John Feffer makes the case that we should indulge the fiction that the Singapore summit was a great success so that Trump doesn’t interfere with ongoing inter-Korean rapprochement:
The major stumbling block of economic sanctions remains. Indeed, the Trump administration recently renewed U.S. sanctions against North Korea for another year. The sanctions applied by the United Nations, meanwhile, will make it rather difficult for the two Koreas to push very far with economic cooperation.
However, all sanctions regimes come with exceptions. As inter-Korean relations progress, the two sides should explore ways of including exceptions for joint enterprises like the Kaesong Industrial Complex in the international sanctions against North Korea.
But for all of this to happen, it’s necessary to maintain the useful fiction that the Singapore summit was a rousing success and that Donald Trump has made a contribution to peace in Northeast Asia. It doesn’t matter that the administration hasn’t established a timeline for denuclearization. It doesn’t matter that the administration hasn’t briefed Congress on the results of the summit. It doesn’t matter that Trump himself has moved on to other issues.
What’s important is that Trump is invested in the success of his venture. Because if it fails, he fails. And Donald Trump doesn’t like to fail.
Successful diplomacy sometimes requires polite fictions that everyone involved knows to be untrue, but I don’t think it can work in this case. The president and other members of the administration are invested in negotiations with North Korea for the moment, but they have also made a number of public statements that there will be no sanctions relief until North Korean disarmament occurs. The president is similarly invested in unreasonable, maximalist demands that will never be met, and now that he has already declared victory he won’t want to settle for less.
Bolton is talking about the complete dismantling of all North Korean unconventional weapons and missile programs in the space of a year. That isn’t going to happen, and Bolton knows that it won’t, and we have to assume that he’s setting out such an unrealistic schedule because he hopes it will sabotage further talks. Any expectation of rapid and complete North Korean disarmament is going to be disappointed, because North Korea continues to work on its nuclear weapons program and shows no signs of halting it, much less eliminating it. There is no polite fiction that can paper over the gap that currently exists between the two sides. The administration claims that North Korea has committed to disarm, but everyone else sees no evidence of this because none exists. We could promote the falsehood that the Singapore summit was a “rousing success” all we want, but that isn’t going to fool anyone for very long. Regardless, we shouldn’t be indulging public officials in their deceptions, but should instead be calling them out for trying to mislead the public about a major issue.
In order to narrow that gap and make a more modest compromise possible, the U.S. has to lower its expectations, reduce its demands, and accept that the goal of disarming North Korea has always been out of reach. The longer that the administration clings to the fantasy of “comprehensive, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization,” the harder it will be to reach an agreement that all parties can support and sustain for more than a few years. Promoting the fiction that the summit achieved something when it achieved virtually nothing allows the administration to ignore reality and lets them continue to chase after something that they can’t get. If there is only a brief window of opportunity for reaching an agreement with North Korea, it shouldn’t be squandered by playing along with Trump’s self-aggrandizing lies.