We expected President Donald Trump to praise himself for meeting with Kim Jong Un ― a dictator who, like his father and grandfather before him, has been longing for a meeting with an American president.
And sure, if a meeting with Kim is the only thing that will momentarily stop nuclear war, give him all the meetings you can.
But let’s please remember that Trump created the frightening predicament that some are now crediting him with helping to resolve. There’s no question that the person who brought us to the brink of war was Trump, not Kim.
By tweeting threats of nuclear annihilation after North Korea’s missile tests, Trump created the very crisis that he believed only he could solve by meeting with Kim and lowering the temperature by giving away the store. It’s true that Kim responded with heated attacks, and the rhetoric escalated on both sides, but the American president shouldn’t be elevating a despot like Kim in the first place and further instigating confrontation.
Despite claims coming out of the summit, Kim has made no move to denuclearize, blowing off White House demands from months ago that it be a condition of the summit. Trump caved when North Korea said last month it would absolutely not denuclearize and threatened to cancel the summit just before Trump canceled it (only to announce it was on again). Kim provided no timetable for denuclearizing or for inspections and verification.
And why should he? As Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) said Tuesday in defense of the summit on conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt’s show (in one of those gaffes in which a politician actually tells the truth), if you have nuclear weapons, you should be given a meeting with the U.S. president. If you’re only ambitious to get them but don’t yet have them ― he used Iran as an example ― then, according to Cotton, you’re one of the “two-bit rogue regimes” not worthy of a meeting.
There’s no better encouragement than that for Kim to keep his weapons ― and for other despotic regimes to try to get them.
Trump gave Kim (and himself) an enormous spotlight and made a key concession that took even allies by surprise by announcing that military exercises with South Korea will cease. Trump then invited Kim, a brutal dictator who has carried out horrendous atrocities against North Korean citizens and had his own half-brother killed, to the White House. North Korean state media reported that Trump would be visiting North Korea.
The U.S. is essentially accepting that North Korea is now in the club of nuclear-armed nations. Trump might as well have announced that last year when Kim launched missile tests, rather than threatening nuclear attack. And Trump should have called for a summit then to talk about lifting sanctions in return for an end to North Korea’s human rights violations. At least in that scenario, something of substance would have been accomplished.
“There’s no question that the person who brought us to the brink of war was Trump, not Kim.”
Instead, we’re now accepting North Korea as nuclear armed, overlooking its horrific actions against its own people and celebrating its leader.
And Trump is being patted on the back for it and not just by stunningly hypocritical Fox News pundits ― many of whom attacked Barack Obama for supposedly wanting to meet with dictators ― and loyal Republicans twisting themselves into pretzels.
“On the positive side of the summit, one, we are now on a path to diplomacy rather than military confrontation and easing of tension in the Korean Peninsula because of this historic summit,” former Clinton administration ambassador to the U.N. and Democratic former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson reportedly said on a conference call with reporters. “Another positive would be the fact that there’s a process started, a process of continued negotiations.”
Both of those points are true, but again, we wouldn’t have been on a path to military confrontation without Trump’s reckless Twitter rants in response to Kim’s missile tests. As far as Kim is concerned, it was all worth it, because it brought him the meeting he has coveted.
Another thing about the process that has supposedly started: We’ve seen North Korea start a process before, with previous administrations, only to break agreements, deceptively continuing its nuclear program. There’s no reason to believe anything is different this time and every reason to believe Kim views his nukes as his security and his ticket to the world stage.
We’ve also seen Trump become unhinged over perceived insults and do a 180 time and again. His recent attack on the Canadian prime minister and his angry exchange with the French president are perfect examples. He was bear-hugging both men and singing their praises just months ago ― just as he was with Kim two days ago.
We should be glad we’re not all going to die tomorrow. But Trump shouldn’t get the credit for being among those temporarily getting us out of the potential catastrophes he created while he destructively feeds his ravenous ego.
Follow Michelangelo Signorile on Twitter @msignorile.