Trump and Kim: Who got more?

Any accounting of the diplomacy between President Trump and Kim Jong Un should take into account not only what was agreed to in Singapore, but also what was agreed to before the summit. It should not take into account mere agreement to strive for denuclearization, prosperity, peace, love, and understanding.

What did Trump get for the United States? The release of three American captives; the return of remains of missing Americans; the cessation, for now, of North Korean nuclear testing; and the destruction, complete or partial, of two (as I understand it) nuclear facilities. We should assume that the two facilities aren’t central to North Korea’s program.

The commitment to cease nuclear testing is inherently verifiable. We will know, without any help from North Korea, whether it has resumed testing.

What did Kim get from the United States? The cessation, for now, of war games. And the prestige associated with getting to meet the American president on equal terms.

Which side fared better? I consider the cessation of testing and the cessation of war games to be an even proposition. Absent the war games, we may not be able to improve our capacity to wage war against North Korea as much as we would like. Absent the testing, North Korea may not be able to improve its ability to wage nuclear war as much as it would like.

Reasonable people can disagree as to whether Kim’s enhanced prestige is worth more to him than getting Americans and the remains of Americans back is to us. These are apples and oranges.

But keep in mind that we too gain something just by virtue of the meetings. Trump knows more than he did before about the man with the power to launch a nuclear strike. How rational is Kim (quite rational, I suspect)? To what extent does he share the traditional paranoia of his family (not much, I suspect)? These are critical questions. Trump now has a better sense of the answers.

It’s also valuable to us that Kim now knows Trump better. Before he knew Trump at all, it was easy for Kim to fear he was dealing with a wild man — a warmonger. Thanks to the meeting, it’s likely that Kim no longer regards him that way.

Thus, the possibility of war due to miscalculation is probably reduced.

For these reasons, those who are telling us — some in good faith, some out of raw partisanship — that Kim is the winner are wrong, in my view. Trump did just fine. And, most importantly, the U.S. and its allies in the Pacific are a little safer than they were before this dance commenced.

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