The summit between Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un may have been a failure for the American team, but for the North Koreans it was a rousing success. One of the most brutal regimes on the planet was treated to the same diplomatic luxuries offered to any other heads of state, and North Korean state-run media got plenty of footage of Dear Leader’s glorious promotion to major world influencer.
The documentary shows a smiling Kim talking with Trump while walking together inside a Hanoi hotel last week.
It shows Kim’s black limousine passing through a Hanoi street lined with residents waving flags. The footage also shows Kim visiting the North Korean Embassy where some skipped and wept with emotions before they took a group photo with the backdrop of a huge picture of Kim’s late father and grandfather.
For decades North Korea has been demanding summits with U.S. presidents as part of its insistence that it be granted world power status despite the horrific slave-state oppression of its people; each time, it has been rebuffed by U.S. leaders unwilling to grant that legitimacy. The U.S. government has instead insisted on a path to denuclearization and other measures as preconditions—proof of good-faith North Korean efforts to rejoin the world community in earnest. Only Trump bucked that trend, believing his self-described skills as the world’s greatest negotiator would result in concessions from the North Korean regime that no other world leader, allied or hostile, had been able to pry loose.
So far he has gotten approximately nothing—only a handful of token gestures that have added up to much less than past administrations have been able to get without such summits. Kim Jong Un, though, has been able to acquire hours of footage of Dear Leader being treated as an equal of the American president, footage he has been quick to use on state television to prove to his news-deprived (and food-deprived) citizens that the myriad sacrifices they have made on his behalf are bearing fruit, and that North Korea is now rising as one of the world’s dominant nuclear powers. For North Korea, the propaganda value of such meetings is immeasurable; they are, after all, the very images it had been attempting to provide to the public for three decades now.
Trump himself doesn’t appear to notice this dynamic. On the contrary, he left the recent summit with words of praise for Kim, even (again) seeming to take the dictator’s word above that of the intelligence services tasked with briefing Trump. It was important to him, too, to present an image of great progress to his base, even in the face of the summit’s premature collapse.
In that respect, Kim’s and Trump’s goals align perfectly, even if the goals of the countries they lead do not. Both want to be seen as Great Leaders prying loose concessions that only men of greatness could possibly achieve. Neither cares if the supposed progress is real or fictional. They are using each other. Only one seems self-aware enough to be doing it on purpose.