Bracing For The Weirdest Summit Ever

According to news reports and a tweet from President Trump, there will be a summit meeting in the next two months between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.  The agreement to set up a meeting was brokered by the South Korean government, and the place and time of the summit is currently being determined.  In the meantime, North Korea has agreed that it will not engage in any more missile testing until after the summit occurs.

Whenever and wherever it happens — if it happens at all — the meeting promises to be the weirdest, most closely watched, most unpredictable summit in history.

donald-trump-kim-jong-un-ap-mt-171101_16x9_992Viewed solely from the standpoint of normal diplomacy, this meeting will be highly unusual.  North Korea and the United States have no diplomatic relations of any kind, and no American President has ever met a North Korean leader.  In fact, the United States and North Korea technically remain in a state of war, because the Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.   Even President Nixon’s famous trip to China, which reopened relations between America and China, was built upon a prior period of thawing relations and more diplomatic prep work than would occur before this summit.

Add to that the fact that President Trump and Kim Jong-Un have been trading venomous barbs about each other and engaging in lots of saber-rattling talk until now, and are two of the most unpredictable leaders in the world besides, and you have to wonder what the talks between the two of them will be like.  The diplomats and underlings who will be present, from both sides, will no doubt be desperately hoping that Kim Jong-Un and President Trump follow whatever scripts their respective sides have prepared — all the while knowing that history teaches that they probably won’t.  And the media, which carefully analyzed a handshake between President Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin when they first met, will have a field day examining and breathlessly reporting on every wink, nod, and offhand comment.

North Korea has long been a problem that has been ignored by world leaders, hoping it would just go away — but the provocative, destabilizing conduct of North Korea has gotten more and more dangerous as it has worked to develop nuclear weapons and tested long-range missiles.  Something needs to be done to get North Korea off the path of confrontation and into more normalized relations with the United States and the rest of the world.  Will The Weirdest Summit Ever be able to achieve that?  The world will be watching the weirdness, and holding its breath.

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The Guy In The Horse Head Mask

On a recent visit to Denver, President Obama shook hands with a guy wearing a horse head mask.  The photo of the incident is weird, and it will find its place in the ever-growing photo album of weird presidential events, like President Nixon’s meeting with Elvis and President Carter’s ill-fated encounter with the killer rabbit.

Apparently, wearing a horse head mask is some kind of bizarre internet meme that traces its roots to an inexplicable and disturbing Japanese anime character.  Who knew? 

Of course, it’s shocking that the Secret Service would allow any masked individual — much less a horse-masked individual — to get within handshake distance of the President, but let’s leave that aside and think about the guy wearing the mask instead.  Why wear a horse mask when you are shaking the hand of the President?  Even if you were just wearing it as a matter of course on your stroll around Denver when the President’s entourage happened by, wouldn’t you remove the mask before shaking the President’s hand?  If you specifically brought the horse mask because you knew where the President was going to be walking — which also would mean a security lapse, by the way — then you were obviously doing it as a disrespectful razz on the President.  But, why a horse mask rather than a sign?  What meaningful message is sent when you wear a horse mask when greeting a politician?  Are you just indicating that it’s all a joke?

As for the President . . . well, this incident didn’t turn out to do anything more than produce a weird and somewhat embarrassing photo.  In the future, though, I hope he would have the judgment and good sense to avoid physical contact with mask-wearing people or other oddball types.  A guy wearing a horse mask is probably capable of just about anything, and reaching out to shake his hand when there are plenty of other, normally attired individuals available seems like a bad decision.

A Costly Solar Flame-Out (III)

In recent years — where important legislation always seems to be prepared at the eleventh hour, after closed door meetings with only selected congressional leaders — it has been easy to forget that one of Congress’ more important powers is the power to investigate, obtain documents, and take testimony.  Much of the drama in the Watergate story, for example, came during the long, drawn-out congressional hearings into that scandal, as witness after witness drew the ring of scandal closer and closer around President Nixon.

The story of Solyndra — the solar power company that recently went into bankruptcy after receiving more than $500 million in government loan guarantees and then became the subject of an FBI investigation — may reignite interest in congressional hearings.  ABC News is reporting that the House Energy and Commerce Committee, which will hold hearings on the Solyndra story tomorrow, has obtained emails that indicate that the White House was carefully monitoring the Energy Department’s consideration of loan guarantees to Solyndra, at the same time that government analysts were expressing serious concerns about the risks involved.

The Solyndra story is no Watergate, of course, but congressional oversight and investigation powers aren’t reserved only for scandals capable of bringing down a President.  Congress should determine whether federal officials disregarded clear risks and awarded more than half a billion dollars to a private company just to advance a political agenda — or, even worse, to help a political contributor who invested in a struggling business — and, if so, Congress should take steps to ensure that those officials are appropriately punished and such recklessness does not happen again in the future. Such actions would be a good sign that Congress may actually get back to doing its job and exercising its powers, rather than simply, and endlessly, fundraising and grandstanding.

The “Super Committee” And The Nixon-To-China Opening

The 12 members of the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction have been appointed.  Six Republicans, six Democrats; six Senators, six Representatives.  This so-called “Super Committee” will now see whether it can reach agreement on a plan to reduce deficits by at least $1.5 trillion over 10 years.  If they can’t, cuts to defense spending and discretionary programs will take effect.  If they can, their proposal goes directly to the House and Senate floors for up or down votes.

Predictably, each side is criticizing the other side’s choices as political hacks, zealots, empty suits, or outright nuts.  And each side also is expressing concern about their own side’s selections.  Will they stand up to the pressure, or cave in and sacrifice the party’s principles?  Only one person need break ranks to join the other side on a compromise proposal.

From my perspective, the Democratic and Republican selections appear to be predictable, safe, controlled choices who are true to their parties’ principles.  Obviously, they all enjoy credibility with the party leadership, and my guess is that they have similar credibility with the vast majority of the members of their respective caucuses.

This may make reaching an agreement more difficult, but I also wonder whether these selections don’t also allow a possible Nixon-to-China moment.  When President Nixon visited China as part of a diplomatic initiative to open relations with that nation, many noted that Nixon was one of the few people who could do so without being criticized as a communist sympathizer or squishy on national defense.  If a long-time, staunch anti-Communist like Tricky Dick thought opening relations with China and shaking hands with Mao Zedong was a good idea, who could be heard to complain?

Perhaps the reputations of the Super Committee members as stalwart defenders of their parties’ positions on spending and taxes similarly will make any compromise they may reach more saleable in the House and Senate.  If partisans as diverse as Patty Murray and Pat Toomey, Jeb Hensarling and James Clyburn, could possibly find common ground, wouldn’t that provide some cover for others to support the deal?

Time To Put Down The Pen And Await The Historical Verdict

When Kish and I saw that Jimmy Carter had another book out, we wondered aloud whether he possibly could have anything new to say.  Today I stumbled across this article, which notes that the former President has written 25 books — 25! — and urges him to please, please stop.

The linked article treats the former President as a joke, which is sad.  I think, rather, that President Carter comes across as a desperately needy and therefore somewhat pathetic figure.  His ego seemingly cannot accept that, 30 years ago, he was voted out of office after one term and is generally regarded as a failed President.  Since his defeat, President Carter has worked feverishly to try to stay in the public eye and somehow resurrect his reputation, even if it means churning out dozens of books that no one reads or even cares much about.  Recently he even made the weird, and ultimately pitiful, claim that his work since he left office was somehow “superior” to that of other ex-Presidents.  All of these activities are unfortunately reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s hopeless and doomed campaign to overcome the disgrace of Watergate by writing “serious” books about foreign affairs and foreign leaders.

It would be better for Mr. Carter if he put down his pen, stopped injecting himself into world affairs, and simply accepted that history inevitably will judge him solely on the basis of his presidency.  He can’t change the verdict of future historians.  But by ceasing his hyperactive attempts to do so, President Carter could retain the remaining shreds of his dignity and self-respect, and that counts for something.

Wingtips On The Beach

The picture of President Obama, wearing dress slacks, a white shirt, and dark shoes as he “checked for tar balls” on a Louisiana beach, gave me an unexpected chuckle. 

I suppose the White House wanted to have a photo op that conveyed in some visible way the President’s concern about the oil spill, but why would the Leader of the Free World use a few minutes of his three-hour visit to beachcomb for a few tar balls?  Surely he could have used his precious time more productively.  And didn’t he feel a bit silly looking profoundly at a tiny tar ball, as if it held some meaningful secret on how to stop, or at least minimize, one of the worst environmental disasters our country has ever experienced?  I bet he was thinking: “This is ridiculous.  What kind of look am I supposed to have on my face right now, anyway?  Concerned?  Scientifically curious?  Angry?  Sad?  Why did I let Gibbs talk me into this idiocy?”

The photo of the white-shirted, dark-shoe-wearing President on the beach also reminded me of the classic shot of Dick Nixon relaxing on the beach, as he strode purposefully by, leaving wingtip prints in the sand.  Why do most Presidents look like nerds when they are on the beach?