Clearly, the Trump-Kim nuclear-weapons summit had all the elements to make it historic, must-see TV — the first meeting of its kind ever, big stakes involving weapons of mass destruction, an exotic foreign locale and an outcome no one could know.
It also met other media needs to help hype coverage – a set stage with pretentious decorations and pre-positioned cameras to capture every nano-second and a red carpet for two consciously unpredictable men to walk at each other like a Dodge City showdown.
All of it under the 10,000-watt global glare of publicity that follows any president anywhere, especially a celebrity like Donald Trump.
As executive producer of his latest reality TV show, President Trump knew all this. Both he and Kim played their roles well.
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What is unknown, despite the blizzard of post-summit coverage, criticism and speculation, is exactly what the event might actually mean, if anything.
From behind all the flags and drapes, however, some small but intriguing details have seeped out to stoke real hopes, despite the many months of intercontinental Armageddon threats.
One of the hopeful signs, largely missed by Westerners, was the fact that North Korea’s ruthless 32-year-old dictator came early to meet the now-72-year-old Trump. Seven minutes early, to be exact.
It is a sign of great respect in Asian cultures that younger participants in such encounters arrive on-site before their elders, not to keep them waiting. Kim is a man who has assassinated his half-brother and executed perceived opponents by firing squad — using an artillery cannon.
Yet, he chose to demonstrate respect for Trump. Kim Jong-un also brought along family, his little sister, Kim Yo-jung, to meet the famous U.S. leader, hardly the gesture of one seeking deadly confrontation.
Kim also began immediate return of U.S. remains from the Korean War.
Because of his nuclear arsenal, Kim got a coveted joint-stage appearance with the world’s most powerful man, which won’t hurt in the lethal subterranean politics back home.
He also received from Trump a suspension of joint U.S,-South Korean military exercises which, like pretty much every Trump initiative, prompted sharp criticism in Washington. Such exercises are important symbolically, which is why Kim dislikes them.
Cancellations are, however, not unprecedented. President Clinton did it uselessly for the current Kim’s father in 1994. And President Obama canceled U.S. exercises with Israel when Iran objected.
But here’s the lowdown on that: The U.S. has 28,500 troops permanently based in South Korea. Their small units can wargame with each other any night they want.
And, honestly, if U.S. and ROK commanders haven’t worked out the command kinks of joint military cooperation since 1953, a few missed maneuvers won’t matter.
Three generations of Kim leaders have shown they are congenital liars. They sign promises to halt weapons development in return for concessions, then after delivery, renege on inspection follow-throughs.
Trump’s strategy is radically different. He vows to maintain rigid economic sanctions and an implied military threat until the North “denuclearizes,” however that gets defined someday. And how would it be verified?
Notice, the only Trump concession we know of -- suspending military exercises --is easily reversible, unlike Obama’s early delivery of $150 billion to Iran in his partial nuclear deal.
Knowing a little something about an immense ego, Trump played to Kim’s. He made him a short video showing how dramatically improved Kim’s country could be.
And Trump showered a surfeit of praise on the gulag-operator. Such that the same Americans who expressed so much concern last year that Trump’s tough talk was leading to war, now cynically claimed the Republican was being too nice to Kim.
In a display of personal style and leaderly bonhomie, Trump even invited Kim to inspect the outside of his armored limo. An impressed Kim smiled and tested the bulletproof glass with his knuckles.
Of course, being Trump, Trump also oversold the Singapore summit, ridiculously claiming the North Korean regime is “no longer a nuclear threat.”
One undeniably good thing, both nuclear powers are talking substantively instead of threatening. And while Pyongyang has forsaken new nuclear and missile tests, the U.S. can continue improving its erratically reliable missile defense system.
None of this could have happened without the broad economic sanctions of Trump’s international coalition with Chinese pressure, plus credible displays of military force last year, and the campaign’s continuation even now.
The absence of specifics in their signed Singapore agreement ensures numerous negotiations to come, as impossible as it now seems Kim would ever discard his nuclear card.
Likely there will be stutters along the way, perhaps even new threats and walkouts. All the more reason, as you might imagine in such an unscripted series, for viewers to tune in for the many upcoming episodes that Trump has promised, some possibly at the White House.