President Trump’s sudden cancellation of the Singapore Summit had his enemies, left and right, ecstatically tweeting "I told you so!" In all the domains of Hate-on-Trump-landia, from the neoconservative netherworld of the Weekly Standard to the highfalutin liberal highlands of The New Yorker, the gloating rose up into the stratosphere like a mushroom cloud, blotting out the sunny optimism that had previously prevailed. A more unseemly spectacle would be hard to imagine, but this level of nastiness is now considered normal in Washington, D.C.
Brushing aside Korean public opinion, which is overwhelmingly supportive of the peace initiative, #TheResistance only lives to see the President fail. Peace on the peninsula? Who cares?! All they care about is ousting Trump and retaking a White House they claim was stolen from them – because the Russians somehow hypnotized John Podesta into making "password" the password to his sensitive emails. Yes, these are the people who feel entitled to run the country.
When you challenge their presumptuousness they call you "Putin’s puppet," an idiotic schoolyard taunt congressman Adam Schiff infamously hurled at Tucker Carlson. The scholarly types are more circumspect, albeit no less demagogic and illogical: they invariably make irrelevant references to Trump’s personal style, his colorful history, his many peccadilloes, that reveal more about the authors than about the President. Having declared the entire project doomed from the start – due to inadequate preparation, the allegedly incorrigible nature of the North Korean regime, the long storied history of past agreements that didn’t last, etc. etc. – the Trump-haters on both sides of the political spectrum stand united in their commitment to maintaining the cold war status quo on the Korean peninsula.
The neocons do so openly, and, in true cold war style, call for regime change in the North: National Security Advisor John Bolton, targeted by the North Koreans on account of his public support for this view, may not be a neocon, yet in this case he certainly reflects their stance in every respect.
The liberals, who don’t really care about foreign policy, and never had any firm view to begin with, reverted to their pre-summit rhetoric: Trump wants war! Bolton, we were told, has taken control of US policy, and the apocalypse is upon us. Anyone who thought for a minute that the Trump administration was going to achieve the unachievable was mercilessly mocked by the League of Very Serious People – but not for very long.
That’s because it didn’t take long for the North Koreans to cave. Never mind what the US media says about Pyongyang’s response: see for yourself the statement of North Korean vice minister of foreign affairs Kim Kye Gwan. It is conciliatory, albeit a bit reproachful, and exudes genuine hurt: one almost feels like offering the vice minister a safe space, a hug, and a box of crayons:
"As far as the historic DPRK-U.S. summit is concerned, we have inwardly highly appreciated President Trump for having made the bold decision, which any other U.S. presidents dared not, and made efforts for such a crucial event as the summit. His sudden and unilateral announcement to cancel the summit is something unexpected to us and we cannot but feel great regret for it."
In the history of the Kim dynasty – starting with Kim Il-sung, the founder, succeeded by his son, Kim Jong-il, and now the third Kim, Jong-un – how often have the North Koreans expressed regret over anything that could be traced back to their own actions? I can guarantee you that Never! is the correct answer to that question.
Even more astonishingly, the regretful vice minister gets as dewy-eyed as a damsel who’s just been dumped by her prince as he explores the rationale behind this sudden breakup:
"It is hard to guess the reasons. It could be that he lacked the will for the summit or he might not have felt confident. But for our part, we have exerted sincere efforts, raising hope that the historic DPRK-U.S. Summit meeting and talks themselves would mark a meaningful starting point for peace and security in the region and the world and the improvement of the bilateral relations as the first step forward to settling the issue through dialogue."
Note the subtle digs embedded in the mournful prose: Trump "lacked the will"! Ah, but not the North Koreans, those incredibly sincere and persistently peaceful people, who are forging ahead in their quest for a "starting point for peace and prosperity."
This reiterates a principle announced by the regional actors in a recent meeting: the joint statement by China and South Korea emphasized that the denuclearization process should take place in stages, and pointedly remarked that unilateral concessions by North Korea were out of the question. Nonetheless, Kim Jong-un proceeded to make a number of highly visible concessions: his underground nuclear testing grounds were destroyed and the international media was invited in to witness the spectacle. More significantly, the North for the first time declared that the withdrawal of US troops from the peninsula was not a precondition for talks leading to a settlement.
These mild admonitions, however, soon give way to the most extravagant flattery:
"We even inwardly hoped that what is called ‘Trump formula’ would help clear both sides of their worries and comply with the requirements of our side and would be a wise way of substantial effect for settling the issue."
Ah yes, the Trump Formula: do the unexpected, keep your enemies off balance, and offer them a hand up when they stumble and fall. The art of the deal is, after all, to give everybody what they want – to "clear both sides of their worries." It’s a capitalist principle that the Chinese took to heart years ago, and the North Koreans show every sign of wanting to learn.
This extravagant flattery is followed by the imprimatur of North Korea’s maximum authority:
"The chairman of the State Affairs Commission of the DPRK has also exerted all efforts for the preparations for the summit, saying that the meeting with President Trump could help make a good start."
The chairman of the State Affairs Commission is none other than Kim Jong-un. According to his vice minister, the Supreme Leader is telling his subordinates to forget John Bolton – as far as he’s concerned, the summit is on.
Oh but the North Koreans aren’t quite done admonishing us (in the nicest possible way, of course!):
"The US side’s unilateral announcement of the cancellation of the summit makes us think over if we were truly right to have made efforts for it and to have opted for the new path."
From the Korean perspective (both North and South) there is always the presumption of innocence: the innocence, that is, of the Koreans, and the perpetual guilt of the foreign imperialists, meaning not just the West but also the traditional regional threats to Korean independence, namely the Chinese and especially the Japanese who are hated with particular venom. Such sentiments – which are predominate in every country – are held with special intensity on the Korean peninsula, the conflict-ridden history of which is key to understanding the whys and wherefores of the Hermit Kingdom.
Purity of motivation being the essence of innocence, the lords of Pyongyang proclaim their untrammeled virtue by turning the other cheek:
"But we remain unchanged in our goal and will to do everything we could for peace and stability of the Korean peninsula and humankind, and we, broad-minded and open all the time, have the willingness to offer the US side time and opportunity."
"Time and opportunity" – for Donald Trump to change his mind. And it looks like that’s a real possibility, given the President’s tweet describing the statement of the North Koreans as "warm" and revealing that behind the scenes "productive" negotiations for a resumption of the scheduled summit are presently in progress. In the event they succeed, Vice Minister Gwan is full of plans:
"The first meeting would not solve all, but solving even one at a time in a phased way would make the relations get better rather than making them get worse. The US should ponder over it."
The North Korean statement ends with a direct appeal to kiss and make up:
"We would like to make known to the US side once again that we have the intent to sit with the US side to solve problem regardless of ways at any time."
The Singapore Summit is far from canceled. The participants may even keep to the previously announced June 12 schedule. Our preening "experts" and yapping Trump-haters gloated too soon – displaying not only their inveterate wrongness, but also revealing their cruel arrogance in disdaining the determination of the Korean people to get out from under the shadow of nuclear annihilation. These people are brazen sociopaths.
And yet even if the summit doesn’t happen – or if it happens but doesn’t live up to its billing as the world-shaking event the President and all those who want peace are hoping for – the significance of what has so far transpired cannot be overemphasized.
A precedent has been set. This process, carried out in large part in public view on the world stage, has broken the great taboo of US-North Korean relations, and that is the establishment of a direct negotiating process between an American President and a North Korean Supreme Leader. The assumption that the frozen conflict on the Korean peninsula would stay well below freezing for all eternity has determined US policy up until now. By accepting the invitation to a summit, President Trump smashed that sacred canon like the true iconoclast he is: which is why he’s in the White House and Hillary Clinton is in the doghouse, even in her own party.
We are supposed to believe that nothing is inevitable: after all, human beings have free will. They can determine their own destinies, quite apart from any so-called historical laws or imperatives. Yet there is one condition that is universally applicable to all human beings and, therefore, to all human institutions, and that is their mortality. Human beings die, and with them go socio-political constructs once thought to be virtually immortal. Alliances deemed vital to US national security – e.g. America’s wartime alliance with Stalin’s Russia – become obsolescent as circumstances change: for example, we are long past the point where the ties that bound us to Europe during the cold war era have frayed and come nearly undone.
The same is true in northern Asia, where the Koreans have grown tired of living in a divided land. Sundered by an outlived conflict that is perpetuated at the insistence of foreign powers, a naturally nationalistic people yearns for reunification. This desire is especially strong on the northern side of the DMZ, where famine is no stranger and the state is losing legitimacy because the basic promise of the "Juche" system of socialist self-sufficiency – fulfilling the material needs of the people – cannot be kept.
The "new path" the vice minister mentions is no accidental phrase: it is a fair description of the new economy-first policy of the regime. This displaced the old "military first" doctrine that was the central theme of the government’s propaganda during the reign of Kim Jong-un’s father. Having achieved the goal of building a nuclear deterrent, Kim has pulled the curtain down over Act I, and is now well into Act II – the bargaining phase. What does Kim hope to achieve in Act III? Nothing less than making North Korea into a normal nation: the North Korean commies are coming in from the cold, just like the Chinese and the Russians did before them – that is, if we’ll let them.
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.