President Trump’s Korean peace initiative is the most significant US diplomatic effort since the end of the cold war: if successful, it means the end of an era in northern Asia. The Koreans realize this; the Chinese realize this; it’s only the American punditocracy that just doesn’t get it. There are a few reasons why they don’t get it: first, because intellectuals tend to think that the future is merely an extension of the past, only more so.
Fascinated, intimidated, and one might almost say hypnotized by power, the intellectuals and the political class are hampered by their subjectivism, which was all too accurately diagnosed by George Orwell in his “Second Thoughts on James Burnham”:
“It will be seen that at each point Burnham is predicting a continuation of the thing that is happening. Now the tendency to do this is not simply a bad habit, like inaccuracy or exaggeration, which one can correct by taking thought. It is a major mental disease, and its roots lie partly in cowardice and partly in the worship of power, which is not fully separable from cowardice.
“Suppose in 1940 you had taken a Gallup poll, in England, on the question ‘Will Germany win the war?’ You would have found, curiously enough, that the group answering ‘Yes’ contained a far higher percentage of intelligent people – people with IQ of over 120, shall we say – than the group answering ‘No’. The same would have held good in the middle of 1942. In this case the figures would not have been so striking, but if you had made the question ‘Will the Germans capture Alexandria?’ or ‘Will the Japanese be able to hold on to the territories they have captured?’, then once again there would have been a very marked tendency for intelligence to concentrate in the ‘Yes’ group. In every case the less-gifted person would have been likelier to give a right answer….
“Power worship blurs political judgment because it leads, almost unavoidably, to the belief that present trends will continue. Whoever is winning at the moment will always seem to be invincible. If the Japanese have conquered south Asia, then they will keep south Asia for ever, if the Germans have captured Tobruk, they will infallibly capture Cairo; if the Russians are in Berlin, it will not be long before they are in London: and so on.”
Aside from simple Trump Derangement Syndrome, this worship of the status quo is what motivates the increasingly irrational opposition to the Korean peace initiative. One Obama era foreign policy maven called it “The Blob,” i.e. the foreign policy Establishment. These people view remnants of the old cold war order, such as the US military occupation of Korea, as perpetual: the present is the future, forever and ever. They stand in awe of the American Empire, their primary employer and benefactor. The Empire never shrinks: it can only expand. At least, that’s how The Blob sees it.
But of course that’s not how our President sees things: he had threatened to withdraw all US troops from Korea if Seoul didn’t come around on trade. And come around they did! Which is too bad, since those 30,000 American soldiers are sitting ducks in the event of war – and besides which, why are we defending a rich and well-armed nation entirely capable of defending itself?
This is why they hate Trump, at least as far as The Blob is concerned: because he can visualize a US withdrawal from the Korean peninsula as a “win.” Which it undoubtedly would be: the costs of the US occupation are enormous, and what do we get in return?
Now let’s take a look at the objections being raised to Trump’s summit with Kim. First and foremost, there is extreme skepticism that Kim Jong-un will denuclearize: why should he give up his nukes, they ask, after taking all this time and effort to build them? This is North Korea’s insurance policy against regime change in Pyongyang.
Yet one could argue that the North’s nuclear program exists as a bargaining chip precisely in order to get that country out of its extreme isolation and allow it to have a normal relationship to the rest of the world, including the United States. After all, the remaining Communist states – primarily China, but also Vietnam, which is now receiving direct aid from the US – have ambassadors in Washington, and are not subject to sanctions. Why not North Korea?
The hostile relationship with the US and South Korea wasn’t about to end due to diplomatic efforts on the part of Pyongyang: there had been no progress in that direction since the Bush II regime put the “Sunshine policy” on ice. Up until now, The Blob has pretty much directed the course of US policy on Korea – which is why we were brought to the brink of war before Trump launched his astonishing initiative.
Secondly, these “experts” who doubt the practicality of the Trump peace initiative are ignoring the real experts on this subject: the South Korean intelligence agencies, which have reported to the South Korean legislature that “North Korea is strongly committed to dialogue and also committed to denuclearization.” There are press reports – in the Korean media, not the West – that activity at North Korea’s nuclear sites has slowed down considerably since the announcement of the coming summit:
“Tunneling at North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site eased in mid-March, according to 38 North, a U.S. news outlet focusing on North Korean affairs. The slowdown comes as the Koreas prepare for a summit in April.
"’There has been a significant slowdown in tunneling and a reduced presence of related personnel at the site when compared to just two weeks earlier, ’38 North stated on its website on March 23, citing satellite imagery.”
In short, the skeptics are just plain wrong.
Ignore The Blob! Ignore the skeptics! Kim Jong-un says he wants to “write a new history” of North-South rapprochement. Trump, too, is probably not averse to writing a new and surprising chapter in the history books. Well then, let them: we could use some new history around here. The history of the twentieth century was a story of mass murder, perpetual conflict, and outright worship of the war god: let the history of the twenty-first century be a story of peace, prosperity, and making America great again.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
You can check out my Twitter feed by going here. But please note that my tweets are sometimes deliberately provocative, often made in jest, and largely consist of me thinking out loud.
I’ve written a couple of books, which you might want to peruse. Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Foreword by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).
You can buy An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard (Prometheus Books, 2000), my biography of the great libertarian thinker, here.