It is no exaggeration to say that on Tuesday the eyes of the world were fixed on the historic meeting in Singapore between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un.
It was the first time a sitting American president has ever met a North Korean leader and it presented a series of almost inexplicable sights and soundbites to behold.
— Bloomberg (@business) June 12, 2018
The same day as publicly criticising Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Trump praised Kim Jong-Un, a dictator responsible for what the UN describes as ‘unparalleled’ human rights atrocities, as a “very talented” man who “loves his country”.
In its editorial about the TrumpKim summit The Guardian observed that “no satirist would dare to invent this”. It went on:
“Mr Trump’s recounting of the meeting would have been laughable were it not so shocking.”
It’s not an unfamiliar dilemma in Trump’s presidency. But, between the mini blockbuster style movie trailer he reportedly showed Jong-Un encouraging him to seize the moment in history to leave a legacy, to his comments about the Korean coastline being ideal for condos and his dismissal of any need for a transcript given the veracity of his own memory, it’s as apt as ever.
Trump on North Korea: "They have great beaches. You see that whenever they're exploding their canons into the ocean. I said 'look at that beach, wouldn't that make a great condo?'" #TrumpKim
— Michael Koziol (@michaelkoziol) June 12, 2018
The significance of the meeting cannot be doubted but nor can the agreement be used to herald a new era, just yet, particularly given the track records of the participants.
Jong-Un’s commitment that North Korea will continue to denuclearise, is being met with caution at best and cynicism at worst. The fact the wording of the agreement is weaker than previous agreements is notable.
This is very disappointing. Each of the four main points was in previous documents with NK, some in a stronger, more encompassing way. The denuke bullet is weaker than the Six Party Talks language. And no mention of CVID, verification, human rights.
— Bruce Klingner (@BruceKlingner) June 12, 2018
The fact the meeting went ahead was unclear even weeks ago and neither Trump nor Jong-Un could readily be described as predictable or steadfastly committed to their words.
Yet both are world leaders who wield considerable power. Watching the spectacle of the summit it was impossible not to ponder what this meeting, and these men, tell us about leadership.
After their meeting alone with two translators, Trump and Jong-Un sat down with a small team of advisers and of the ten people seated at the table, nine were men. The single female present was a translator. It was unsurprising but potent reminder of who holds ‘power’.
Simply by turning up both Trump and Jong-Un were lavishly praised and some might credibly argue that simply meeting is the game-changer. Certainly if substantive progress towards peace eventuates because of it, it will be a game-changer.
But how utterly dispiriting to consider that two individuals, as driven by ego and self-interest and riven by vanity, as Trump and Jong-Un, simply have to meet to make history?
According to @djrothkopf, the #TrumpKim Singapore summit was a pre-cooked bromance based not on true love or respect, but on the need of both principals to be known and admired by audiences watching at home https://t.co/wbHY9tBeP6
— The Daily Beast (@thedailybeast) June 12, 2018
Never-mind that one is a murderous dictator and one is seemingly unperturbed by the rule of law and separation of powers, they meet and they win.
What does it say about leadership? Very little that is palatable.