At the apparent height of his post-presidential, free-lance career as a citizen diplomat, Jimmy Carter found the most ill-reputed of leaders "charming," and "reasonable," including North Korea's Kim Il Sung. He was "despotism's short-term ambassador to Washington," as Murray Kempton once phrased it in elegant disgust. Thus did Carter step in when Bill Clinton, the sitting president, quaked over North Korea's nuclear potential. Think nothing of it, Carter's message to Clinton said in essence, Kim is rather agreeable, after all.
That from a former president who found Haiti's brutalitarian Gen. Raoul Cedras just such a charming fellow, too, Carter going far enough to verbally spank Clinton for concluding Cedras a dictator, even as Carter thought nothing about Haitian police under Cedras's control beating protesting demonstrators to death. Even a few years after Carter thought nothing about writing the heads of United Nations Security Council member states imploring them against George H.W. Bush's bid to mobilise allies on behalf of yanking Saddam Hussein back out of Kuwait.
"He described that action as 'not appropriate, perhaps'." Kempton wrote, harking to Carter's remark to another columnist. "One could well think of harsher appellations. Raising his objections to his countrymen would, of course, have been appropriate . . . Instead, he addressed private letters to foreign potentates in a design to rally them against his own government. Such is the pretentious effrontery inescapable for anyone who sets himself up to persuade the voters that they were wrong not to reelect a saint."
Donald Trump isn't a former president on a mission to persuade voters they were wrong not to reelect a saint, but he has this much in common with Carter: apparent insight into the virtues of despots whose stocks in trade usually include slaughters of the innocents and sometimes marry those to nuclear potential.
Kim Jong Un, said Trump at the conclusion of their Singapore boys' day out, is "very talented. Anybody who 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 say anything about it. He ran it, few people at that age---you could take one out of ten thousand, could not do it."
That Kim was 28 when he took over the situation like he did is merely another of Trump's small details insouciantly ignored, as might be a definition of running it tough. That definition includes the gulag from which have sprung such defectors as Jung Gwang-il, who has told those who will listen about prisoners confined and brutalised for nothing civil society would consider criminal and dying delayed deaths after fellow prisoners could not bear to bury the dead under the impairments of brutal winters.
Trump can't be unaware of the bestial torments in Kim's gulag unless he praised without substance North Korean defector Ji Seong-ho during his last State of the Union. But he believes Kim "loves his country very much" and "his country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor." As do any people who bring it upon demand under penalty of death. As do the gulag inmates who die slowly in winters with their bodies left in latrine sheds until it isn't too prohibitively cold to bury them.
Trump's proper wish for peace has gained nothing more thus far than a vague North Korean promise to think about disarming while the United States promises to put the brakes on joint military exercises with South Korea. His agreement with Kim "merely reaffirmed the terms of a joint declaration by Kim and President Moon Jae-in after their summit in April," says South Korea's newspaper of record, Chosun Ilbo, "and only holds Kim to working 'towards complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,' which could mean anything. In short, it represents no progress and achieves nothing."
The newspaper's editors, observed Andrew Eggers in The Weekly Standard, "were cautiously optimistic in the days leading up to the summit, and have previously insisted on the importance of Seoul staying 'on Trump’s good side' rather than attempting to conduct diplomacy with North Korea alone. But South Koreans, with the historically bloodthirsty Kims at their doorstep, have even more skin in this dangerous game than the Americans do. The White House would do well to heed their protestations. There’s a lot more work to be done.”
You can hear the least malleable of Trump's sycophancy telling themselves Kim wouldn't even think about double-crossing the Artist of the Deal, which would move Trump into a position of hard influence he has not yet secured and Kim out of lockstep with the classic artistry of the double cross.
The men and women in Kim's gulag hear just as well as those in the Soviet gulag once heard Ronald Reagan meet and negotiate with Soviet leaders without taking his eye or his voice away from Soviet actualities. Now they've seen and heard Trump greet a murderous tyrant like a lost son, allowing him enough to reconsecrate the ground on which a double cross is not a diminished prospect, without Trump cocking an ear or lending a voice to North Korean actualities. Saint Carter would not be ashamed.