’s contrary to the opinions of a lot of people on Twitter and TV who think — and feel — that this is Trump’s masterstroke. This isn’t a criticism of Trump. It’s just a simple recognition of reality. The Norks have bamboozled everyone else who extracted promises from them. By all means, let’s hope for the best. But North Korean duplicity is normal.

Moreover, there’s good reason to believe that if Kim were sincere about getting rid of his nukes, his own regime would kill him. The nuclear program is a unifying tool of state propaganda, celebrated and mythologized in grade schools and everywhere else in Korean society. Expecting them to get rid of them is like expecting the Hell’s Angels to forswear motorcycles in favor of minivans.

Still if Kim is actually sincere this time, then the summit will prove to be a huge success. That is a monumental “if,” but it’s one I think every sane person should hope for.

However, there are many people who want to score the summit as an instant success or failure in real time. On those terms, here are some preliminary notes on my scorecard.

It’s a success if:

  • You think a general improvement of relations with North Korea is a desirable end in itself.
  • You care deeply and sincerely about the return of American remains from the Korean War (by the way, we pay the North Koreans about $1 million for each set of remains, so this isn’t quite the “goodwill” gesture it’s being made out to be).
  • You think we were in fact on the brink of war during the whole “fire and fury” chapter and that talking is always preferable to fighting.
  • You think North Korea deserves to be welcomed back into the community of nations and be seen as a co-equal nation with the United States of America.
  • You think any spectacle where Trump dominates the news coverage is good.
  • You’re Dennis Rodman.
  • You’re a Republican strategist eager to keep the peacemaker story through the midterms.
  • You’re Kim Jong-un.

It’s a failure if:

  • You thought the international opprobrium on North Korea was well-deserved and maintaining pressure on the regime was a valuable and correct policy.
  • You think an American president heaping praise on an evil dictator in exchange for worthless promises is grotesque.
  • You thought Trump could simply walk into a room and charm North Korea out of its nuclear weapons.
  • You place a high value on the issue of human rights and the evils of the North Korean gulag.
  • You think U.S.–South Korea military exercises are too valuable a chip to trade for more implausible promises (though in fairness, there’s plenty of time to restart them on schedule, so this may have been a clever and costless chip — though not informing the Pentagon about this in advance strikes me as ill-advised).
  • You cringe when you watch this sort of thing.

Most Popular

The Makings of Modern Madness

The paradigm of mind–brain dualism, like the story of syphilis, is by no means virgin territory. However, Allan Ropper and Brian Burrell’s How The Brain Lost Its Mind: Sex, Hysteria, and the Riddle of Mental Illness puts both the legacy of dualism and the story of syphilis under the microscope, and offers a ... Read More

The Makings of Modern Madness

The paradigm of mind–brain dualism, like the story of syphilis, is by no means virgin territory. However, Allan Ropper and Brian Burrell’s How The Brain Lost Its Mind: Sex, Hysteria, and the Riddle of Mental Illness puts both the legacy of dualism and the story of syphilis under the microscope, and offers a ... Read More
Immigration

The Party’s Over — No More Guest(worker)s

Last month's Presidential Proclamation temporarily suspending a tiny sliver of permanent immigration in response to Great Depression 2.0 also called for a review of the alphabet soup of foreign-worker programs. The relevant cabinet departments were instructed to offer recommendations "to stimulate the United ... Read More
Immigration

The Party’s Over — No More Guest(worker)s

Last month's Presidential Proclamation temporarily suspending a tiny sliver of permanent immigration in response to Great Depression 2.0 also called for a review of the alphabet soup of foreign-worker programs. The relevant cabinet departments were instructed to offer recommendations "to stimulate the United ... Read More
U.S.

Unsustainable America

Americans are having fewer babies than ever, or at least than since the government began tracking the general fertility rate in 1909. The total fertility rate ticked down to 1.7 in 2019, meaning that the average number of babies an American woman would have over her lifetime is well below replacement ... Read More
U.S.

Unsustainable America

Americans are having fewer babies than ever, or at least than since the government began tracking the general fertility rate in 1909. The total fertility rate ticked down to 1.7 in 2019, meaning that the average number of babies an American woman would have over her lifetime is well below replacement ... Read More

John Wayne: The Hero We Need Now

America fits into John Wayne's filmography, and this does not make America small. It makes John Wayne huge. The coronavirus has brought us back to the Wild West. Lonely lives, deserted streets, looks of distrust, and whiskey for throat disinfection; the scientific community has not made an official statement as ... Read More

John Wayne: The Hero We Need Now

America fits into John Wayne's filmography, and this does not make America small. It makes John Wayne huge. The coronavirus has brought us back to the Wild West. Lonely lives, deserted streets, looks of distrust, and whiskey for throat disinfection; the scientific community has not made an official statement as ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Biden’s Progressive Gamble

A few hours after this column appears on the Internet, more than 30 liberal activists will meet online to plan your future. The gathering is called the “Friday Morning Group.” It comprises, according to the New York Times, “influential figures at labor unions, think tanks and other progressive ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Biden’s Progressive Gamble

A few hours after this column appears on the Internet, more than 30 liberal activists will meet online to plan your future. The gathering is called the “Friday Morning Group.” It comprises, according to the New York Times, “influential figures at labor unions, think tanks and other progressive ... Read More
World

‘Professor Lockdown’ Modeler Resigns in Disgrace

Neil Ferguson is the British academic who created the infamous Imperial College model that warned Boris Johnson that, without an immediate lockdown, the coronavirus would cause 500,000 deaths and swamp the National Health Service. Johnson’s government promptly abandoned its Sweden-like “social ... Read More
World

‘Professor Lockdown’ Modeler Resigns in Disgrace

Neil Ferguson is the British academic who created the infamous Imperial College model that warned Boris Johnson that, without an immediate lockdown, the coronavirus would cause 500,000 deaths and swamp the National Health Service. Johnson’s government promptly abandoned its Sweden-like “social ... Read More