September 26th, 2021


The rumble and the thrilla in Singapore

Wesley Pruden

By Wesley Pruden

Published June 12,2018

The rumble and the thrilla in Singapore

One hand giveth, the other taketh it away. President Trump, arriving in Singapore for his man-to-man with Kim Jong-un was, like nearly everyone else in town, giddy with anticipation.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tried on his arrival to dampen the euphoria, and succeeded only a little. We haven't seen a match hyped like this one since the original Rumble in the Jungle or the Thrilla in Manila. But even Muhammad Ali would have trouble rhyming something sensible with Singapore ("Knocked to the floor in Singapore?" or "No giving away the store in Singapore?")

But with 5,000 reporters, correspondents, pundits, anchormen and Dennis Rodman in town to stir the pot, even to fake it if all else fails, the Singapore summit quickly took on the air of a carnival.

Kim Jong-un arrived aboard an Air China charter, not having an Air Force One of his own, but with his own portable toilet. Aides confided that he didn't want anyone inspecting whatever Mr. Kim might dump into the public sewerage. He further arrived with his own groceries for his own chef to prepare breakfast, lunch and dinner in one of the kitchens at the luxurious St. Regis Hotel, the North Korean campaign headquarters.

President Trump arrived, as expected, in a shower of tweets at the end of an endless flight from Ottawa and the G-7 economic summit, where he had thrown his overalls in Mrs. Murphy's chowder.

"I am on my way to Singapore," he tweeted en route. "We have a chance to achieve a truly wonderful result for North Korea and the world. It will certainly be an exciting day and I know that Kim Jong-un will work very hard to do something that has rarely been done before create peace and great prosperity for his land. I look forward to meeting him and have a feeling that this one-time opportunity will not be wasted."

In the event, they shook hands like two ex-husbands at their ex-wife's funeral, strained, with faked cordiality.

Mr. Trump's strategy seemed clear enough: Drench Rocket Man in butter, shower him in the sugar to make the flummery go down, but with subtle reminders that he has a gall and wormwood chaser at the ready. He even held out the possibility that if all goes well there might be an invitation to Washington. He might even invite him to Mar-a-Lago for a round or two of golf.

The Donald should be aware, though, that the Kims are sensational golfers. Mr. Kim's father, Kim Jong-il, shot 38 strokes under par with 11 holes-in-one on his first time on a golf course (and this was after bowling a perfect 300 on his first time on the bowling alleys).

On both occasions he promised to "do better" once he got the hang of the game. President Trump should remember that this was Mr. Kim's first summit, so who knows what miracles might follow.

Leader Kim gave no early hint to exactly what success would mean in Singapore, but others did: North Korea wants to modernize its economy, to make it the equal of South Korea, though of course it could never say it just that way.

It wants American investment to transform North Korea into a "normal country," with McDonald's hamburger joints and liberty, justice and Big Macs for all, and a Trump Tower to complete the skyline of downtown Pyongyang. But it doesn't want to talk about its 100,000 political prisoners or how some of its prisons are as brutal and merciless as anything Hitler built.

But no matter how giddy the principals and hangers-on might be, the final result might fit into a blivet — the famous three pounds of waste in a two-pound bag — until peace comes to shove. Both American and South Korean officials agree that no one will know until the passage of months or even years whether Singapore will have been a success.

The president, with his mood seeming to shift between tweets from Air Force One, also said "we will know soon whether or not a real deal, unlike those of the past, can happen!" (And only one exclamation point.)

Moon Jae-in, the president of South Korea, more than anyone the father of the Singapore summit, warned on the eve not to expect too much, that "deep-rooted hostility" cannot be resolved in a single meeting or a single day or a single month or year. "We may need a long process," he said, "that could take one year, two years or even longer to completely resolve the issues concerned."

This is not what the public, with an attention span no longer than the focus of a fruit fly, expects. The state-run North Korean media told the North Korean public only Sunday, for the first time, about the summit.

The White House says this is a "sign for optimism," and maybe it is. Kim Jong-un's reputation is on the line, too, insofar as a despot who kills and brutalizes at wholesale, worries about his reputation.

Nevertheless, since the alternative to war is usually better, the summit was probably worth doing.

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JWR contributor Wesley Pruden is editor emeritus of The Washington Times. His column has appeared in JWR since March, 2000.