There is a reason why, for the past half-century, America’s presidents have not met with the leaders of North Korea. They have understood the egregious actions of that leader were in violation of the internationally accepted rules of human rights. Our presidents knew the “Dear Leader” ordered the wholesale slaughter of North Koreans. The world has long been aware of the concentration camps in which 100,000 North Koreans have been killed or allowed to die of starvation. Only two years ago, a special U.N. commission on human rights documented “unspeakable atrocities” committed by North Korea.
The North Korean government, (i.e., its military) has long had a stockpile of chemical, perhaps biological, and certainly nuclear weapons. Recently, we watched the threatening launch of missiles televised from the Korean Peninsula. In short, for decades our presidents, both Republican and Democratic, have closely monitored North Korea’s military capacity, its deplorable record of basic human rights and decided its murderous leaders from Kim Il-sung and his son Kim Jong-il to his son, the now leader Kim Jong-un, were to be considered with complete distrust.
The recent “summit” proposed by Kim Jong-un and accepted by President Trump was driven by two truths. First, the North Korea leader is a curious young man of 35 eager to personally discover the world outside. Bored by the squalor and isolation of his country, Kim Jong-un was eager to depart North Korea for his two days in Singapore, and as a bonus, watch the remarkable scene of his country’s flag flying next to that of the United States. For his part, President Donald Trump believes nothing succeeds like excess. His need for recognition and grandeur propelled his willingness to engage in a summit even if it elevated to the international stage one of the world’s tyrants. Why is it Mr. Trump enjoys making enemies of our friends, such as Canada, and friends of our most murderous enemies?
This, or any, international agreement without necessary preparation is simply political theater. A signed agreement, which is the result of one day of handshakes, backslapping, and smiles is a mockery which places pomp and headlines ahead of the real and certain accomplishments that result from the drudgery of negotiations, compromise, and creativity. Both Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump are way out of their depth.
At least, America deserves better.
Pat Williams is Montana’s former Democratic U.S. congressman. He and his wife Carol live in Missoula where he is a senior fellow at the University of Montana.
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