It’s a story that’s getting a lot of buzz on social media this weekend and for good reason. The misinterpreted version of it holds that former President Jimmy Carter is sticking his nose into current foreign policy and offering to go patch things up with North Korea. Actually, he wasn’t pushing the idea at all… or at least not entirely. The New York Times did an interview with him at home and asked the question unsolicited.
Carter’s response? Sure… why not? (Reuters)
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said he would be willing to travel to North Korea on behalf of the Trump administration to help diffuse rising tensions, The New York Times reported on its website on Sunday.
“I would go, yes,” Carter, 93, told the Times when he was asked in an interview at his ranch house in Plains, Georgia whether it was time for another diplomatic mission and whether he would do so for President Trump.
Carter, a Democrat who was president from 1977 to 1981, said he had spoken to Trump’s National Security Adviser Lt.-Gen. H. R. McMaster, who is a friend, but so far has gotten a negative response.
The reason I included the caveat of not entirely is that Carter has apparently raised the prospect, but he didn’t run to the media about it. He admits that he made the offer to National Security Adviser H. R. McMaster but hasn’t gotten a positive response yet. It’s unclear whether the Times already knew that from a White House source or if it was just a random fishing question and they got lucky.
Regardless of how it happened, let’s pause with the hot takes for a moment and consider the offer. Is this something that President Trump should just dismiss out of hand? There are obvious reasons why he might reject it, if only for the political optics. Trump prides himself on being a tough negotiator who should be able to handle this himself. Shopping the job out to someone else would likely rankle him, particularly if that someone is a Democrat.
But while you may find it surprising to hear me saying it, perhaps we shouldn’t be so quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater on this one. The idea of naming Carter as an official envoy and sending him to Pyongyang is obviously risky, but let’s consider what we have to gain versus what there is to lose.
First of all, Jimmy Carter was probably the worst United States President of my lifetime. (I was in the military while he was in office. Trust me on this one.) But he’s also arguably among the best ex-presidents we’ve ever had. His endless charitable efforts, solid work ethic and known tendency to live his faith in a very public way are all extremely admirable. And his faith is a big selling point here. Carter wasn’t someone who made hollow gestures of embracing Christianity to win votes. He’s constantly involved with the church, teaches Sunday school and is a tireless witness for Christ.
So, assuming Trump actually sent him, what’s the worst that could happen? Okay… we all know what the theoretical worst thing would be, but I highly doubt that Kim Jong-un would try anything harmful to Carter. In fact, even if he has zero interest in cutting a deal favorable to the west, he’d probably see it as a feather in his cap to have such an honored guest. Also, Kim thinks of Trump as an aggressive, dangerous and unbalanced person. (Which is a laugh riot when you consider his own instability.) Carter is probably seen as the opposite.
Also, if Kim has any respect at all for history he knows that Carter met with his grandfather (who is still technically President of North Korea even though he’s dead) and would likely treat his guest very well. And Carter might just be safe on his own. Wherever Jimmy Carter goes he enters the situation wearing the whole armour of God, to borrow from Ephesians. Seriously… the guy shook off cancer when he was more than 90 years old, an age when many people get taken out by a nasty case of the flu.
Assuming he goes, there are basically two possible outcomes. He either fails to secure a deal bringing North Korea into compliance on their nuclear program or he manages to pull it off. If he fails, Trump has absolutely nothing to lose. He can say that he was reaching across the aisle, involving his political opponents in the process to exhaust every possible diplomatic channel. He can thank Carter for his efforts when he returns and get on with the business of dealing with Little Rocket Man in his own Trumpian way.
And if Carter somehow comes back with a verifiable deal? Even though the media will never give him credit for it, he can claim it as a victory because he was the one who sent Carter and the potential nuclear crisis is averted, or at least pushed significantly down the road. I seriously doubt that Kim has any intention of making such a deal (or at least one that he would actually honor for more than a year or so), but adding a visit from Carter builds more stock in the court of international opinion showing that we’ve given North Korea every possible chance to avoid a military conflict.
With all that in mind, perhaps the President should consider Carter’s offer seriously. Absolutely nothing else has been working so far, and just how much worse could the situation with North Korea be?