As the surreal events in Singapore unfolded on Tuesday, it could not be ignored that the skeptics greatly overwhelmed the optimists. Take a look around the international media, and you’ll find few examples of experts, pundits, or partisans who think that President Trump has convinced Kim Jong Un of anything, much less brought us any closer to a de-nuked North Korea. Many critics are under the impression that Trump has only lent the rogue regime unnecessary credibility by giving the dictator an audience with the U.S. president. Others were aghast at the mere sight of a stage adorned by both American and North Korean flags. You have to look long and hard to find any support for this summit outside conservative media. And even there, the optimism is guarded.
But that’s how it is whenever these historic events unfold in real time. Even if Trump was not the maligned figure that he is, the peanut gallery would have plenty to say about this summit, and not much of it would be pretty. One can recall the unprecedented meetings between President Nixon and his Chinese counterpart. The historic summit between President Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev. When American leaders shake hands with a decisive enemy of the state, it’s only natural that the naysayers come out of the woodwork. After all, this kind of diplomacy does not always work.
On the other hand, sometimes it does.
Trump could have taken another route. He could have demanded that North Korea work with his administration to promise a whole host of concessions before deigning to give Kim Jong Un the respect he so desperately craves. He could have simply jumped to the military option, removing the dictator from the top of the regime through whatever means are necessary. He could have held the status quo, repeating the “strategic patience” routine employed by his predecessor. Any of these options might have been preferred by various segments of his critic’s chorus.
Instead, he went with his strength: The art of the deal.
Only time will tell if the document Kim Jong Un signed in Singapore promising the “complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” will turn out to mean anything. Only time will tell if North Korea is really prepared to deliver the type of concessions necessary to relieve the extraordinary sanctions against them. Only time will tell how far President Trump and the United States are willing to go to secure a nuclear-free North Korea.
Ultimately, history will judge whether or not this week’s summit was an extraordinary victory for an extraordinary U.S. President or a mere bit of trivia in the larger story of a menacing dictatorship. But regardless of how this ultimately turns out, we should give Trump massive credit for taking a chance that no previous president was willing to take. He knows that making this deal will require thinking outside the usual boundaries of U.S. foreign policy, and he has shown that he is singularly willing to “go there.”
Trump’s gamble could pay off in spades.