President Donald Trump is exploiting the media’s love of photo ops to fool America into thinking he is making any kind of meaningful progress on North Korea. Today, after extending a last-minute invitation via Twitter, he met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the border between North and South Korea where the two leaders shook hands, and Trump greeted Kim as “my friend” (after all, the two are now pen pals). Trump then stepped across the border into North Korea, becoming the first sitting president to do so.
— Dan Scavino Jr.🇺🇸 (@Scavino45) June 30, 2019
And, if ABC’s coverage is any indication, the media fell for Trump’s dog and pony show. ABC’s chief White House correspondent Jon Karl described the moment Trump stepped onto North Korean soil: “In terms of sheer performance… this may be the biggest moment of the Trump presidency so far.” And CNN ran a story with the headline, “With 20 steps, Trump made history in North Korea.”
.@ABC Chief White House correspondent @jonkarl on Pres. Trump becoming the first U.S. president to step into North Korea: "In terms of sheer performance… this may be the biggest moment of the Trump presidency so far." https://t.co/KQyNDJDgFV pic.twitter.com/dLJoe2yYfQ
— This Week (@ThisWeekABC) June 30, 2019
Trump even said he would invite Kim to the White House. But let’s not forget this is the man who has let his own people starve, assassinated his family members, runs forced labor camps where the UN says “unimaginable cruelties” occur and whose regime tortured and murdered American citizen Otto Warmbier. Oh, and he’s currently rebuilding a long-range nuclear missile launch site.
Today’s meeting was a hollow, purely superficial moment. And one that Trump’s own national security team opposed. As MIT security studies professor Vipin Narang pointed out on Twitter, Trump and Kim’s talks stand exactly where they were 15 months ago. The only difference is this new photo op.
This is exactly where we were fifteen months ago. Just saying. https://t.co/YRRmySU3sq
— Vipin Narang (@NarangVipin) June 30, 2019
And, Obama’s former CIA chief Michael Morell noted on CBS’s Face the Nation, Trump’s steps into North Korea lend Kim legitimacy he does not deserve. “This comes at a very high cost. This gives Kim Jong Un a lot of legitimacy. This is gold for him politically at home and in the world,” Morell said. He pointed out that while negotiations are the only way to reach a solution, there will be consequences from this meeting and the way it played out, and North Korea will greatly benefit.
“This is going to going to weaken sanctions enforcement against North Korea because if you’re another country you’re going to say to yourself, ‘My companies don’t need to pay a price, they’re now getting along.’ You’re going to step back a little bit. So we’re paying a price for this, and it can’t go on forever,” Morell said.
.@MichaelJMorell says getting back to diplomatic talks with #NorthKorea is important but he adds the President’s visit gives Kim Jong Un legitimacy and will weaken sanctions enforcement. “We're paying a price for this and it can't go on forever.” pic.twitter.com/LWjoeivbmw
— Face The Nation (@FaceTheNation) June 30, 2019
Behind the scenes, however, things were more tense. The new White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham got into a scuffle with North Korean security over letting U.S. media into a meeting between the two leaders. At one point, a voice (presumably Grisham’s, although we can’t be sure because it happens off-camera) can be heard on the video saying, “Let go of me. I need help here!” after Grisham tried to elbow North Korean security out of the way of U.S. pool press that travels with the president.
— The Hill (@thehill) June 30, 2019
Although Trump called the interaction “a wonderful meeting,” Democrats were not impressed. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer told the Associated Press, “dictators seem to get elevated and people who believe in democracy not.”
And, Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar said Sunday on CNN’s State of the Union: “We want to see a denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, a reduction in these missiles. But it’s not as easy as just going and, you know, bringing a hot dish over the fence to the dictator next door. This is a ruthless dictator and when you go forward, you have to have clear focus and a clear mission and clear goals.”
2020 presidential hopeful Amy Klobuchar on President Trump and Kim Jong Un meeting: “We’ve seen a history here, especially in this case, where Donald Trump announces these summits and nothing really comes out of it” #CNNSOTU pic.twitter.com/9dORsNOFsR
— CNN Politics (@CNNPolitics) June 30, 2019