North Korea in Perspective
Some of this will be repetitive, but it bears repeating after sifting through the inane reactions to the North Korea summit from the usual suspects — Democrats, media and #NeverTrump establishment.
Before getting into specifics on the summit reactions, it is important to note that no one knows what went on behind closed doors, what commitments were made, what threats were leveled, and what steps toward the trade-off deal of total denuclearization in exchange for security were agreed to. All we really know is what was on TV and what appeared in the communique. And while it was significant to get in writing from Kim Jong-un what had been bandied about prior — namely, that he was committed to the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula — the devil will certainly be in the details. So everything that is coming out of the anti-Trump camps is judgmental, uninformed, self-serving, and in several cases just plain silly. True, there may never be a deal, but to dismiss the results of the summit as “delusional,” as one pundit put it (okay, maybe Trump engaged in a bit of hyperbole by opining that the nuke threat is over, but is there any doubt that we should feel a bit more secure after than before?), is intellectually dishonest at best. Everyone would be far better served to recognize that the summit was an historically positive first step and simply let things play out a bit.
Now some specifics. The main gripe appears to be that Trump made “concessions” mostly in the form of merely agreeing to meet with Kim because that gave Kim what he has always wanted — namely, the appearance of equality with the U.S. president that he could use for propaganda purposes and we got “nothing” in return. Schumer, Pelosi and other Democrats add the comment that the communique was too vague and did not include the key words “verifiable” and “permanent.” But again, what was said behind the curtain is unknown, and it makes perfect negotiating sense not to force Kim to go public with the ultimate deal point if he has given private assurances. After all, he might have hard-liners to convince, and conceding after the appearance of a give and take is better optics. We have made it clear in any event what our non-negotiable bottom line is, and Kim is still at the table. And by the way, someone might want to tell Chuck that the Texas phrase is “all hat/no cattle,” not the other way around. But that’s just me.
These negative complaints only matter if they reflect the reality of the state of the negotiations. Per Pompeo, the main event is simple — complete, verifiable and permanent denuclearization in return for security guarantees and economic goodies. Anything else, like human rights, the conventional North Korea military, the appearances of legitimacy, or even personal compliments, is noise. As long as the carrots and sticks (prospects for security and economic benefit versus continuing sanctions and the credible threat of military annihilation) underpinning the negotiations don’t change, nothing else is relevant.
And compliments like Kim is trustworthy actually put more pressure on Kim than Trump. The naysayers claim that once Trump praises Kim it will be more difficult to increase sanctions and other pressures if Kim balks, but that has it backwards. Trump has publicly now set a very high bar for Kim to meet, and Trump continues to hold all the cards, including the fact that time is on Trump’s side. Sanctions don’t rest, and our military remains in theater if Kim tries to play games.
Others say China is the big winner because Trump’s posture will make it more difficult to keep the sanctions in place, and dropping “war games” with South Korea has long been on China’s wish list. China immediately planned to go to the UN to try to remove North Korean sanctions, but it knows full well that the U.S. will veto that. So put it in the category of “Hey Kim, we tried.” Remember that Trump has made a deal with China a key element of the North Korean negotiations, and China sees whatever is in that deal as putting relations with us above keeping the status quo in North Korea alive. Moreover, only the existing war games were canceled, not regular military training exercises; no assets were moved; our carriers remain on station; and Pompeo made it very clear that canceling the program was conditional on Kim diving into good-faith negotiations. It’s not clear exactly what was given up by doing this, except the traditional (and ineffective) reliance on diplomatic appearances (as opposed to actual results) that have governed failed negotiations for decades.
And then there were the litany of former Clinton and Obama negotiators, whose résumés include striking out at every turn, lecturing us on what a diplomatic failure the summit was for Trump. Among the reasons were those stale appearance criteria, like the shame of having the two country’s flags next to each other, the kind words for a dictator, and Trump’s unilateral concessions. For good measure, others were trotted out to opine that North Korea will never give up its nukes, so Trump should craft the negotiations in line with the Obama Iran deal, accept North Korea as a nuclear power, and focus on containment. This is all before any detailed negotiations have even begun.
And speaking of Iran, another Obama administration genius said that Trump’s concessions to Kim showed the road map for other nuclear power wannabes, like Iran, that the way to play the game was to develop nukes first and then you get deference from Trump and the U.S. I don’t know how much more backwards this logic can get. It is the mere fact that North Korea has an advanced nuke program that has put it in jeopardy, and if it totally dropped the program, or never started it in the first place, it might get “the handshake” and prospects for a more prosperous future. All the nukes did was to guarantee its demise, either through military action or economic sanctions sufficient to inspire an overthrow of the regime.
Even the ego boost that Trump gave Kim is a classic negotiating stage setting, which gave away zero. If anything, it played to his vanity and gave Kim a taste of how he could be viewed in the world if he played ball, again putting more pressure on Kim than Trump. Finally, and no I’m not making this up, there was a report referencing the “video” that Trump left with Kim, showing the 180-degree different outcomes that could await his response. On the one hand was military action that destroyed Kim’s regime; on the other was economic development, including beachfront high-rise resorts that would attract millions from surrounding developed countries like China and South Korea. A bit hokey to be sure, but fitting for the Kim mindset, and it inspired another double-digit IQ pundit to opine that the summit therefore had nothing to do with nukes, world peace or regional security; it was all about money. Trump was doing this just to gain real estate development rights for his buddies (and possibly his own family) to turn North Korea’s beachfront into Miami on steroids.
I realize that the #Resistance and those who have failed with North Korea in the past may feel a need to cook the books so Trump doesn’t wind up with a win, but don’t you think the stakes are a tad too high for that kind of childish behavior? By the end of this year (if not sooner) we will have a much better feel for whether the program will work. Up to now, Trump has played it in his typical business-oriented, disruptive way and has advanced the ball smartly with a focus on key items and results. If he sticks to the main elements of his carrot/stick negotiating methods, he keeps the U.S. at a significant advantage, with hope for a successful outcome as defined by the Pompeo criteria above. Everyone would be better served by waiting for the facts on the ground to emerge from the ongoing discussions than by making themselves look either unpatriotic by directly or implicitly rooting for failure or just plain foolish.