Played like a chump

I have to hand it to David Brin as a soothsayer: Brin predicted what would happen in the ‘negotiations’ between Trump and Kim Jong Un. North Korea would offer a token reduction in some nuclear facilities, which they don’t need anymore, and would ask for a reduction in sanctions and most importantly, a reduction in conventional arms.

For reasons of both economic and personal survival, Kim desperately needs a smaller army.

In contrast, nuclear weapons – once you have them – are cheap to hold, to hide and to maintain.

Kim’s current dilemma has only one solution, then. Keep enough nukes to deter any adventurous notions on our side… and hold onto those artillery tubes threatening Seoul… then entice both South Koreans and Americans to shout hosannahs over a “deal” to slash their own forces below the DMZ. Forces they can easily afford and that pose them zero risk.

Let’s be clear: any conventional draw-down is Kim’s chief aim, his win-win.

So what did this “historic meeting” actually accomplish?

North Korea is shutting down one engine testing site, and they’re going to return some American remains from the Korean War. These are token gestures. Trump did leave the current sanctions in place.

What is North Korea gaining? A reduction in military activity in South Korea.

Trump announced that he will order an end to regular “war games” that the United States conducts with ally South Korea, a reference to annual joint military exercises that are an irritant to North Korea.

Trump called the exercises “very provocative” and “inappropriate” in light of the optimistic opening he sees with North Korea. Ending the exercises would also save money, Trump said.

The United States has conducted such exercises for decades as a symbol of unity with Seoul and previously rejected North Korean complaints as illegitimate. Ending the games would be a significant political benefit for Kim, but Trump insisted he did not give up leverage.

He completely blindsided the South Koreans on that one.

So North Korea got what they wanted out of the meeting, and Trump got nothing of substance. Kim Jong Un also got one other thing: fluffed by America. Trump was silent on human rights abuses, and even said this:

Well, we’ve given him, I don’t wanna talk about it specifically, but we’ve given him, he’s going to be happy. His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor. They’re gonna put it together, and I think they’re going to end up with a very strong country, and a country which has people — that they’re so hard working, so industrious.

His people are slaves in a giant cage, who will be executed if they don’t show fervor. Trump has given Kim Jong Un a massive PR victory that he can use to quell any rebelliousness: America says you’re happy. America is going to stop even practicing opposition. America isn’t going to help you.

Isn’t it interesting how Trump can go from snarling at Canada and alienating the democratically elected leaders of allied nations, and then scurry off and express his warm appreciation of tyrants and dictators?


  1. cartomancer says

    I never really expected anything of this ridiculous Trump-Kim meeting. Both sides of the border have long since got used to US posturing in the region, and I doubt anyone thinks Trump will be a lasting or long-term part of the landscape.

    The really important negotiations are the ongoing ones between Kim Jong-Un and Moon Jae-In. The most important foreign power on the scene is, unquestionably, China.

    But, ho-hum, US politicians thinking they’re always the most important people in any situation. That never changes.

  2. says

    Kim’s a successful leader by the only metric Trump seems to understand: “DIDJA SEE THE SIZE OF THAT CROWD? AND THEY WERE ALL YELLING AND WAVING FLAGS!!”

  3. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    It strikes me that Trump sees in Kim the son he’s never had. I mean, yes, he’s had sons, and the adult ones seem to be doing their best to follow in his evil footsteps, but they just don’t have the panache to transcend his example, they way that he took Fred’s lucrative but boring Queens empire and turned it into a flashy, glitzy Manhattan and Atlantic City boondoggle.

    Kim, on the other hand, has the flair to take Trump’s proto-fascism and make something truly and brilliantly evil. After all, this was the man who killed his own uncle with an anti-aircraft gun; what could be more spectacular than that? I really think that if Trump could adopt Kim and leave him the Trumpire, he would die a happy man.

  4. anchor says

    Kim was never in the reasoning business (as Brin seems to think)…until China told him how to handle the situation with Trump when he visited them earlier in the year. suddenly everything came up reconciliatory roses. Guess why?

    China loves Trump as much as Putin does, and they both want to keep him (and any nationalist sentiment) propped up to inflict as much damage and chaos on the western economy and relations as possible for as long as possible. Donnie and his nationalist-fascist-uber-wealthy comrades at home and abroad get zero credit for anything except for being the stupid greedy pawns that they are but their overseers are perfectly content to let them think they’re the shrewdest tacticians in the history of vertebrates.

  5. says

    The problem with the concern over Donald not bringing up North Korea’s human rights abuses is that it’s always just been empty words. Does anyone really take seriously the United States lecturing other countries on human rights?

  6. ashley says

    And according to reports the idiot showed Kim round his bullet proof limousine the ‘beast’. So much for national security. (And some people – genuinely – love Putin too.)

  7. k_machine says

    What nihilistic dross “any conventional draw-down is Kim’s chief aim, his win-win”, like Korean lives are worthless playthings for the US. Hey PZ, maybe listen to some Korean voices like Christine Ahn instead of zonked-out sci-fi writers. “Human Rights”, yeah sure the US cares a lot about those and are acting in good faith (*somehow fails to notice that the US is jailing its minority population under the flimsiest of pretexts*). I guess the right not to die in the hearth of nuclear hellfire isn’t a “human right” for Koreans. Any chance to decrease the tension on the Korean peninsula should be pursued, because the alternative is nuclear annihilation (or at best the open air slave markets of Libya, created by NATO intervention). No matter what happens to the US forces in Korea, North Korea will always be extremely outgunned, the US still has nuclear ICBM, bombers and subs that can exterminate North Korea at a moments notice. Exterminating 20% of the Korean population during the Korean War was enough “help” from the US to the Koreans I’d think.

    85 % of South Koreans approve of the peace talks, maybe seek out their perspective

  8. says

    Brin also predicted that humans will genetically engineer chimps and dolphins to have human-like intelligence and language capabilities. It will be cool if that comes true. (Well, okay, it was fiction.)

  9. logicalcat says


    Population fallacy; try again. Ive seen Korean academics heavily criticize the summit pointing out that it mimics an earlier declaration from Kim that never came through. This new one is just as empty. The only positive here is that Trump has a report with dictators and most likely nothing bad would happen. But then again having a report with dictators is dangerous in itself for democracy. Trump also refused to condemn the human rights violations…so much for caring about Korean lives. Also are you new here? Because we talk about the US prison system plenty of times. The summit didn’t help reduce the risk of nuclear hellfire just like the last one did not, and for similar reasons.

  10. raven says

    The summit didn’t help reduce the risk of nuclear hellfire just like the last one did not, and for similar reasons.

    Yeah, that is my impression.
    This is all just low end smoke and mirrors.

    It made no significant changes to the status quo!!!

  11. petesh says

    @k_machine: North Korea could wipe Seoul off the map in short order without using a single nuke. The metropolis is practically on the border, and nuking it would be suicidal, whereas pounding it with conventional artillery would be murderous.

    The peace talks of which South Koreans approve are, most importantly, between Moon and Kim. Trump is a sideshow, a wild card who could mess up the situation and to some extent already has. He seems to be cutting South Korea out of negotiations about the Korean peninsula. That’s idiotic.

  12. zenlike says

    and Trump got nothing of substance

    One small quibble, but this is not entirely the case: he got a “win” which he and his sycophants, and sadly too many of the “liberal” MSM, will crow about.

  13. Michael says

    I took your point as far as North Korea’s goals in the meeting, however it crossed my mind as to what the U.S.’s goals would have been? If North Korea has nukes, but no intention of actually using them, and instead wants to downsize it’s army, then South Korea wins by downsizing it’s army, and the U.S. wins by not having the expense of ‘war games’. So unless I’m missing something (Yes, I know it’s a dictatorship, treats it’s people terribly, etc.), as far as short-term achievements, isn’t it a kind of a win for everyone? Long-term goals would be getting rid of its nuclear program entirely, etc., but that definitely wouldn’t be happening at this meeting. So if you don’t look at it as a zero-sum game (I only win if you lose), then it is a small victory. I’ll await the barrage of comments explaining how naive I’m being.

  14. Porivil Sorrens says

    Why on Earth would North Korea want to get rid of their nukes when the most powerful country in the world is led by a bellowing tyrant and has historically jumped at the chance to invade regional powers to set up friendly proxy governments?

    We invaded half of the global south just to make sure we had easy access to produce, so stockpiling the literal only weapon keeping the US from trying to make North Korea another Honduras or Nicaragua makes sense.

    It’s not that I think Kim Jong Un is actually a good dude with his country’s best intentions in mind, but even a despotic manchild can recognize that nuclear power is literally his sole bargaining chip and if he sells it too cheaply they’ll just get made into a US-friendly speedbump against russian and chinese aggression.

  15. anbheal says

    @18 Zenlike — reading between the lines, he also got a hotel tower in downtown Pyongyang or on their nicest beach. One of my besties said that she’d bet her bottom dollar that a Trump hotel or golf course in North Korea was inevitable, and it sure sounds like it. Like they say in Brooklyn and Queens and Jersey, once a gonif, always a gonif.

  16. consciousness razor says

    My expectations were pretty low. I didn’t wake up to headlines like “U.S. Bombs North, South Korea” this morning, so that’s something.

    I don’t care how much of a “PR victory” it may be for Kim Jong-un. Presumably, just about anything could be turned into one with his propaganda machine, including the opposite of anything agreed upon today, so trying to avoid that wouldn’t be a coherent goal to have. Bullshitters are gonna bullshit.

    But fewer weapons and/or troops, less imperialistic dumbfuckery on our military’s part? That’s not something I’d complain about, even if it isn’t nearly enough.

  17. unclefrogy says

    there is one thing in all of this that most people seem to be over looking. Is there anything in Trump’s history that would lead anyone to trust anything he says or anything he is selling?

  18. Rich Woods says

    @consciousness razor #22:

    But fewer weapons and/or troops … That’s not something I’d complain about

    What makes you think the military will be cut? These troop numbers will just be redeployed to the next potential conflict zone. Where do you think the Israelis would like to see them placed? Jordan? Yemen?

  19. consciousness razor says

    Rich Woods:

    What makes you think the military will be cut?

    Nothing. What I meant was fewer in and around South Korea. Sorry that wasn’t clear.

    These troop numbers will just be redeployed to the next potential conflict zone.

    Perhaps they’d be less likely to instigate a nuclear war there. Baby steps. At any rate, we couldn’t have fixed all of that merely by having our chief asshole talk to the North Korean one, so this is not what we should’ve hoped to accomplish….

    But look, if you want me to be dissatisfied that we stop conducting joint military exercises with South Korea, then I don’t see why I should feel that way. (This is assuming the U.S. adheres to the agreement, although of course that isn’t certain.) I don’t get the hawkish mood from PZ and perhaps a few others in the thread…. Since when was a “reduction in military activity,” on the part of the U.S. in some region or other, something that should get us all hot and bothered?

  20. unclefrogy says

    Trump has been involved in selling fraud his entire career.
    He has cheated his contractors, swindled his “customers” defrauded his creditors, cheated the tax man.
    He is a capitalist and he has shown that he will do anything say anything to make the sale and then do as close to nothing as he can get away with afterward. He is not in any way an idealist, there are no great principles no “moral code” that guide him. If you want to understand him you have to get down in the gutter with him
    I doubt this deal if it is a deal at all is worth more than any of his tweets. The only thing that is positive is just talking at all.
    of all the things he has said and done that is the only good thing.
    uncle frogy

  21. says

    Does anyone really take seriously the United States lecturing other countries on human rights?

    My Twitter is full with “liberal” Americans bemoaning the desecration the “flag of freedom” by hanging next to the North Korean one and proclaiming a complete breach of everything that is good and noble.
    Here’s news for you: you are the baddies.
    Compared with the massive murdering, torturing and other human rights abuses the USA are inflicting on the world and their own people, Kim Jong Un is a bloody beginner.

  22. Porivil Sorrens says

    Yeah, for once, I agree with CR. Less American imperialism under the guise of playing world police is a good thing. That the US unjustly has its fingers in a lot of other pies doesn’t mean that it’s bad that we’re pulling this particular thumb out of this particular pie.

  23. Susan Montgomery says

    America is politically, scientifically and economically illiterate. How the hell can we help anyone?

  24. unclefrogy says

    I would add to the list “historically illiterate ”
    or at least woefully ill-informed
    uncle frogy

  25. mistershelden says

    Indeed. The US/S.Korea joint military exercises consist of things like practicing bombing runs and faking full scale invasions. The North Koreans, in living memory, suffered such bombing at the bloody hands of the US that a fifth of their entire population was killed. And every few months the US would prepare to do it again. I honestly think this explains a lot about the weird and unpleasant nature of the N. Korean regime. The people have been living in genuine, and justified, existential fear for 60 years.
    Now I loath Trump at least as much as anyone here, but credit where it is due, this detente would not have happened without him. Trump completely fails to understand the important role N. Korea played as an enemy, and as a useful excuse for a massive military build-up in an important strategic area. The US deep state does not want peace and will fight til the last breath to maintain the tension and their Korean military bases. The bases might be needed for future wars against China, or Russia, after all.
    But Trump doesn’t understand any of this, and he thinks the US is doing S. Korea a favour by ‘protecting’ them.
    So Trump’s cartoon understanding of international politics, combined with his vanity in wanting to be remembered for ‘doing a great deal’ have actually led him to do something positive and constructive. Something that Obama wouldn’t have done because he understood and followed the US preference for endless war. So let’s take off the partisan goggles and see that, for once, and almost unintentionally, Trump has done the right thing.

  26. bramhengeveld says

    “They’re gonna put it together, and I think they’re going to end up with a very strong country, and a country which has people — that they’re so hard working, so industrious.”

    Perhaps US citizens are used to this by now . But WHAT THE HECK? What kind of sentence is that?

  27. tororosoba says

    I think we have here an example of great negotiation and deal-making skills. The conditions were fortunate: A new South Korean president that was strongly in favour of talking to the North, Olympic Games in South Korea that lend themselves to a first gesture of good will, and an American president that needs attention and success (where “success” is defined as “photo of a handshake”). North Korea saw the opportunity, took it and managed it well.

    The problem wasn’t getting North Korea to the table. Getting the USA to the negotiation table without any preconditions was the problem. So, yes, this meeting is a huge success for the Kim clan.

    Trump also got what he wanted. Limelight, prestige and Dennis Rodman going through the ceiling. Is there anything else he wants? This is a win-win.

  28. says

    Tabby Lavalamp @9

    Does anyone really take seriously the United States lecturing other countries on human rights?

    Not that I know of.

    Giliell @27

    Here’s news for you: you are the baddies.

    We have been for a good while, now.

    bramhengeveld @33
    What kind of sentence? The kind that comes from someone who is either intoxicated or suffering some kind of dementia. The kind that makes me want to get my red pen. The kind that makes my brain hurt when I try to unravel it.

  29. wzrd1 says

    The way things stood in South Korea haven’t really changed much since North Korea constructed their first (utterly undeliverable) nuclear warhead. Seoul still remains targeted by, quite literally, thousands of North Korean howitzers. Howitzers that are housed in bunkers that the US and South Korea still lack weapons to penetrate. So, within an hour or two of open warfare, Seoul would be ablaze in a full scale firestorm among the shattered remnants of the buildings. The casualty count would be atrocious in the extreme.
    That was and remains the reality of South Korea.
    Meanwhile, we have a rather trigger happy POTUS, who is diplomatically challenged, to be generous to the idiot. We have massed troops, who have standing orders to open fire with everything that they have under specific hostility conditions, as we legally and literally remain at war with North Korea – we only have a cease fire.
    The only novel thing is Kim and his nukes, which have been miniaturized in record time. The last time I looked, North Korean nuclear devices are now boosted fission devices equivalent to our 1960’s warheads. Which is all that North Korea actually needs. No need to waste what little money that they have to reinvent a MIRV, as that isn’t needed as a deterrent and something to dangle at the US.
    So, any deescalation is a good thing and frankly, every war game ends up with very real casualties from training accidents. So, canceling the war games saved not only taxpayer dollars, they likely saved some lives and some disabilities.

    As for the US and human rights, well the world should listen to the world’s leading expert in practical ethnic cleansing. We, as a nation have proved extremely good at it, so one should listen to expert advice.

  30. What a Maroon, living up to the 'nym says

    I can’t help but think about the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact. It’s well known that Bolton is itching for regime change in Iran, and Trump’s amenable to the idea; what worries me is that they’re trying to free up some troops from Korea to send to Iran.

  31. Ichthyic says

    Ending the exercises would also save money, Trump said.

    …that could be used for military parades in his honor!

  32. Ichthyic says

    I don’t see how any de-escalation in the rhetoric even is a bad thing. Expectations were low. Nothing bad happened. This is just partisan sniping.

    said Nevile Chamberlain…

  33. Porivil Sorrens says

    Because escalating arms with a nuclear power that could kill millions of people within a couple of minutes that is breaking from literal decades of tradition to engage in peace talks is totally the way to go.

  34. says

    What this communicates to S Korea is that the U.S. cannot be trusted to defend them. Trump loves dictatorial regimes and is happy to abandon our democratic historical allies. Soon, they will be seeking a closer relationship with China and Russia, which is exactly what those nations are hoping for.

  35. ck, the Irate Lump says

    I’ll admit that Trump is making life interesting for Canadians, to say the least. It has forced Canadian conservatives to choose between their hatred of Trudeau and their love of Canadian business interests. So far, their hatred of Trudeau is still stronger, but some are begrudgingly breaking ranks to side with Trudeau and his retaliatory tariffs, although few are happy about it.

  36. Porivil Sorrens says

    The only government officials to speak out in favor of the drills last I saw were the historically unpopular warhawk party, and most South Koreans both support peaceful reunification and do not believe North Korea are currently at risk of military action.

    The only people really sad to see the drills go are the chest-thumping Korean conservatives that think there’s any hope of strongarming a nuclear power that could wipe out their capital city with howitzers into submission.

  37. says

    Why do people act as if this meeting has any importance at all? Two liars lied at each other for a bit, that’s all. Nothing happened here.