The U.S. is in a much better place after this North Korea summit, says ... James Clapper

Man alive. Clapper must have really hated Obama’s policy towards North Korea to feel obliged to choke back a year’s worth of Russiagate attacks on Trump and pat him on the back for the Kim summit. This is a guy, remember, who just put out a book insisting that not only did Russia meddle in the campaign on Trump’s behalf but that, as far as he can surmise, it was actually the difference in the election. He’s as hardcore anti-Trump as it gets. Yet here he is, favorably comparing POTUS to his old boss. It’s only one issue, granted, but it’s *the* foreign-policy issue right now and for the foreseeable future — thanks to Obama’s unwillingness to try to resolve it himself.

And he’s right, by the way. He’s making the same point that I made myself the morning after the summit. Judged by the highly unrealistic standard of immediate denuclearization, the summit was a failure or, at best, a smaller than expected step towards that eventual goal. Judged by the more realistic standard of deescalation, a necessary development before denuclearization, it was a solid success. The only alternatives to nuking Pyongyang are (a) the status quo of biding time, hoping sanctions eventually cause the regime to collapse, and then further hoping that the ensuing chaos doesn’t lead to Seoul and Tokyo being incinerated, or (b) doing something extraordinary to try to jar something loose and liberalize North Korea. Trump tried the second option. Good call, says Clapper, because the first clearly wasn’t working, portending a nuclear alternative as the only remaining choice.

“It struck me how stuck on their narrative they were and how stuck we were on our narrative,” Clapper said [about his visit to North Korea in 2014], “and emblematic of that were the talking points that I was assigned to recite to the North Koreans, the first line of which was ‘You must denuclearize before we’ll talk to you.'”

“The only way this narrative was going to change was if the bigger partner, meaning the United States, changed it, and President Trump, I think to his credit, has done that,” he said.

However, Clapper also cast doubt on Trump’s motives in negotiations.

“Kim Jong Un is not term limited, and he’s in it for the long game,” Clapper said, “and I think President Trump is more in it for the immediate self-gratification.”

That’s certainly the CW — Trump wants the photo op, and now that he’s gotten it he might lose interest. Eh, I don’t know. You might say the same about Kim: If he was in this mainly for the propaganda value of being treated as an equal by the president of the United States, he’s the one who might lose interest. Whereas Trump, having already set this up as a potential crowning achievement of his presidency, needs to stay on top of it lest the negotiations fall apart and humiliate him. Noah Millman wondered this morning what might happen if Kim were suddenly to break off talks. Would Trump start shooting? More likely, he’d desperately try to salvage negotiations by “gin[ning] up a crisis, threatening fire and fury, only to announce some new large concession — whether symbolic or substantive — and proclaim himself a peacemaker once again. That, after all, is precisely what he has already done.” The more he deals personally with Kim and his deputies, the more politically invested he is in peaceful resolution via dealmaking, the harder it’ll be to give that order to commence bombing.

Exit question: Is POTUS going to tout Clapper’s endorsement of his big foreign-policy play? He doesn’t want to lend any credence to a guy who’s been questioning his legitimacy as president, but the thought of Obama’s own DNI celebrating his North Korea policy as an improvement over O’s must be immensely satisfying to him. Hard to resist sharing the news.

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David Strom 12:01 PM on October 07, 2022