They’ve been interviewed countless times in the last three months, pontificating on everything from Trump’s surprise acceptance of a meeting with Kim Jong Un, to the mystery of his agenda, the mystery of Kim’s intentions, the debate over who should get credit, whether U.S. troops will leave South Korea, the meetings that Kim has had with Moon and Xi, the conflicting meanings of denuclearization, Trump’s cancellation and immediate turnaround. And lots of minutiae in between.
But as the weekend approached, I noticed on Twitter that some were throwing their hands up in the air.
It started with John Delury in Seoul on Thursday:
Had been working on a grand commentary in advance of Singapore. Then had lunch with a wise friend. Now questioning everything. Not sure what— if?— to write. This is what friends are for.
— John Delury (@JohnDelury) June 7, 2018
Then Van Jackson went into deeper explanation of his reticence of handicapping the summit, starting with this tweet:
I’ve had a number of media interview requests ahead of the Trump-Kim summit, which I’ve mostly declined. I’ve been relatively reticent about it, and a number of people have asked why. Here’s why. (1/11)
— Van Jackson (@WonkVJ) June 8, 2018
Of course, Jackson’s 11-part takedown of the summit led to some criticism from the Trump-does-no-wrong crowd.
The nonproliferation expert Jeffrey Lewis has had some funny ones in the past day:
So we’re going to insist on pretending this is a real summit, huh? https://t.co/Nc6nQfRfMr
— Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk) June 10, 2018
Just going to be drinking Singapore Slings for the next three days. pic.twitter.com/4NmExeOyT2
— Jeffrey Lewis (@ArmsControlWonk) June 9, 2018
So too Robert Kelly. After a tweetstorm of on-the-record predictions of the summit outcome, he focused on the plusses of being a TV commentator (for BBC) as the event unfolds:
The cool dictional thing about the Trump administration is that you can use words like ‘shambolic’ and ‘shenanigans.’ So there’s one upside for us all https://t.co/EmCUspV01U
— Robert E Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly) June 10, 2018
Jean Lee, who has been eager for years for the U.S. to reach out and talk to North Korea, seems less certain in the final hours.
While I’m a strong advocate for seeing North Koreans as humans – yes, they do laugh – I’m concerned we are eating out of the palms of their hands. It’s not that Kim has changed suddenly; it’s the strategy that has shifted abruptly. #NorthKorea #realitycheck #TrumpKimSummit
— Jean H. Lee (@newsjean) June 10, 2018
Georgetown’s Elizabeth Saunders tried to explain via Twitter why political scientists seem to be throwing Baby Ruths into the swimming pool:
A few thoughts on the summit as I look back over @monkeycageblog coverage of North Korea for a roundup post. Political scientists often seem like downers, but we are trained to look for hidden, structural forces. The result is often a strong bias toward the status quo. 1/n
— Elizabeth Saunders (@ProfSaunders) June 10, 2018
I have joked to friends that Trump’s decision to meet with Kim has been the full-time employment act for North Korea talking heads. But the disregard Trump and others in the administration have shown for people with a history of dealing with North Korea has been detrimental to the prospects of a favorable outcome from this summit — and insulting to them. The NY Times examined the phenomenon in a front-page story in today’s paper, with a headline declaring that both science and advice are unwelcome in the Trump White House. Beyond that, some Trump supporters just rage at any bit of history or context that diminishes what they perceive to be his huge accomplishment in setting up this meeting.
Trump said Saturday he’ll know in a minute or so of meeting Kim whether a deal can be done. So this whole event is so different from normal diplomacy and anything the U.S. has done in the past with North Korea. The question, of course, will it work? David Brooks summed things up well on the PBS Newshour on the day after Trump canceled the summit, which was the day he said it was likely to still proceed. What he said then holds up now in the hour before Trump and Kim meet:
The problem is, it’s not real diplomacy. In real diplomacy, you have your sherpas, your lower-level people sort of build up some sense of agreements. You gather your allies. You don’t burn them with trade deals, the Chinese just South Koreans. You gather — and you exert real pressure.
But Donald Trump is a lone wolf, and so he’s doing it all on his own, basically, without allies, without too much help from the U.S. government, and it’s all by tweet and publicity.
And so I’m skeptical that you can get a real breakthrough without a full, stacked diplomatic and military effort, but — or at least sort of threats and pressure. But I don’t totally blame him for trying. Or, frankly, I don’t blame him for going in and out.
Anything that can dislodge something that’s stuck.
We’ll find out soon whether Trump and Kim dislodge nearly 70 years of stuck.