No sooner had I published a column entitled “And Now For The Good News,” predicting that the war on the Korean peninsula the Never Trumpers had been envisioning (and secretly hoping for) would not happen, and hailing the North-South negotiations as the first step toward a final settlement of the Korean question, then President Trump advanced the process a thousand-fold by accepting Kim Jong-un’s invitation for a one-on-one meeting.
The Washington policy wonks, the Never Trumpers, the right and the left – all erupted in a chorus of “He can’t do that!”
Ah, but he can, he has, and he will.
Reports in the media have it that the three South Korean emissaries sent to Washington to report on the progress of talks with the North were interrupted in their internal discussions by the President, who walked into the room, heard them talking about the North Korean leader’s invitation to meet, and told them: “I’ll do it.”
Just like that.
This is supposed to be irresponsible, not at all the way Things Are Done, and indicative that the President is adrift at sea without a paddle. Yet it is the President’s adversaries who are adrift, and have been aimlessly floating in a stagnant sea of routinism since the non-end of the Korean war – while the threat of another war has slowly gathered on the horizon.
There are all sorts of objections from the self-appointed “experts” as to why direct US-North Korean negotiations – and particularly a personal meeting between Trump and Kim – is a Very Bad Idea. I’ll ignore the ad hominem attacks on Trump’s character, since these are subjective value judgments and cannot be either contested or proved. So that takes care of half of them. The other half have to do with the alleged lack of preparation and the supposed paucity of our diplomatic personnel conversant with matters Korean. Peter van Buren, a former State Department official, makes short work of this line of thinking here, and I’ll briefly quote a piece that should be read in its entirety:
“The State Department is gutted, say some. The United States has no ambassador to South Korea. The Special Representative for North Korea Policy just retired. But it is disingenuous to claim there is no one left to negotiate with Pyongyang simply because their names are unfamiliar to journalists.”
He goes on to name four, and adds:
“There are similar decades of Korean expertise at the National Security Council, the Central Intelligence Agency, in the military, as well as among South Korean diplomats, to support Trump’s efforts. Preparation? These men and women have spent their whole careers preparing.”
Unlike the phonies who masquerade as “experts,” van Buren actually knows what he’s talking about, having served in the State Department for 24 years. He also makes the vitally important point that all this folderol about “preparatory work” and the alleged need for preliminary meetings between lower level officials does not apply to the case of the North Koreans. Pyongyang isn’t Paris. The “Hermit Kingdom” is a top-down one-man dictatorship, with Kim Jong-un at the top: underlings are not allowed to take the initiative, they must simply play follow Our Glorious Leader. So starting at the top, in this case, makes perfect sense.
But never mind the facts, this is one instance where the left and the right are united in their horrified ignorance.
On the left, MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow screeched:
“You might think another president in this circumstance, you can imagine a president asking himself or herself, ‘why has no other American president ever agreed to do this? Why has no sitting American president ever met with a leader from North Korea? Why has that never happened in all the decades North Korea existed as a nation? Should I take that to mean that this might be particularly risky or even an unwise move?’”
It’s never been done – therefore it should never be done: odd logic coming from an alleged “progressive.” Even curiouser: the meeting, said Maddow and her “expert” guests, would “elevate” Kim, and “give the North Koreans what they’ve always wanted” – a criticism that echoes the objections of the neoconservatives over at National Review, who basically say the same thing.
A Trump-Kim summit will give Pyongyang “legitimacy,” say the neocons – a nonsensical argument that ignores both history and reality itself. For the regime that has ruled the North since the end of World War II is a) recognized by Washington, and b) is legitimized in the eyes of its subjects as the country’s best (and only) defense against the West. Remember, during the Korean war the Americans bombed every single city and town, leveling them to the ground. The threat of this happening again is what “legitimizes” the dictatorship: its continuity is seen as a matter of sheer survival.
Ironically, the most unrelenting – and erroneous – criticism comes from the supposed anti-interventionist Daniel Larison over at The American Conservative, who, aside from echoing the easily refutable objections raised by the “experts” he ceaselessly cites, flat out denies that the North Koreans are at all interested in denuclearization:
“[I]f the meeting is to be a negotiation, what is the U.S. prepared to offer North Korea? Sanctions relief? A security guarantee? Something else? All of the above? If the administration remains wedded to its maximalist position that North Korea has to give up everything first before any offer is made, any negotiation will break down almost as soon as it begins. The White House says ‘we look forward to the denuclearization’ of North Korea as if they actually think that is going to happen. How will they react when it dawns on them that this will never happen?”
Yet it was the South Koreans who, having initiated this process, reported to Trump and then the world that Kim Jong-un is “committed to denuclearization.” Are they lying? Is this all a ruse by Seoul for some unspecified purpose?
Why would an alleged anti-interventionist and opponent of unnecessary wars – particularly one who had been accusing Trump of leading us down the path to war on the Korean peninsula – turn up his nose at this effort? “Trump’s ‘phase two’ for North Korea means war,” averred Larison on February 24: a week before that he actually wrote a piece entitled “North Korea and the Trump Administration’s Disdain for Diplomacy”! Now that that alleged disdain has mysteriously disappeared, it’s been acquired by Larison, who claims that the goal of denuclearization is unachievable. The Koreans, both North and South, are either deluded or they’re trying to deceive us.
The sad truth is that Larison is suffering from a very bad case of Trump Derangement Syndrome to the point that he’s blinded by his contempt for Trump as a person. This kind of subjectivism is fatal for any pundit, particularly one who writes regularly about foreign policy.
And this really gets to the heart of the matter, which is that this isn’t about Trump, and it isn’t about the Americans. It’s about the Koreans, who bypassed Washington and the bought-and-paid-for “experts,” and went ahead with this exciting initiative without asking for Washington’s permission.
For nearly 70 years, the Korean people have lived in a sundered nation, a country divided against itself. And the cause of that division, which has cost so many lives, has been the hated foreigners: the Americans, the Soviets, the Japanese, the Chinese, all of whom played a role in this tortured history. As nationalism arises as the dominant trend from the steppes of Asia to the American Midwest, in Korea it takes the form of this movement to get rid of the foreigners who have cast the nation asunder and move toward reunification.
This is not as impossible as it sounds. East Germany, the so-called German Democratic Republic, was at least as repressive and neo-Stalinist as the Democratic Peoples Republic of Korea, and yet today it is but a memory: it disappeared without a shot being fired.
Denuclearization is impossible only in the minds of the unimaginative, who think that the future can only be an extension of the present. And yet it isn’t hard to imagine Pyongyang proposing a federative approach, and giving Seoul joint control of their nuclear arsenal. This could lead to a process of inspections ending in complete disarmament – or even a united Korea with a limited nuclear capacity. South Korean President Park Chung-hee initiated a nuclear weapons program back in the 1970s: it was nixed by the Americans, but there is no reason to believe that the present government takes a pacifistic approach like the Japanese.
Of course, a united Korea – particularly one with a nuclear capacity – is the last thing the Chinese want, and I don’t think the Japanese would be all that pleased, either. But it sure beats the spectacle of North Korean missiles whizzing over Japanese cities, not to mention the other antics engaged in by Pyongyang.
This would mean the withdrawal of US troops from the Korean peninsula, and an end to the colonial relationship between Washington and Seoul. Our national security bureaucracy and the military-industrial complex that profits from the continuation of the US occupation would declare war on this administration if such were to occur – but, then again, they already have done exactly that. Trump, for his part, has said that we can’t keep policing the world, specifically referring to the Korean peninsula, which is one reason the War Party hates his guts.
Yes, folks, the times they are a changin’! Just as the election of Trump caught the “experts” and the not-so-Wise Men by surprise, so this previously unimaginable development (unimaginable except for in this space) has them all in a tizzy. Good! I told my readers to expect the unexpected with the election of Trump, and I don’t mind saying “I told you so!”
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