It goes without saying that Donald Trump isn’t shackled by the diplomatic decorum and constraints that have bound previous U.S. administrations.
Some might argue that is what helped get him elected president.
Nevertheless, Mr. Trump’s scheduled get-together with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un on Tuesday will, to say the least, prove a challenge for the president’s nontraditional approach to diplomacy. Who knows what to expect from the mercurial Mr. Trump and a dictator running a Marxist prison camp masquerading as a nation? The details of the meeting remain murky.
Perhaps Kim Jong Un has already “won” simply by appearing on the same stage with the leader of the most powerful country on Earth. Does he really have any intention of getting rid of his nuclear arsenal? Where is China in all of this? Certainly it must be involved through back channels and will have a significant influence in the results.
On the other hand, how is Mr. Trump prepared to entice his counterpart to abandon weapons of mass destruction? How will any progress be verified to the satisfaction of the United States? Will the president broach human rights issues?
That this Singapore summit ever came to be is at least a small tribute to the effectiveness of Mr. Trump’s unconventional tactics. No American president has ever met with a North Korean leader despite almost three decades of U.S. efforts to deal with the increasingly weaponized and isolated state. Last year, Mr. Trump taunted Kim Jong Un by calling him “little rocket man” and a “madman” on Twitter. The North Korean leader responded in kind by labeling Mr. Trump a “mentally deranged U.S. dotard.”
Now, they’re scheduled to be standing side by side, smiling for the cameras. Let’s hope the rhetoric will be a bit more subdued.
USA Today reported last week that Mr. Trump has threatened to walk out if he doesn’t see any progress from North Korea on the nuclear question. That is, of course, part of his stated strategy: Make them wonder which way you’ll zig or zag next. “I don’t want people to know exactly what I’m doing — or thinking,” the president has written. “I like being unpredictable. It keeps them off balance.”
Most of these high-level meeting are choreographed and highly controlled. But Mr. Trump consults a different playbook and isn’t much for a script. The president’s irregular style of diplomacy carries big risks but may also offer the opportunity for large rewards. Past U.S. leaders have tried a variety of traditional tactics to contain North Korea — and failed. Maybe Mr. Trump’s blunt manner can ensure that the Singapore summit produces something more than just a photo-op.