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Opinion: Trump ‘may be wrong’ about Kim, much as Chamberlain was about Hitler

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Four days after he took office, US President Donald Trump made good on a campaign pledge and withdrew the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

He had derided the painstakingly negotiated 12-nation treaty as a "potential disaster for our country" because of the harm it would do to manufacturing jobs.

But now, in his meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, Mr Trump has set off on what may become a new type of Trans-Pacific Partnership, this time under his own terms.

External Link: Twitter C-span

Only this one will tie the United States to a Communist country with which it was at war six decades ago, and also possibly open the door to more ties to another Communist country, China, with which the US only re-established relations under another Republican president, Richard M Nixon, in 1972.

Mr Trump's audacity is still reverberating in political circles in the United States and elsewhere. But he was perhaps unintentionally clear in at least one of his aims for the detente with North Korea.

Although it was ostensibly portrayed as an effort to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons, Mr Trump unveiled another goal in a news conference after the meeting in Singapore.

"As an example, they have great beaches," Mr Trump mused. "You see that whenever they're exploding their cannons into the ocean. I said, 'Boy, look at that view. Wouldn't that make a great condo.'"

He went on, "You could have the best hotels in the world right there. Think of it from a real estate perspective. You have South Korea, you have China, and they own the land in the middle. How bad is that, right? It's great."

Kim Jong-un and his staff clap and fist bump to celebrate another successful launch

Echoes of Adolf Hitler meeting in 1938

It was a revealing moment, but it also brought to mind another meeting between a Western leader and another strongman, this one from Germany, that took place 80 years ago.

External Link: Chamberlain declares 'I believe it is peace in our time' in 1938

In September, 1938, British prime minister Neville Chamberlain travelled to Munich, along with French prime minister Eduard Daladier and Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, to meet with Adolf Hitler.

The meeting resulted in an agreement that allowed Germany to annex a portion of Czechoslovakia, after Germany had reclaimed the Rhineland and took control of Austria. It was clear that Germany would take control of the German-speaking Sudetenland by force, unless European leaders would get out of his way.

Chamberlain agreed, thinking that war had been avoided. And in one of the biggest miscalculations in history, he told a crowd in front of Buckingham Palace: "I believe it is peace in our time."

In fact, Germany's ambitions did not end there, and Britain declared war on Germany a year later.

A number of analysts said on Tuesday that Mr Trump was miscalculating by agreeing to a number of steps, such as ending joint military exercises with South Korea, without significant concessions from Mr Kim.

Trump ditching allies for new friends, in Asia

There were reports that Chinese officials knew about the step before the US informed its embassy in South Korea and, most certainly, before the US told other allies about the step.

But Mr Trump, in just this past week, has shown that he is dispensing with America's traditional partners in the West, and turning to a new set of friends, namely those who have welcomed him in Asia.

His spat with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over steel and aluminium tariffs threatens to explode into a bigger trade war over auto parts.

That tangle and his running disagreements with French Prime Minister Emmanuel Macron over climate change prompted Mr Trump's refusal to sign a joint G7 statement, leave Charlevoix, Quebec early, and fire off angry tweets from Air Force One on his way to Singapore to rendezvous with Mr Kim.

His smiles, and arm pats and handshakes there were a sharp contrast to the stormy scene he left behind him.

Trump says war games with South Korea have been suspended

Trump supporters watch their guy go

All of it was exactly what Mr Trump's supporters want to see. First, the belligerent candidate they put into office acting in trademark fashion, and then pulling off the kind of public spectacle with the North Korean dictator that no other president would attempt, let alone tolerate.

Even Mr Trump, however, knows that his bold action may end up in failure, just as Chamberlain's agreement with Hitler blew up in Europe's face 80 years ago.

North Korea has said numerous times that it was willing to discuss denuclearisation, only to fail to follow through. Meanwhile, it has continued to test nuclear weapons, which are the main leverage it has over its Asian neighbours, as well as the West.

Mr Trump, despite his euphoria, seemed to be setting the bar low. And in a statement displaying the brashness his biographers and other journalists have come to know, he admitted his gamble with Mr Kim could be for naught.

"I may be wrong," Mr Trump said during the news conference. "I may stand before you in six months and say, 'Hey, I was wrong'.

"I don't know that I'll ever admit that," he said with a smile, "but I'll find some kind of an excuse."

He may like to brush up on his World War II history.

Chamberlain, as Britain headed into war with Germany, told the House of Commons:

"Everything that I have worked for, everything that I have hoped for, everything that I have believed in during my public life has crashed into ruins."

Micheline Maynard is a journalist and author.

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