WASHINGTON, U.S. - While the global media spectacle that unfolded on June 12 in Singapore is likely to have provided a potential breakthrough for the U.S. President Donald Trump, it fell flat when it came to substance.
Trump, whose administration is not only facing a troubled period due to the federal investigation into his campaign’s alleged collusion with Russia and a simultaneous probe into whether he obstructed justice, another potential worry has made matters worse after he all but lost the country’s key allies following the imposition of metal tariffs and the G7 debacle.
At the critical period in his leadership, Trump managed to pave the way for what was to be a historic moment, when he became the first ever sitting U.S. President to hold a meeting with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un.
The meeting was touted as a potential breakthrough, not only for the U.S., which has faced increasing threats from Pyongyang’s intensified nuclear program, but also for the world, which until late last year came very close to witnessing a deadly nuclear war breaking out.
However, with analysts closely observing and then breaking down each moment of the historic meeting between Trump and Kim Jong Un in Singapore and body language experts reading into the way each of the two leaders moved through the day long summit - now experts warn that while Trump stands to gain from the summit, the political boost might be short lived.
According to experts, the images and headlines from the summit are set to go down in history and show Trump leading on the world stage.
Yet, when it came to what exactly was achieved, the substance falls flat.
More importantly, insiders from both the parties cautioned that because the politics of the Korean Peninsula is fraught, Trump’s gains might be short lived and that it might get more difficult from here on.
Experts pointed out that the president did make history by laying the foundation for negotiations with North Korea - which is considered by many to be an untrustworthy partner - but that the risks are plenty and that Trump now “owns” any future challenges that arise from North Korea.
Further, soon after the summit, and the subsequent press conference, where Trump declared that he would end the war games in Korea - he has faced criticism from some quarters for appearing to be too willing to make concessions.
During the press conference immediately after the summit and in subsequent media interviews, Trump argued that ending the war games with South Korea “will save us a tremendous amount of money — unless and until we see that the future negotiation is not going along like it should ... Plus I think it's very provocative."
He also explicitly implied that South Korea doesn't pay enough for those exercises and added, "That's certainly a subject that we have to talk to them about."
More importantly, Trump stressed that he would eventually like to see the full withdrawal of U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula.
Many experts expressed dismay at the agreement.
Beatrice Fihn, Executive Director at the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons — a civil society coalition that was awarded the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize — pointed out on Twitter that the agreement is flawed because Kim did not explicitly agree to nuclear disarmament.
She wrote, “[T]his all looked more like a big welcome party to the nuclear-armed club.”
Further, Vipin Narang, an MIT expert focusing on nuclear proliferation and strategy, said on Twitter that the U.S. guarantee of security and North Korea's pledge to work toward denuclearization were "a vague meaningless pledge in exchange for a vague meaningless guarantee."
However, one specific country that actually stands to gain from Trump’s promise - China, which is North Korea's longtime patron, took a decidedly positive tone on the agreement.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told reporters in reaction to the summit, “The fact that both leaders can sit together and converse has significant meaning and creates new history. Very worthy, very smart.”
However, in the U.S., strategists from both parties believe that the imagery and statecraft of the event benefit Trump.
GOP strategist Alex Conant said, “In the short term, it is likely to be a political win for the president. The images were historic and showed Trump leading on the world stage.”
He also asserted that there were still a lot of questions left unanswered, pointing out, “Trump owns the North Korea problem now. If peace breaks out on the peninsula, that will be to his benefit. But if Kim fails to denuclearize, Trump will have some explaining to do.”
However, some analysts also warned that while the nature of single foreign policy victories might be fleeting, as seen in the case of the last two Republican presidents - it remains to be seen how Trump’s polarizing political persona and the possible boost from the North Korea summit affect his popularity ratings.
According to Doug Heye, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee, “We know Donald Trump can garner as much attention as he wants. He’s like a pro wrestler: If you think he’s a good guy, you’re going to cheer him, and if you think he’s a bad guy, you’re going to boo him — but you’re going to watch either way.”
He, however, added, “The world of global diplomacy is more than that.”
Further, the meeting concluded with a lot of uncertainty over the actual plans - which makes it hard to predict how Trump’s approach to North Korea will be seen over the long term.
Many other foreign policy experts have delved into the president’s language toward Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Kim Jong Un.
Following the fractious meeting of the Group of Seven industrialized nations (G7), which concluded just before the Singapore summit, ending on a sour note for all sides involved, Trump called Trudeau “very dishonest & weak.”
Then, a day later, he enthused that he “got along great with Kim Jong Un, who wants to see wonderful things for his country.”
North Korea is considered among the world’s worst offenders for human rights abuses.
According to some Republicans quoted in The Hill, worries were high that Trump could be so eager for a foreign policy victory that he ends up being overly credulous of North Korean claims.
Jamil Jaffer, a veteran of the George W. Bush White House said in the report, “We cannot allow North Korea to continue to play a game of Lucy and Charlie Brown with the football with the United States, where we agree to concessions like freezing our legitimate military exercises with our ally, South Korea, while North Korea agrees to freeze its illegitimate nuclear activities, only to back off that and other commitments when it has gotten what it wants from the United States.”
Other Republican lawmakers too expressed skepticism, with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) being one amongst some who have insisted that Congress must have the opportunity to review any deal that Trump would strike with Pyongyang.
Meanwhile, commentator Erick Erickson suggested that Republicans would have called for former President Obama’s impeachment had he taken the same approach with North Korea as Trump.
Yet others argued that Trump cannot be judged by any conventional yardstick, pointing out that, “Everyone keeps evaluating Trump by some traditional prism, and I’m not sure that applies to him.”