Eight months ago on June 12th Donald J. Trump became the first US president to have a face to face meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. February 27-28 was the second summit between the two leaders. The first summit took place in Singapore; this time it is in Hanoi, Vietnam. Vietnam is reportedly relishing in its role as peacemaker, seeing it as an opportunity to build up its international standing and balance foreign ties. As a communist country, it will also serve as a model for what North Korea could become if it works with the US. The previous summit resulted in a one page commitment to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”. However, this joint statement did not include any specific goal or deadlines to achieve such a state. According to Donald Trump, that is because the first summit was about “breaking the ice” and building trust between the two countries; they have both vowed to form new relations in a desire for peace. The previous summit also resulted in commitments to return the remaining prisoners of war and soldiers missing in action. So far there has been no action towards ending the economic sanctions on North Korea. After much build-up on the part of President Trump, this summit abruptly ended on February 28 with no agreements having been made.
Donald Trump stated that the goal of this meeting was to “talk in more depth about the kind of future North Korea could enjoy if it follows through on its commitment to final and full denuclearization.” However, analysts feared an unprepared Trump will “wing it” and make valuable concessions to North Korea while getting little in return. White House aides had reportedly warned the president that Kim Jong-Un is not rational and could even be mentally unstable (the same has been said about Trump). The more cautious were hopeful that Kim Jong-Un would take steps like submitting an inventory of the nuclear program and allowing international inspectors in to verify it. In return the US would hopefully make a commitment to rolling back the military involvement around the peninsula. However, any agreement with North Korea could risk our alliances with South Korea and Japan, both of which are economic powerhouses that we rely on heavily, and alliances with them have been decades in the making.
However all hoping is in vain as talks reportedly collapsed when the US refused to end the sanctions on North Korea when North Korea refused to commit to eliminating its nuclear arsenal. Many analysts were surprised that President Trump had toned down his typically fiery rhetoric and said instead that, “[he’d] much rather do it right than do it fast.”
It is unsurprising at this point that Donald Trump would chose now of all times to hold a massively important meeting which would draw international attention away from the US and onto Vietnam. Could Trump be using this visit to divert attention away from the Mueller investigation? On February 27th, Michael Cohen gave a spectacularly incriminating testimony before Congress right as Trump was sitting down to talk with Kim-Jong Un. You can watch the whole thing here. Basically Cohen said that Trump has lied about his taxes, commited crimes in office, paid off Stormy Daniels, was aware of negotiations with the Russians, is a racist, a conman, and a cheat (nothing we didn’t already know right?). Or perhaps he is using this to get his bill to defund Planned Parenthood approved under our noses. Currently three states, Connecticut, Oregon, and Washington, are suing the president to block this mandate. Or maybe it is the fact that his “state of emergency” is about to be revoked by a congressional vote. Or is it that the US only just came out from under the longest government shutdown in history and could very easily find itself in another one soon? Whatever it is, Trump obviously wanted to be anywhere but D.C. this week.
What we do know is that following the summit, Donald Trump is set to attend CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference), the highlight of conservative republican party. It is highly likely he intended to use these talks with North Korea to kick off his official campaign for reelection in 2020. However, this breakdown has denied Trump a much-needed victory that could have not only offset the growing domestic turmoil back home but also carried him into his reelection. I cannot help but draw connections between Trump’s efforts with this reclusive communist nation on the eve on his reelection and Nixon’s efforts with the communist China on the eve of his reelection. Both Trump and President Nixon utilized the “silent majority” of middle America as their support base. A friendly reminder that ii was during that particular reelection that the Watergate break-in took place and the entirety of Nixon’s short second term was consumed by the Watergate Scandal, a political disaster not so different from the Mueller Investigation, and which eventually led to the impeachment of President Nixon. One can only hope.
There is obviously major pressure on both sides resulting in these tense and unproductive meetings; however, the fact that there are meetings is reason to hope. Kim Jong-Un does not want what happened to Saddam Hussein in Iraq to happen to him, nor does he want the US or any other foreign body to give up on peace talks and instead completely eradicate the country. But he also does not want to give up his power or appear weak in front of his nation. Most of the rest of the world does not want nuclear weapons in the hands of an unpredictable dictator, nor do they want the charges of massive human rights abuses: the prison camps filled with dissidents; a near complete absence of media, religious and speech freedoms; the famine in the 1990s that killed hundreds of thousands; and the executions of a slew of government and military officials that the Kim regime has commited to go unpunished. Donald Trump of course does not want to look weak and unsuccessful in the face of the election of 2020; he will not want North Korea to completely walk away from negotiations but he also will not want to concede too much and waste this unprecedented opportunity. On top of all of that there are also rapidly increasing tensions between India and Pakistan that could result in the US getting involved in another major foreign conflict with even more risk of nuclear weapons.
All we have left to do is hope that peace can hold out until the election, and then we will VOTE someone who is actually capable of diplomatic foreign policy and rational thinking into office. We cannot allow Trump’s divertive tactics to distract us from the happenings around us; we must remain attentive to North Korea and their actions; and we must continue to hold this country’s power accountable.