Commentary

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COMMENTARY

The chilling parallels between the Trump-Kim summit and 1938 Munich

by Rob Huebert

The Globe and Mail
June 18, 2018

It has become well-known that Donald Trump does not read history, much less understand it. Therefore, as he returns from meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and makes his pronouncement that there is now “peace for our time” (or, more specifically in his words – “everybody can now feel much safer than the day I took office. There is no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea”), the words “September 1938” would mean nothing to him. Yet the parallels between the summit meeting of Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim in Singapore 2018 and Chamberlain, Daladier, Mussolini and Hitler in Munich in 1938 are too chilling to ignore.

In the case of both meetings, there was an argument that the very fact that democratic leaders were meeting with their dictatorial counterparts was an inherently “good” thing. This, of course, is based on the belief that direct access with a dictator by a democratically elected leader will somehow improve the actions of the dictator. I would suggest that the evidence on this article of faith is sketchy at best. Just as the meeting at Munich did not convince Hitler to forsake his plans of genocide and world domination, it seems just as unlikely that by shaking Mr. Trump’s hand and “looking him in the eye,” Mr. Kim will give up his policies regarding nuclear weapons and authoritative rule.

But more problematic are the similarities of both Neville Chamberlain and Donald Trump in their overstated belief in their own abilities to understand the dictator they are dealing with by trusting their “gut.” Chamberlain said of Hitler: “I got the impression that here was a man who could be relied upon when he had given his word.” Likewise Mr. Trump stated that Kim Jong-un is smart and someone he could work with. It does not matter that both dictators killed many in their own country and threatened the countries around them. Equally important, they both have, or had, an established record of lying and breaking their promises to other world leaders. But both Mr. Trump and Chamberlain believed that their own abilities to “take the measure of the man” was better than any reliance on the existing facts. Hence only they are capable of reaching an agreement with the dictators – or so they believe.

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