Unfalsifiable Never-Trumpers and the Kim-Trump Summit
The manner in which Never-Trumpers and like-minded political analysts have dealt with the recently-concluded summit between North-Korea’s dictator Kim Jong-Un and the U.S. president is a telling manifestation of their proclivity both to refuse to give Donald Trump any credit and to put the blame on him as a matter of course.
As soon as the Singapore encounter was announced, some anti-Trump pundits hastened to warn that, by acquiescing to the summit, Trump had fallen into a trap set by Kim Jong-Un and that, in any event, the one who would deserve the credit for the holding of that meeting is South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in.
And when President Trump made public his decision to call off the encounter (a decision he took, not capriciously, but after Kim Jong-Un backtracked from his earlier offer of a complete denuclearization of North Korea and resumed his bellicose rhetoric), there was a barrage of I-told-you-so artillery fire, stressing that cancelling the summit was the best proof of Trump’s dilettantism, erratic behavior and lack of a coherent foreign-policy strategy.
At that moment, Trump’s critics overlooked, or dismissed, the possibility that the decision to cancel the summit may have been a tactical move aimed to increase pressure on Kim Jong-Un and make him realize that, to obtain meaningful concessions, which North Korea badly needs, he had better be prepared to agree to a “complete, verifiable and irreversible” denuclearization of his country.
A number of Trump’s critics went so far as stating that, by casting doubts on his earlier denuclearization pledges and thereby spurring Trump to call off the Singapore summit, North Korea’s dictator had outmaneuvered the U.S. president. Kim, the argument ran, never had the intention to dismantle North Korea’s atomic arsenal; he merely had adopted a “nice guy” posture so as to be in a position to request an easing of international sanctions. By responding to Kim’s provocations with the cancellation of the summit, therefore, Trump played in the hands of North Korea’s ruler and, some contended, to the benefit of China’s Xi Jinping.
It so happens, however, that the summit finally took place – and it did after Kim Jong-Un backpedaled and reiterated his complete-denuclearization offer, thus proving that the short-lived cancellation of the summit was not such an awkward move. And yet, Trump’s critics stick to their predispositions: the summit had not yet concluded when the attacks to the U.S. president began to take shape.
Never-Trumpers’ pet critique to the Singapore agreement relates to the fact that the declaration stops short of spelling out the modalities, path and surveillance mechanisms of North Korea’s denuclearization pledge. For Never-Trumpers and the like, the Singapore agreement is no better, indeed it is worse, in terms of flaws and looseness, than the Iran nuclear deal torn down by Donald Trump.
There is, however, one major point that Trump’s critics miss in this regard. While the Iran deal allowed sanctions to be lifted, and cashed to be handed, immediately after the deal was signed (despite the flaws of that deal and the perilous sunset provisions), the Singapore agreement does not provide for the lifting of sanctions against North Korea’s regime at this stage: such lifting will have to wait until denuclearization begins and advances.
Another major criticism made to the rapprochement between the U.S. and the North-Korean regime consists of arguing that the big winner is not the U.S. but Xi-Jinping’s China.
Against that viewpoint, it can be asserted that China may not be at ease with the rapprochement between its protegee and Donald Trump. Actually, Beijing would reportedly have preferred a summit involving more parties than Trump and Kim Jong-Un (notably Xi Jinping), but China failed to make its preference prevail. Beijing then provided airplanes to transport Kim Jong-Un and his team to Singapore – as though it was necessary to remind the world, and Kim himself, that, even without being present at the summit, China remains an active ally of North Korea’s regime.
The eventual withdrawal (total or partial) of U.S. troops from South Korea – as a consequence of the Singapore agreement – has been referred to as a possible major gain for China.
This point is questionable at best: should that withdrawal come to materialize, the U.S. can easily beef up its military presence in neighboring countries and areas. In that case, China would not necessarily be better off. Indeed, U.S. troops would still be close enough to China’s territory as to become a nuisance for Beijing’s geopolitical ambitions. Moreover, China would not be necessarily delighted to have a strengthened North Korean ruler having reached some degree of geopolitical emancipation from Beijing.
It has, too, been said that the Singapore agreement unduly neglects North Korea’s human-rights violations, thereby proving, or confirming, “Trump’s affinity for dictators.”
True, the agreement leaves out the human-rights issue. And yet, the mere fact that North Korea is now poised to be more open to the world leads political analyst Freddy Gray in The Spectator to assert (in this author’s view, correctly so): “Trump has just given the North Korean people more hope than any other previous American president.” A similar point is made by Roger Boyes in The Times of London.
It is funny that Trump’s critics, who reproach the Donald for accepting to leave human-rights issues out of the Singapore declaration, were not equally incisive against President Obama when he decided to remain aloof from the calls for help that the Iranian people addressed to him during the wave of protests that shook their country in 2009.
It is also funny that Trump’s critics, those who today question the wisdom of the Singapore agreement on the grounds that it could edge the U.S. out of the Korean peninsula, showed scant regard for President Obama’s shunning away from his red-line on the use of chemical weapons in Syria – an inaction that enabled Putin’s Russia to become the key power broker in the Middle East.
For Never-Trumpers and large swaths of mainstream media and political analysts, whatever happened at the Singapore summit and prior to it, irrespective of how events unfolded, both when the summit appeared to have gone kaput and now that it has taken place, the Donald didn’t get it right.
To condense Never-Trumpers’ playbook: head we win, tail Trump loses.
Such a playbook is at odds with a fundamental principle of modern scientific discourse formulated by 20th century Austrian philosopher Karl Popper: for an assertion to belong to the realm of science (and for that matter of political analysis), it has to be “falsifiable,” i.e. it has to be posited in such a way that it could eventually be refuted by facts. Otherwise, that is, if an statement lands on its feet no matter the facts (as Never-Trumpers’ assertions do), then the statement in question might have a place in the realm of metaphysical beliefs, or of moral values, or of gut feelings, but is no good for scientific or analytical thought.
As a matter of fact, the anti-Trump bias is not confined to the Singapore summit. It seems to be a widespread addiction among political analysts, as reflected in the outcome of a survey conducted among members of that profession in February 2018, according to which Donald Trump has been the worst president in U.S. history.
With due respect for the respondents’ intellectual baggage, a question ought to be raised. Here it is: what had President Trump done so bad, which policy failures was he accountable for, which economic slump or recession had his policies brought about, which wars had he led to defeat or to entanglement, to deserve such an inglorious appellation after only 13 months of tenure?
For sure, Donald Trump’s may ultimately turn out to be a bad presidency. For sure, his cavalier behavior might put at risk the negotiations he embarks upon.
And yet, whatever the end result of Donald Trump’s leadership, unfalsifiable assertions – on which Never-Trumpers, like-minded pundits and a good deal of mainstream media tend to base their assessments – do no consistent policy appraisals make.