Tom Nichols on the Big Summit

June 12, 2018 • 12:45 pm

I’ve been appalled at how ham-handedly Trump has handled the Singapore summit with Kim Jong-un, and how casually he seems to take it. On again, off again. . . “I can size him up in 10 seconds”, “I know everything I need to know”, and so on. Trump doesn’t have near the knowledge or savvy to handle this, and though I haven’t followed what’s going on, Tom Nichols is boasting on Twitter how prescient he was. (Nichols is a professor at the Naval War College and at Harvard’s extension school, an expert on the Soviet Union, author of seven books, and, according to Wikipedia, “a five-time undefeated Jeopardy! champion.”)

Well, I looked up his piece on USA Today, published on March 9. Click on the screenshot to go there:

And here are Nichols’s predictions from that piece:

Given North Korea’s track record, here is what is more likely to happen. Kim and Trump will meet, and Kim’s regime will reap hours of footage of an American president shaking the hand of the “supreme leader” that will run forever in North Korea and go viral around the world. Kim will play the gracious host and agree to everything, knowing that this kind of flattery will trigger a torrent of praise from Trump and perhaps even elicit reckless talk about lifting sanctions. (The North Koreans will surely have done their homework on the president’s psyche, which is on display all day, every day, on social media.)

After the summit, Pyongyang will then dig in on further negotiations. When those talks fail, Kim will blame Trump, leaving the president bewildered and angry. Trump will go back to his insulting ways, which will pave the way for Kim to exit any preliminary agreements. The whole business will fall apart, and North Korea will look like the sure winner: the co-equal of a U.S. president who has been humbled in front of America’s allies and embarrassed in front of its enemies. The unveiling of a functional, nuclear-armed North Korean ICBM will follow.

I hope I’m wrong. Talking to the North Koreans is certainly a far better idea than war. Trump and Kim could surprise us all and begin the process of removing nuclear weapons from North Korea. But it’s far too early to think about any calls to Oslo just yet.

Well, Trump has already been humbled and embarrassed before the entire world. As for the propaganda victory, the North Koreans already are subject to a constant barrage of anti-American propaganda and pro-Dear-Leader sentiments. What difference will it make to the world if they see Trump shaking hands with Kim Jong-un and become extra proud of Dear Leader? None that I can see: the people will still be slaves. And the rest of the world, including China, isn’t suddenly going to start admiring Kim Jong-un more because he took advantage of a moron. Really, what is this propaganda victory supposed to consist of?

My own prediction: nothing will change except for perhaps a draw-down of U.S. forces in South Korea. But that won’t change anything, either, as we still have missiles on subs around the peninsula, and ICBMs pointed at Pyongyang. Neither South Korea nor the DPRK will be any more secure. As for the sanctions, we’d be fools to drop our support for them.


74 thoughts on “Tom Nichols on the Big Summit

  1. Trash your long-time allies and cozy up to the dictator of a poor nation which has oppressed and murdered its people. Trump foreign policy in a nutshell.

  2. Neither Nixon-Mao nor Reagan-Gorbachev summits achieved much at the time but great changes ensued.
    This feels a little like those.
    The Chinese want a wealthier NOK. So do NOKians and ROKians. And maybe Kim does too. He’s certainly very different from his dad and granddad. He’s already allowed more private enterprise, apparently (I haven’t been back there since 1988)
    But who am I to predict? I thought Kim’d be gone in six months. That was Five years ago….
    In sum, im kinda optimistic, from my eyre here in Hong Kong.

    1. The operative word here is “summit”. The Reagan-Gorbachev summit was 3 days long; they had an aggressive agenda and created a lot of groundwork for future success.

      This was a photo-op, a swoosh in and get out affair. Not even close to what a summit is. The U.S. gave NOK the suspension of military drills and legitimacy to the leader. Trump praised him like a rock star. The gist: “Look how well this young dictator has done in just a few years!” “He’s great!” What did the U.S. get? A flimsy promise and some piece of paper signed. Remember Trump didn’t sign the G-7 summit (real summit) statement of common values and goals.

      This was a shit show, and the fact that he snubbed our closest allies at the G-7 and left the summit early for this photo-op was an amateur move.

      Lastly, why would doing what Russia and China wants (making NOK a wealthier nation) be a good thing for the U.S.? We currently don’t do what Canada, Mexico, and the European Union wants, but we do what Russia and China wants? Why does this make sense?

  3. My guess is that Trump, Bolton, and Pompeo are as sincere about the military draw-down as Kim is about giving up his nukes, which is to say not at all. I just hope that, if it is going to fail, that it fail before November.

    On the other hand, engagement has always been the best approach. It would be great if Kim is really interested in bringing his country into the 21st century. I’m sure staying in power has a higher priority but that would be a small price to pay. Sanctions and threats while sitting around waiting for a coup is not going to work.

  4. I suspect the problem with Nichols is that he talks too much. Can’t predict what will happen tomorrow but will keep on predicting conclusions far into the future.

    I don’t see that much has happened except to feed the media with hours of talk and speculation and mostly nonsense. N. Korea has agreed to nothing far as I see except talk that maybe something will be done sometime. So for doing nothing except eat and sleep for free in Singapore he gets Trump to say what a wonderful guy he is even though this wonderful guy is probably the worst violator of human rights on the planet. Murders people and starves thousands but otherwise a really nice guy. He has reached recognition on the same level as Trump. And Trump is even going to stop our exercises with S. Korea that we have been doing for many years. What did he get for this…nothing. And by the way, these exercises have very little to do with nuclear war. You don’t need a bunch of exercises to do that. Remember, S. Korea has no nuclear weapons. The reason for the exercises is that this little murderer has an army of more than a million right across the boarder.

    Trump does not seem to understand anything, least of all conventional war. This little murderer is going to clean his clock.

  5. I predict the opposite of Nichols. I predict the negotiations will be a resounding success despite any Trump missteps.

    I think that within the last few months either the Russians or the Chinese or both went to the NKs and said: ” you want to hurt America? The best way you can do this is to give Trump a success that will get him reelected…and if you do this we’ll make it worth your while”

    1. I have been following these events with North Korea et al with interest and did not think of such a devious plot. The leaders of China, N. Korea, and Russia are in a position to be long(er)term planners. Good for you!

    2. I think that within the last few months either the Russians or the Chinese or both went to the NKs and said: ” you want to hurt America? […]”

      Orwell invented a word for that – Machiavellian. Sorry, “doublethink”.
      Actually, both. Certainly both George and Nicolo would recognise the strategy.

        1. Mostly from people who’ve never read him. Ohh, I got some ear ache when the Boss came into my office and found a copy of “The Prince” between my coffee cup and keyboard.

  6. Putin is getting a helluva return on his 2016 investment — deterioration of the traditional western alliances, and the leader of the free world cozying up to vicious autocrats like Duterte and Erdoğan and Xi and Jong-un and Putin (all of whom have iron-fisted control over undemocratic countries in which Trump either has branded properties, or would very much like to).

    1. Well, during the photo-op (I refuse to call it a summit) he did mention what great beach front property NOK has.

  7. It is not unlikely that the reason Kim came to the table at all was because the US let him know that we can get to him anytime we want. Let’s see what happens – it can’t be any worse than “strategic patience”, which accelerated their perfection of the technology and delivery systems.

  8. An angle that has not been addressed properly is that Mr Kim is as avid as Mr Putin to divide the West. Mr Trump -as a Russian shill- is very good at that. Hence Mr Kim would like Mr Trump to do well in the November mid-terms. What better than to give Mr Trump a ‘diplomatic victory’? (Mr Kim is hardly a man to be bound by concessions) Keeping Mr Trump firmly on his path wrecking the Western alliance, isolating the US and dividing the US from within? What greater strategic victory could Mr Kim achieve?

  9. Kim’s ultimate goal is to unite north and south with him in control. And the south would like unification but obviously not under a despot. How that fits in with the current stuff, who knows. Maybe Kim thinks he could get away with a coup without protest from fellow despot wannabe. I imagine Kim & Co have a long range plan – theUSA never thinks beyond or around the corner and certainly the swump dosn’t.

  10. By the way, when was the last time that a country used the threat of nuclear war to get another country to change it’s ways? I can’t think of any really in the last 50 or 60 years except when N. Korea did so just this year. And they did it to the country that invented the weapon.

      1. How about that was 73 years ago and do you think I could possibly mean that. You do not get a passing grade.

        1. One could argue that India and Pakistan came to an agreement to stop killing each other (sort of, except in Kashmir) once it became clear both had nukes.

        2. Good thing I was not taking your “class”. Did you choose that period in order to leave out that important data point? If so, we have a classic case of fudging the data to make a point.

          1. You and Mike should really bother someone else who maybe enjoys the juvenile behavior. I do not care for any of it. I believe this is the adult site.

            1. I was mostly just pulling your leg. Don’t take yourself so seriously.

              Looking back at your original point, it seems to have a number of holes. One could easily argue that the Soviet Union and USA used the threat of nuclear war against each other and each affected how the other behaved. Certainly the threat of using nuclear weapons is a potent motivator in the world. Perhaps I am missing your point here.

        3. Apart from your artificial time limit that seemed like a pretty good example.

          I think we can also be fairly sure that the actions of both the USA and the Soviet Union were modified throughout the cold war by the threat of nuclear war.

          1. The lack of nuclear weapons and its effect on regime change in places like Libya and Iraq has certainly been noted by North Korea.
            They are still officially at war with a country that has used nukes twice, and actively considered doing so on them. MacArthur argued forcefully to nuke NK and was only stopped by Truman himself.
            At the same time the USA was considering using nukes on Communist China and were only prevented from doing so by the horrified responses of their British Allies. They apparently mollified those lily-livered limies by planing to “avoid all the major cities”.
            So–from their perspective, NK are rather brilliantly protecting their interests from the world’s biggest bully.
            China seems more than happy to use NK as a buffer zone, and the USA has just validated not just NK itself but–more importantly–solidified the reputation of Kim Yong Un in the eyes of his generals: Something all despots have to do.
            Oh, and the USA has just shown that it won’t honor nuclear non-proliferation deals across its own regime changes, so good luck getting NK to actually get rid of its nukes.
            They must be thinking “Why in hell would we? We’ve just shown the world what happens when you stand up to the wolrds bully: He comes round and showers you with praise while your people starve in labor camps”
            So–great work all round I think.

  11. Trump has transmogrified Kim Jong-un from a tin-pot dictator of an isolated backwater to a player on the world stage — on par with the president of the United States. In so doing, he’s sent a message to every other third-word dictator that the way to cop a seat at the table is to get your hot little hands, by hook or by crook, on a nuclear weapon.

    1. Yesterday during the meeting between the two I actually saw one TV news broadcaster who referred to “these two world leaders”. Who would have thought? Amazing what nuclear weapons can do for a tiny, desperate country – with fanatical leadership.

    2. Yesterday during the meeting between the two I actually saw one TV news broadcaster who referred to “these two world leaders”. Who would have thought? Amazing what nuclear weapons can do for a tiny, desperate country – with fanatical leadership.

    1. Prolly wouldn’t be much worse than the schvantz Trump made our top diplomat in Israel, David Friedman.

      1. Maybe Australia should be glad it’s such a good ally of the US that Trump can’t be bothered sending us an ambassador?

        And I’m sure there’s no truth in the rumour that it’s just a petty punishment for the New South Wales Government refusing his bid for a casino licence because of his links with organised crime, and his shonky financial claims.

    1. I would refer to the – Where’s the beef effect? Where is this greatest deal maker. I see nothing. He wasted a whole bunch of gas and additional air pollution to sit in a fancy hotel courtesy of Singapore. His accomplishment – a hand shake. Maybe he made some deals on buildings over there? He gave and then received zero. Any plan to disarm? Any commitment to freeze nuclear testing, launching of missiles (anything)? If I had sent some middle management or less person on this little TDY and said, get something, he would be fired when he got back. And then Trump has the balls to say, nobody else could have done this??? What is he saying – sit on an airplane for 30 hours?

        1. Amazing stuff. Two of the worst haircuts but why do we need narration on this great made up moment?

        2. I found this on Twitter:

          Why would Kim Jong-un insult me by calling me “old,” when I would NEVER call him “short and fat?” Oh well, I try so hard to be his friend – and maybe someday that will happen!

          Is he aware that Kim Jong-un frequently has his “friends” executed and ordered his own brother to be murdered?

        1. I’m sorry. Should have said business trip. In military and some government they us the term TDY (temporary duty assignment). Sometimes I forget where I am.

        2. It’s the cycle racing Tour De Yorkshire – as many mugs of hot, sweet tea as you can drink, with straw of course.

  12. I would guess that Kim would love sanctions and troops to be reduced/removed…as would China and Russia. Thus, it seems to me that Kim, China and Russia have nothing to lose and everything to gain with this meeting, and that Trump is the blue-ribbon chump in the equation.

    I doubt that history will be any kinder to Trump than it was to another autocratic, impetuous fool, Wilhelm II. I just hope that the miscalculations this time aren’t so bloody.

    To amuse myself in the face of such discouraging events, I picture two ventriloquists (Xi ji-ping and Vlad Putin) sitting across from one another with their Kim and Trump dummies verbally admiring the hell out of one another.

    1. Think of it, our taxes paid to make that thing. Kim probably liked it as his father was quite the director. Did a remake of Titanic, his favorite move. Don’t know how it turned out?

    2. Is that Dennis Rodman dunking [if that’s the term] @ 1:50 or just a generic basketballer? “Destiny Pictures” is overblown narcissism. Those repeated sunrises over the Earth from space look like mid-course ICBMs

      Reminds me of a Trumpinator franchise trailer – an orange Arnie with hinged pompadour.

      1. Trump really does think he’s in a reality TV show and that’s how he treats everything. This video almost made me lose my lunch. What a ridiculous & tiny little man he is.

  13. China’s foreign ministry announced the end to US joint military exercises with SoKo (or “war games,” as Trump has taken to calling them) even before Trump announced it at the summit — meaning Kim immediately let the Chinese know what the old fool had agreed to even before Trump could get to a microphone himself. China’s goal is to supplant the US as the major shot-caller in the western Pacific.

    Meanwhile, back in the US, VP Pence spent yesterday assuring Republican US senators that the one thing Trump wouldn’t do was to discontinue joint military exercises with S. Korea.

    Just business as usual in Trumpworld.

    1. Good thing the Chinese and North Koreans don’t read our newspapers then. 😉 More proof that this is seen as a publicity stunt by all involved. Trump’s pals at Fox News will spin it as a big win for his base. Do they have a Nobel Prize for best political theater?

  14. Game playing:
    “Who’s got the ball”?
    your guess is as good mine and like they say,
    more things can go wrong than right.
    will he drop it?
    if he does, he’s not going to say either way but kick (read: fired) the unfortunate next to him yelling, that YOU made him drop it.
    and that is my prediction.

  15. Is this the same Kim that ordered his 1/2 brother murdered in a heinous way. Now, he is just a big lovable kid? I woukd not want my kids playing with him. Is this the guy we are all smiles with now and can trust?

    1. To add, we now love the guys who order relations and opposition murdered but are mad at that evil Canada for those hateful words? I must be right side up in an upside down world or some alternate universe. Help me!

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