This photo sums up a lot of my feelings on the recent North Korea summit.
Notice I did not say summit with North Korea?
Look at the photo. Who’s really in charge?
THE VIEW FROM THE SUMMIT IS OBSCURED BY CLOUDS
Look, I admit it. I have no idea if, in the long run, or even in the short run, this recent Kim-Trump bit of theater in Singapore will, or will not net out to a positive for the world, or the U.S.
I also admit that I see a lot of potential negative.
Nixon went to China, but Nixon was way more savvy about the politics of the world than Trump or his advisors seem to be.
Maybe we just have to accept a fait accompli regarding North Korea’s legitimacy as a state. It’s not going anywhere, and that was a fact long before Trump entered the picture.
HOW I SEE THE ROUTE TO THE SUMMIT
However, for me, I see a de-escalation of an escalation triggered by Trump’s actions and his administration’s mishandling of matters.
One of the two things outgoing President Obama warned Trump about was North Korea. The other was Michael Flynn. Trump began his administration ignoring both warnings. North Korea wasted no time flexing muscles in response to the vacuum Trump created.
Then Trump began saber rattling. And things continued to escalate via words, while North Korea did pretty much whatever it wanted via nuclear weapons build up and testing.
South Korean President Moon Jae-In ran on a platform for some kind of accord, new understanding, and maybe even peace with North Korea. Since his election, he has pushed hard to deliver on that platform. His actions in this are fueled by his own political machinations, not necessarily those of Trump. And he has played Trump beautifully through much of this process, making sure to flatter and puff up Trump in order to turn Trump in whatever direction he desires.
If Trump calmed down enough to meet with Kim Jong Un, how much of that is because of President Moon Jae-In’s skillful handling of Trump? How much of the Singapore summit is really the result of President Moon’s diplomacy? A lot, I would argue. Certainly far more than he will ever be given credit for by the U.S. history books.
THE SINGAPORE SUMMIT’S MOMENT IN HISTORY
But is this a history book moment? For actual lasting peace, agreement between the countries, etc.? We’ll see.
But regardless, yes, the moment is historic. If for no other reason than Trump, by meeting with Kim Jong Un as an equal and providing him with all the pomp and circumstance, has completely legitimized the North Korean nation to the world. Nukes, and all. Human rights nightmares, and all. Monstrosities, and all.
No one can take this back from Kim Jong Un or North Korea. It’s done. He’s on the board. Officially recognized. Sitting at the big kids’ table.
Very hard to violate the sovereignty of his regime now. Very hard to pretend it can just be taken out at any time anymore.
KIM JONG UN GOT WHAT HE WANTED
All of this is exactly what Kim Jong Un wanted.
What did he give for it? Not one thing.
He collapsed some tunnels at an already unusable nuclear test site.
He made a vague promise of denuclearization, which means nothing. North Korea has made similar promises in the past and reneged. Further, North Korea usually means “stop further testing/development” when it makes such promises.
In this instance, even if North Korea did actually follow through that would mean what exactly? Nothing. It’s already developed and tested the nukes. It can give that up and still have its nukes.
Kim Jong Un’s people will continue to suffer. Perhaps his nuclear testing program has dangerously poisoned the ground or the water tables, and his people will suffer even further. But he and his regime have to give up nothing.
He has gained exactly what his predecessors strived for. He got the U.S. President to come to him and treat him like an equal for all the world to see.
THE SUMMIT PROVIDES A NEW TEMPLATE
You better believe other nations are watching. Looking on and then looking at their own barely started, or once abandoned, nuclear programs, and thinking, “That’s the way forward.”
When it earlier looked like the summit was not going to happen, National Security Advisor John Bolton created that crisis. By invoking what happened to Libya. Libya has served as a template for North Korea. In the minds of the North Korean regime, Libya is a cautionary tale. Don’t deal with the U.S. Don’t capitulate to them. Don’t give up your weapons programs. When you do, look at what happens to you.
Now, the North Korean regime has handed a new template to the rest of those would-be powers on the fringes. Kim Jong Un’s tale offers a path to success.
You think Iran isn’t looking at all this closely? What will it learn from all that has happened? Well, first of all, don’t play nice with the U.S., because they won’t fully go along with the deal, and then they’ll pull it out from under you. Don’t give up your nukes, or your nuclear program, or any other nasty weapon program you have going on. If you keep those things, eventually you can pressure the U.S. and, through it, the rest of the world, into accepting you as a legitimate state. You want to finally arrive on the world stage as a nation? Don’t give up your nukes. Develop them. And threaten the U.S. with them.
Oh you may get sanctioned. Your people may suffer. But you and your government will finally have arrived.
(I’m not the only one thinking along these lines. For example, check out Mahablog’s musings on the subject.)
NORTH KOREA’S SUMMIT
So how much of the Singapore summit is the result of Kim Jong Un’s careful manipulation of Trump and his administration?
Just like President Moon Jae-In, Kim Jong Un had lots of reasons to make this meeting happen. And he got to do so largely on his terms.
And he got what he, and his predecessors have wanted for decades. Without giving much up in return.
In the end, Kim Jong Un’s the one most in control here.
And for me, that’s all summed up in that photo.
GETTING BEHIND THE GESTURE
See, I see that posture a lot. Two people, nearly side by side, walking along, with one putting their hand on the back of the other. Often, the hand goes to the small of the back. As if pushing the other person Guiding them. Controlling them.
Sometimes the hand actually touches the back and pushes. Sometimes it just hovers over the spot. Either way, the same instinct triggers it.
I have seen it used over and over again, as a means of quietly demonstrating dominance, or control over the other person. It’s meant to be subtle. Less aggressive than directing someone by the arm. Yet the message remains a strong one.
I have not only seen it. I have been on the receiving end. Trust me, that’s almost always how it’s meant. Women experience it a lot.
Sometimes it is meant benignly. As if to say, “Come along, dear. You’ve really stayed here too long. Let’s move along.” Except, talking to me about that would be better than trying to gently push me along and take away my agency.
To be fair, sometimes it is meant playfully. Sometimes it serves as a silent signal between two consenting people trying to exit a scene without making one.
And sometimes it is meant a bit more forcefully. Men in conference rooms showing other men how much they control the female assistant they brought with them to the meeting. Proving their power by demonstrating control over another.
You may think I am reading too much into the gesture, but I’m not. Like I said, it’s subtle. Lots of folks do it without understanding why they do it. It’s a natural reaction.
But usually, underneath it all, is desire to control the situation, to move the other person along. That wouldn’t be so bad, except that is it usually done without consulting the other person first. Like I said, even when benignly or subconsciously done, there is a strong element of control over another involved.
Maybe I’ve been on the receiving end so much that I am very sensitive to it. I also have done it myself from time to time. When I catch myself, I feel like a complete a$$. Because when I think back about the moment, I realize that control of another was exactly what my goal was.
DEMONSTRATING TO THE SELF WHO’S IN CONTROL
I see a lot of men in positions of power do this. Particularly when they are in situations where they need to demonstrate their power. Or by those in need of constant reassurance about their power. Like an insecure narcissist. Like Trump. I have seen Trump do this over and over again.
Keep in mind, this is not the gentle arm behind the back in a protective but escorting gesture. That is often more benign and does not necessarily stem from a need to control.
No this is the open hand, at the back or hovering just over it, as if to reassure the hand’s owner that they control this movement, this moment.
SHOWING WHO WAS IN CONTROL AT THE SUMMIT
Like I said, Trump makes this gesture all the time, and it makes me cringe.
But I doubt he is conscious of why he does it, or even that he does it.
And I doubt he is conscious of why, or, even, when others do it to him.
Like in the photo above. It says it all.
Kim Jong Un controls this moment. He controls and dominates Trump. And Trump remains utterly oblivious.
So yeah, that sums up my feelings about the Singapore summit right now.