So the new reality in Asian affairs is that President Trump and
Rocket Man North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un are going to have a face to face meeting regarding Kim’s nuclear program and the future of the Korean Peninsula. At some point. Maybe. Possibly. Or not.
Kim’s family has been making and breaking deals with the west since long before the last time I visited the region in the 80s, so obviously nothing is assured. By the same token, North Korea has traditionally at least waited until the deal was made and they got something out of it before breaking faith, so this could go on for a while. But let’s say that some sort of a deal, be it ever so tenuous, manages to be struck. Is that a victory for President Trump or for Kim Jong-un? Our friend Andrew Malcolm has a helpful analysis with a healthy dose of skepticism at McClatchy this week.
Here’s an exquisite potential irony for you: The most bellicose president of modern times negotiates nuclear détente on the Korean Peninsula after his soft-power predecessor violently ousts Libya’s government but keeps his Nobel Peace Prize.
But let’s not put the peace parade before the warhead. The invitation to meet President Trump from North Korea’s ruthless dictator Kim Jung-un and the offer to suspend his nuclear weapons testing is a welcome step.
Certainly better than a launch countdown. That’s all…
Of course, no real results are guaranteed. But this time Trump’s unorthodox bravado and boldness, backed by real military might, have made U.S. interests in Korea more than clear — so far.
So is this yet another scam by the Kim family or could they somehow be serious this time? The former seems far more likely based on their history, but Malcolm posits that North Korea is looking at a very different type of American leader than they’ve been used to dealing with for a couple of decades. While others have talked of red lines and stalled, Andrew notes that Trump promised to put ISIS on the run and promptly dispatched troops. After warning Syria against using chemical weapons there were quickly cruise missiles raining down on them. And now that Trump is in need of a new adviser in the West Wing, reports indicate that he’s considering hiring the same guy who recently wrote an op-ed saying that first strike on North Korea might be a keen idea.
Perhaps Trump has actually gotten Kim’s attention.
So let’s veer back to the original question. Suppose there’s a meeting which actually takes place and a deal is struck. Who takes the victory lap the next day… Trump or Kim? That depends on what the deal looks like and how long it lasts. If there is actually talk of denuclearization, then Trump obviously gets to wave that in everyone’s faces. But that seems beyond impossible given all that Kim’s family has invested in becoming a nuclear power. Still, he might promise something else, such as winding down his reactors and ceasing production of any more weapons or ICBMs.
Would Trump accept such a deal? Up until now, it’s been a non-nuclear peninsula or nothing, with continued utmost pressure until some concrete progress is shown. But this wouldn’t be the first time that Donald Trump has been willing to move the goalposts in the middle of negotiations. In fact, that’s straight out of the Art of the Deal playbook. Come out with a hammer and some outrageous demands up front and then look gracious when you back off a bit and get what you originally wanted.
Still, if Trump cuts a deal where there are no more North Korean nukes being tested or ICMBS flying over Japan, but they remain a nuclear power, it might be yet another example of the long American tradition of declaring victory and going home. And yes, Trump would still chalk it up as a win going into his reelection campaign. At least until North Korea breaks the deal again.