At long last, the meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Kim Jong Un was held in Singapore.
The end result depends upon whom you ask. Both sides seemed to claim a resounding victory; Sean Hannity insisted that North Korea agreed to full denuclearization (it did not), and North Korean media claimed that Trump agreed to an end to sanctions (here’s hoping he didn’t).
In reality, the meeting produced little: a vague document indicating that talks will continue in the interest of peace and denuclearization. There were also reportedly promises made by each leader, including a missile site shutdown by Kim and the suspension of U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises by Trump.
Many on the left have found themselves adrift in the messaging wilderness. On the one hand, they support diplomacy and want to avoid a catastrophic war. On the other hand, they oppose President Trump’s reckless approach to the process of negotiations to date.
These positions do not need to be mutually exclusive.
Diplomacy should always be America’s first, best choice for resolving crises on the world stage. It is good - indeed, the only good position - to support diplomacy now given the catastrophic escalatory potential of a war on the Korean Peninsula. Those who clamor for war would put the lives of thousands of American troops and millions of our allies’ citizens in the region at risk.
Preferring diplomacy to conflict, however, does not require anyone to support this meeting’s outcomes or the conduct of the man who is driving them.
For one thing, President Trump conducted his summit with no thought to optics. The Kim family has sought a direct conversation with the United States for years, hoping to portray themselves as equal powers on the world stage. President Trump handed them that victory without hesitation - and what’s more, he showered Kim (a dictator who starves, imprisons, and executes his people) with praise both at the meeting and in follow-up interviews. It is hard not to contrast the images of Trump giving his classic thumbs up to Kim or saluting a North Korean general with those taken just days before wherein he sits crossed-armed and petulant before our democratically-elected G7 allies.
Speaking of allies, the president has also conducted himself towards North Korea with little regard for our friends in the region - namely South Korea and Japan. When he temporarily canceled the summit, Seoul was caught completely off-guard; purportedly, they had the same late notification on the president’s decision to cancel joint military exercises.
The world over, other partners (while not engaged in escalating trade conflicts with Washington) are watching as U.S. policy is more divorced from shared security interests and less reliant on their critical insight. The cancellation of the exercises, meanwhile, will leave our combined forces less prepared for any possible conflict - and President Trump’s willingness to use the North Korean’s preferred terminology for them, “provocative,” is a disturbing reminder of his childlike impressionability.
But the most simple - and most important - reason to oppose President Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong Un is the same reason to oppose virtually all of his “policies” and decisions: He’s in it for him, not for us. He returned from the summit declaring that “there is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.” But this is entirely false: Pyongyang has committed to no reductions or dismantlement, there are no new nuclear limits in place or inspectors on the ground, and the Kim regime remains a despotic and oppressive one. But the president doesn’t care about any of the technical details. All he wants is a public relations victory, and a new apparent pal on the world stage.
We must always support diplomacy. And to be sure, Trump and Kim flattering one another is preferable, from the perspective of global security, to threatening one another. But is what President Trump is practicing here truly diplomacy, in the sense that he’s working for our country’s best interests through smart, principled negotiations? He hands victories to our adversaries and alienates our allies; he achieves nothing meaningful and claims mission accomplished. This is not diplomacy, but theater - and it’s theater that will have consequences around the world.
Moving forward, all Americans must hope for and work towards peace on the Korean Peninsula. We must do so, however, while maintaining the security of ourselves and our allies and standing strong for human rights. So far, including at his much-anticipated summit, President Trump has failed to do any of that.
Graham F. West is the Communications Director for Truman Center for National Policy and Truman National Security Project, though views expressed here are his own. You can reach West at email@example.com.