On June 12 Donald Trump will meet Kim Jong-un in Singapore. Trump is ebullient. “World Peace” is what he will seek, according his Twitter account. Singapore’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs is sounding a more cautious note: “We hope this meeting will advance prospects for peace in the Korean Peninsula.”
Trump’s euphoric tone is more reminiscent of Woodrow Wilson than the America First rodomontade that he was peddling to his followers during the 2016 campaign. It’s prompting a volte-face in Washington, not the first Trump has created. Hawks are becoming doves and doves hawks. Conservatives are talking peace, love and understanding. Liberals are fretting that Trump will give away the store to the North.
The latter fear that a sellout could well loom in Singapore, where Trump and Kim will dicker without any other pesky world, let alone supreme, leaders to trouble them. “I really think we have a very good chance of doing something very meaningful,” Trump declared. What this actually means for America’s allies is an open question. Japan is reeling over the prospect that Trump will declare peace not merely in our time but for the ages. A deal would allow Trump to pull American troops from the Korean Peninsula and prepare for war with Iran.
My guess is that Trump and Kim will get along swimmingly. The North is already addressing Trump as the supreme leader of the United States. They know their man. Trump has already made a huge concession by agreeing to meet with Kim. He also said that Kim “really was excellent” to the three men that his regime had kidnapped.
The more immediate effect of Trump’s audacious moves, of course, is to shift the spotlight away from the more scabrous parts of his reign. Even as Trump focuses on foreign policy, new revelations keep emerging about his former personal lawyer Michael Cohen. The millions that poured into Cohen’s coffers, including $500,000 from a Russian oligarch, suggests that, against some rather stiff competition, he sought to display the most larcenous impulses in the Trump camp. “I’m crushing it,” Cohen declared. Now he’s being crushed. The question hanging over Trump is whether he was aware of Cohen’s activities or even actively encouraged them.
For now, however, Trump is on a roll. It defies credulity that he would be able to persuade the North, which is calling the meeting a ceremonial first step, to jettison overnight the nuclear program it has spent decades developing. But for Trump the pageantry, not the substance, of success is what counts. Soon he will move on to the next artificial cliffhanger instalment of his presidency, whether it is targeting Iran, tearing up NAFTA or launching a trade war with China. As Trump likes to say, stay tuned.