A series of U.S. and North Korean flags, side by side, lined up across a stage. The two men approach the stage from opposite sides, and then shake hands. They pose for photographs. This is the image, the picture, that both men wanted to project around the world.
For Kim Jong Un, this moment is vindication. The wisdom of his nuclear policy has been confirmed: His tiny, poor, often hungry country, where hundreds of thousands have perished in concentration camps that differ little from those built by Stalin, has been treated as the equal of the United States of America. If Kim hadn't continued the missile program, if he hadn't enhanced his missile delivery capability, President Donald Trump would not be there.
The photographs will also help Kim solve an important problem. All dictators are insecure, and absolute dictators are absolutely more insecure than the rest. Several years ago, Kim staged the elaborate murder of his uncle, forcing the rest of the elite to watch as his rival was ripped apart by anti-aircraft machine guns.
Fear and terror are one way to transmit messages of power; the inspiration of admiration and awe are another.
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For Trump, this image addresses the somewhat different problem of his personal feelings of insecurity. Legally, his legitimacy is not in doubt. Yet Trump often seems to worry that it is.
In the complicated, nuanced worlds of economics and security, he has achieved nothing except destruction: of previous agreements, of institutions, even of an anodyne G-7 statement just days ago.
But in Singapore, he could achieve something without discussion of complex issues, without any intellectual effort at all: a photograph, a "breakthrough," the image of the intuitive dealmaker who wants "peace."
Trump and Kim are two men who survive, in politics, by insisting on their own versions of reality. Both have propaganda machines which will trumpet a great success. Both will be loudly applauded by their respective supporters. Both will gain personally, even if their countries don't. In that sense, this was indeed, as Trump said, "a really fantastic meeting."