It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

The swing of events as a result of this week’s summit meetings in Canada and Singapore keeps our heads (and our hearts) on a swivel. The world’s strongest democracies gathered in Quebec at their annual G-7 summit. The body language among the participants seemed frosty, but the President assured us that interpersonal relationships stood at a “10.” However, barely after “wheels up” on Air Force One, President Trump tweeted, reneging on his agreement to sign a joint statement with our allies and childishly labeling Canada’s Prime Minster Justin Trudeau as “very dishonest and weak.”

Merkel and Trump

Forty-eight hours later, in Singapore, President Trump held an historical summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and praised the ruthless dictator as “a funny guy, very smart, a great negotiator who loves his people.” This is the same head-of-state of whom a 2014 UN Report “concluded that the North Korean government was perpetrating ‘unspeakable atrocities’ against its own people on a vast scale and committing ‘widespread, systematic and gross’ violations that amounted to crimes against humanity. The Chair of the Commission called these atrocities ‘strikingly similar’ to crimes committed by Nazi Germany in World War II. Crimes included execution, enslavement, starvation, rape and forced abortion.”

Trump and Kim

This extraordinary juxtaposition, castigating friends and complimenting foes, upended decades-old alignments and kept foreign policy experts confused, off-balance and fearful on both sides of the Pacific (and the Atlantic). It also led to speculation that the US was poised to shift decades-old alliances, especially when the President announced punitive tariff policy on allies including Japan and Canada; and with his statement—a surprise to both the Pentagon and South Korean military leaders—cancelling joint military exercises with South Korea while expressing the hope of ultimately withdrawing all US forces from the Korean Peninsula.

To be clear, I have long advocated for a world in which military might should not be the primary strategic focus for solving the world’s geopolitical problems. I believe mutual disarmament in all its forms is a positive force for global security. But I also know that planning and preparation are essential ingredients in sustainable peacebuilding. Unilateral decision-making often carries grave, unanticipated risks in the long-term.

The President seemed to gloss over the deeply problematic patterns of North Korea’s human rights abuses, often for purely political reasons. Reports indicate that North Korea has more than 80,000 political prisoners. The UN Report cites crimes against humanity in North Korea that do “not have any parallel in the contemporary world” and arise directly out of “policies established at the highest level of State.” [Keck, Zachary (August 15, 2014) “North Korea to Publish Human Rights Report”; The Diplomat; US archived from the original on October 11, 2014; retrieved August 20, 2015] Once again, we might ask, “where is our moral compass in these interactions?”

So, let’s have a conversation: What is your reaction to these two summit meetings? How do they reflect what you believe to be America’s core values? How important is it to build alliances that defend these values? How do economic realities intersect with security concerns? As individual Americans, how should we respond? Realistically, what can we do to influence these policy shifts?

I confess that I am at a loss to understand this ping-pong approach to US foreign policy. Help me better understand if there is a strategy behind the oscillating tactics the President employed this week with friend and foe alike. I welcome your thoughts as together we move towards a comprehensive strategy for advancing the elusive cause of peace in the world.



5 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Summits

  1. You have expressed my thoughts so well, Bob. I wish I had a redeeming thought about the Summit but I don’t trust Kim nor Donald. Overlooking the horrible human rights violations happens when not enough thought and planning goes into a conversation. I think Trump is driven by his own ego and the looming possibility of the Nobel Peace prize. I want deneuclearization as desperately as anyone but there has to be another way…and his treatment of our allies in the G-7 and the parting shot to Trudeau – unforgivable.

  2. And you didn’t even mention Trump’s stated desire to invite Russia back into the Global Summit.

  3. Given that there is a whole subterranean system of politics, it is not surprising that we are surprised by the switcharoos and back-pedaling. The bullies of the world are sticking together, so should we. We need to stay informed and to communicate with each other and with our representatives in governement. “Security” can be a fig leaf for acting with impunity to do virtually anything. (In Israel ‘security’ means shooting a kid, journalist or medic in the back as he tries to run away.) Transparency keeps politicians honest. I would hope we all share the common value expressed in the Golden Rule. It is my guide.

  4. I’m afraid this “diplomatic” effort is more dangerous than if we continued to keep a sober distance from NK. This rapprochement can collapse and cause irreparable damage, very quickly and place SK in even greater danger.
    Here are my concerns:
    1) Kim Jong-un will Never disarm his nuclear weapons. As long as he is alive.
    That’s the ONLY leverage he has. This faux promise will cost billions of US dollars that will not reach the people of NK
    2) Trump is there for personal riches and glory. An opportunity for Trump Organization building developments at tax payer expense.
    (Halliburton in Iraq on steroids)
    3) Diplomacy by its very definition is representing a nation abroad. If we accept that Trump makes a “deal” and praises a rogue dictator – who has committed immeasurable human rights violations, with concentration camps, then we have just opened the floodgates for people as Duterte in the Philippines to commit more mass murder. Trump’s approach was not a show strength of a strong democracy. It is a show of a weak led dictatorship who bends to the wants of a dictator.
    4) By this faux diplomacy, and enabling Kim, Trump may have sealed the fate for millions of North Koreans who will be further dragged into an abyss under KIM, his rule and position has just been endorsed more officially than ever on an international scale.
    6) Some have suggested that Trump be credited for having prevented an escalation, but we shouldn’t have to give credit to the president for curbing his inflammatory rhetoric.
    7) The nation who is benefiting is China. It will use this opportunity to exert a greater military presence in Asia and continue its reach into disputed territories.

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