At the end of the Trump-Kim micro-summit, the autocrat and the autocrat fan got together to sign an agreement noting all the progress made at their meeting. Which was … nothing. Except that it was the biggest, the most important nothing ever, in the history of history. Or, as the actual agreement puts it:
Having acknowledged that the U.S.–DPRK summit—the first in history—was an epochal event of great significance …
The rest of the agreement consists of half a dozen ways to restate the same thing, with and without bullet points and a heavy use of the word “committed.” Donald Trump committed to “provide security guarantees” to North Korea. Kim Jong-un “reaffirmed his firm and unwavering commitment to complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” The whole document provides no more detail than that. For Kim’s part, it appears that the only action involved in this extensive commitment is committing to “work toward” denuclearlization. For Trump, the agreement only commits the United States to building “a lasting and stable peace regime” on the Korean peninsula.
But it’s immediately obvious that the signed agreement doesn’t include everything that was agreed to: Because not covered in the agreement is ending joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea, which was by far the biggest immediate change resulting from the Singapore singalong. In a press conference following the event, Trump also declared that Kim had made a not-on-the-paper promise from his side:
Trump: Chairman Kim has told me that North Korea is already destroying a major missile engine testing site. That’s not in your signed document; we agreed to that after the agreement was signed. That’s a big thing — for the missiles that they were testing, the site is going to be destroyed very soon.
Whether Trump is referring to the nuclear test site already destroyed—by nuclear testing—isn’t clear. But what is clear is that every real agreement that Trump and Kim reached, from ending the military exercises to supposedly destroying a “missile engine testing site” is completely off the books.
Why is the actual agreement completely without substance? Trump made this clear at his post-summit press gaggle.
Trump: But what we signed today was a lot of things included. And then you have things that weren’t included that we got after the deal was signed. I’ve done that before in my life. We didn’t put it in the agreement because we didn’t have time. And I think most of you have been handed out the agreement or soon will. But I —
Trump pauses at this point because he realizes that the empty agreement has not yet been distributed to the press, and never really returns to the “things” that didn’t make it onto paper. And maybe to realize he’s just admitted that the “agreement” was written out before the meeting.
Where that document and Trump’s talk to press agree was that the meeting was historic (as Trump said five times), that the results were incredible (also five times), that it was all tremendous (nine times), and that he’s very, very fond of the word “very,” which was used to amplify his comments about the meeting an incredible, tremendous, historic 101 times.
Trump deployed a good number of those exciting modifiers in praising his partner in the brief get together.
Reporter; Two questions for you, if you don’t mind. First, the man you met today, Kim Jong Un, as you know, has killed family members, has starved his own people, is responsible for the death of Otto Warmbier. Why are you so comfortable calling him “very talented”?
Trump: Well, he is very talented. Anybody that takes over a situation like he did, at 26 years of age, and is able to run it, and run it tough — I don’t say he was nice or I don’t say anything about it — he ran it. Very few people, at that age — you can take one out of ten thousand, probably, couldn’t do it.
Kim Jong-un inherited the dictatorship of North Korea on the death of his father. Part of “running it tough” included killing his half-brother, his uncle, his nephew, his aunt, his uncle’s sister, his uncle’s sister’s husband, his uncle’s sister’s husband’s brother, and his uncle’s sister’s husband’s brother’s sons. That’s in addition to a long list of government officials, some orchestra musicians whose playing Kim didn’t enjoy and the manager of a turtle farm Kim had killed “just to set an example.”
Still, inheriting an empire is, naturally, something that Trump finds admirable. And considering that Trump was 53 when his father died, and Trump was in bankruptcy court (again) within five years, it must seem remarkable to him that Kim has managed to hold on to his power. No matter how many turtle managers he killed to stay there.
But the fact that Trump failed to get Kim’s signature to anything of substance isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. It allows Trump to say anything.
Trump: Yeah, he’s de-nuking, I mean he’s de-nuking the whole place. It’s going to start very quickly. I think he’s going to start now.
It’s a done deal. Except for the deal part. And the part where anyone gets to hear what he promised to Kim.
Reporter: That second question for you, sir, was on the security — the second question, sir —
Trump: Go ahead.
Reporter: On the security assurances you talked about in your statement. Can you be specific about what assurances you are willing to give to Kim Jong Un? Does that include reducing military capabilities?
Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un apparently did agree to real things, like the end of US military exercises with South Korea. But what else Trump gave to North Korea … he’s not saying.