At Stake In the Singapore Showdown: America’s Reputation

    Wallace C. Gregson

    Security, Asia

    U.S. President-elect Donald Trump arrives to speak during a USA Thank You Tour event at Giant Center in Hershey, Pennsylvania, U.S., December 15, 2016. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson

    President Trump needs to show that his unorthodox approach can produce results.

    Singapore is precisely twelve hours ahead of Washington. This promises to be a boon for those media types that usually labor to produce and broadcast during the late night and wee small morning hours. For those of us surfing the net or watching screens small and large, it’s an insomniac’s dream. How can you avoid watching? Even Dennis Rodman is rumored to be in Singapore during the summit, on tickets paid for by dodgy interests. High diplomacy in the social-media era. It just can’t get any better.

    This seemingly made-for-the-media event already spawns breathless coverage. It has all the elements of a good cliffhanger. Two consummate showmen vie for attention, and recognition as “winner.” Kim needs to come out of this with his lifetime tenure reinforced. Nuclear weapons are his guarantee against forcible regime change, at least from foreign powers. It helps at home, too. Nuclear proliferation is profitable. Kim’s “core supporters”—variously estimated as a million or so privileged citizens at home and abroad supporting the Kim family regime—must be kept happy at their current or better standard of living. Crime must pay. He’s had a good run of success so far. Summits with Xi Jinping, rumored visits from Assad (a nuclear co-conspirator) and others. He’s had some setbacks. It’s alleged he got the summit rescheduled by bending his knee. (No confirmation from North Korea.) Overall, though, it looks pretty good for Kim. Sanctions are already easing, “extreme pressure” is no longer approved rhetoric in the United States, commerce across the land borders is increasing, and the president of the United States is traveling halfway around the world to meet him.

    President Trump needs to show that his unorthodox approach can produce results. A “peace treaty” has been called the easy part of this effort. But treaties generally follow, and officially sanction, extant conditions that support a cessation of hostilities. Treaties don’t create the conditions for peace, they follow the creation of conditions. This will not be Appomattox, Versailles, or the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay. Nor will it be the Treaty of Portsmouth that ended the Russo-Japanese War in 1905. President Theodore Roosevelt—acting as a neutral arbitrator—won the Nobel Peace Prize for his negotiation efforts.

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