President Donald Trump tells reporters a time and place for his meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un has been set and will be announced soon, as he leaves for Dallas to address the National Rifle Association, in Washington, Friday, May 4, 2018. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

 

The summit between President Trump and North Korean strongman Kim Jong Un seems to be on track for June 12 in Singapore. While the meeting has the chance, the chance, of being a spectacular success, unless President Trump is careful he’s going to find himself accused of agreeing to a deal similar–in the minds of Democrats and Never Trump people it will be identical–to the one he just abandoned.

There are several possible accomplishments that would allow the summit to be called a success. Unless you are a CIA analyst at Langley, opening a “burger joint” in Pyongyang would not be one of them.

Sorta. I don’t know why we want to bring in a hostile and duplicitous party like the Russians into an agreement. One semi-hostile and duplicitous party–other than Kim, I mean–is quite sufficient. And, of course, sanctions have to continue to bite until something tangible gives in the arena of nuclear weapons. And, yes, I’ve heard over and over about what North Korea won’t give up. That argument is nonsense. Kim is not meeting with Trump because they want to discuss Kim’s amazing golf game or the prospects of grabbing parts of Kim’s favorite girl band

Kim is there because he needs something and he has, rationally, decided that the cost of continuing a confrontation with the US is higher than the political climbdown he had to do to meet the South Korean president and agree to a summit with Trump. He knows he has to be prepared to give up something. What that is, we don’t know.

Denuclearization, of course, is the prize. But that will be a multi-year project. Take a look at the chart below. Right-click, select “open image” to get a larger view or open the image in the tweet below the chart.

All of this says that unless the White House is very crafty about how it starts laying the groundwork for evaluating the summit, the summit is going to be labeled a failure by Trump’s opponents, in and out of the media.

While many have pointed out that Kim doesn’t want to come away from the summit with economic and trade incentives that make him lose face by looking like a beggar, they seem to have forgotten that Trump, too, has a fairly sizable ego and is not likely to want to walk away feeling like he has an “I’m Kim’s punk” sticker on the back of his jacket. I think, however, if he did come away with something like “Column A” agreed to, that would be seen as a win by all but the most hardcore Democrat partisans and Never Trump people. What does Kim get in return? I don’t know. But this summit demands bold gestures by both principals and then leave it to staffs to work out the details.

If Trump can’t come away from Singapore with something substantial, his best play is to say he tried and wash his hands of it. A half-baked, half-assed disarmament agreement monitored by the IAEA which has never met a dictator it wouldn’t kowtow to is going to be a stunning political loss for Trump and he can’t afford it, particularly in this election year.

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