This week (6/10/18) two terribly flawed and egotistical men met to wage peace, to strike a deal. One of them created a “trailer” video to flatter himself and the other man depicting them both at a historic decision point. If their talks succeed, the film suggests, economic prosperity will bless their peoples and both will bask in the adoraton, love and respect of those they govern. But if they fail, bleak years of tension and hardship will curse their countries.
The trailer is made in the style of 1940s propaganda films. The original appeared on the Whitehouse website, and President Trump showed it to Chairman Kim Jong Un during their meeting. Some reporters, before learning its origin, thought that it was North Korean Propaganda.
Subsequently, the New York Times did a parody adding footage of their own to express cynicism and outrage.
“What if we’ve been overthinking foreign policy all along?” the narrator asks. The possibility is offered that peace be can be as simple as two men shaking hands and agreeing to set aside past hostilities and grudges and build a new relationship. Miracles are possible, but such scenes are the stuff of musical comedies and not international negotiations. Thoughts of Nevill Chamberlin’s appeasement diplomacy haunts us.
While the approach seems naive and simplistic, it’s also never a good idea to enter a negotiation rubbing your opposition’s nose in past transgressions. Far better to identify some common aims, a vision of the future all can agree upon.
But let’s not lose sight of who we are dealing with. Consider this testimony by someone who escaped North Korea.
It’s reasonable to assume that North Korea has now achieved its goal of joining the nuclear club and, in essence, succeeded in creating a doomsday scenario should anyone try to depose Kim’s regime. How likely is it that they will give that up?
Perhaps now they want to join the world economy and improve the lives of the people. There is no way to know what their agenda is. But it will surely emerge.
We know that Trump did NOT overthink this meeting. His preparation was minimal. He went forward trusting his instincts. He admitted that he could be wrong – an uncommonly self-aware statement for him.
We can be sure that his opponent was thoroughly prepared. Reporters said the North Koreans were constant in their questions about all the personalities involved. Unlike Kim’s life and affairs, Trump’s are in the papers daily, he works at it. Dozens of books have been published reporting critically on the events of his life. Kim is well aware of what he can and can’t rely upon from Trump. Will he blindly trust that this time Trump is being sincere? Not very likely.
Will Trump blindly trust Kim? Probably not.
What did this opening cost? We’ll come to know over the next weeks and months. If the sanctions against North Korea weaken, what incentive will remain for negotiation? For now, it’s a storm of speculation, most of it pessimistic if not outright cynical.