As the leaders of the two most powerful nations on earth meet in a city that was once the center of resistance to Western dominance of the region, it is being pointedly ignored in Washington, DC, to the extent such an extraordinary event can be ignored. Instead, the petty complaints of partisan hacks and wide-eyed conspiracy theorists have taken center stage. A discredited lawyer whose lies no one takes seriously, and yet whose every word is pored over as if it were a revelation from on high, is treated as a credible source, while the ruler of a desperately poor country furiously signaling he wants to chart a new course is ignored, ridiculed, and threatened.
The President is withdrawing from Afghanistan and getting the heck out of Syria, having defeated ISIS and saved the last bastion of Christianity from being enslaved by the Islamic “Caliphate.” And so what is the media focusing on? The fake regime change operation in Venezuela, which is – like so much of what the President says and does – lots of smoke and mirrors and very little action.
What difference does it make to the people of the United States who rules that wreck of a country? How does it advance our interests by one iota if some guy named Juan declares himself “President,” or if the office goes to some socialist hack with a fat Swiss Bank account and a penchant for jailing his opponents?
What is happening on the other side of the world will determine the fate of nations well beyond the next news cycle: indeed, what we are witnessing in Korea is the collapse of the Cold War apparatus designed to catapult us into war at the slightest provocation. In its place we are seeing the rise of a tripartite system of relatively free trade, cultural exchange, and certainly a new day for North Korea.
When Trump took office, missiles were flying, nukes were being tested, and the rhetoric coming out of Pyongyang was hot and heavy. Halfway through his first term, the Koreans are singing his praises and he’s holding hands with Kim Jong-un, the fearsome despot, as they stroll along the pathway to peace.
Stuck in the ritualized belligerence of the Cold War era, this kind of progress was unthinkable during the Bush and Obama administrations for the simple reason that both were ruled by dogmatism; that is, by an unthinking routinism.
Why, you can’t do that!
And why not?
Well, it’s never been done, and furthermore no one with the right credentials has ever proposed or endorsed it.
Our President doesn’t give a hoot about credentials: he just wants results. The high court of the credentialed has been pursuing the same policy of cold confrontation, empty threats, and starvation tactics for decades. That policy has brought us to the brink of war on several occasions. It has cost us many millions to keep up the containment, maintained and driven by a momentum all its own. The media and the politicians are the threat inflators, and the resulting hysteria leads to a permanently expanding war machine, the biggest and most expensive in the world.
The Western gaze has been fixed on the Middle East and Europe for so long that policy makers are jolted by this turn toward Asia and don’t know quite how to deal with it. Yet if you think about it it’s clear where we need to direct our attention: China has a population of nearly one and a half billion. Japan has the industrial power of a nation ten times its size. South Korea went from being a blood-soaked ruin to an economic powerhouse – a potential inherent in its neighbor to the north, if only the West will get out of the way.
There is money to be made, and Trump, with his entrepreneurial instinct, smells it and is pursuing it with all the alacrity of one of his bigtime real estate deals. Kim Jong-un, too, sees opportunity here, and is eager to close the deal. And the deal is this:
North Korea gives up its nuclear program, forges more links, both physical and personal, to the South. In return, the sanctions are dropped, the state of war that still exists between the US and the North is abolished, and all US soldiers are withdrawn from the peninsula. The question of reunification is bound to come up: a referendum should settle the matter.
That the summit is being held in Vietnam – another post-Communist country seeking rapprochement with the United States – underscores how Eastasia is changing, presenting the US with both challenges and opportunity.
Venezuela is a dark little backwater with nothing to offer but oil, generally inferior coffee, and a lot of trouble. Indeed, South America is a chaotic maelstrom of coups, counter-coups, corruption, and communism. The best policy is to ignore it and let it go to Hell in its own way. North Korea, on the other hand, is ready to shed the bloody legacy of Kim Il-sung, abandon Communism, and open up the country to the world.
Update: Trump Walks, Ends Talks
Trump’s decision to walk away from the Hanoi summit and reject the terms of a possible deal – ending all sanctions in return for a partial denuclearization – Trump wasn’t buying it.
The sanctions are immoral – innocents are being punished for the alleged sins of their government – and should be immediately ended on those grounds alone. But let’s be frank: North Korea wouldn’t get anywhere near a negotiating table without them. And these sanctions are not being enforced all that strictly: the Chinese are not reliable partners in this regard.
You’ll recall that, prior to the Singapore Summit, theatrical threats from both sides were the order of the day and the NeverTrumpers were declaring that the Orange Monster was going to start World War III. It was only a matter of days before the summit was on and everyone was getting on the peace train.
In short, we’ve been here before.
The same people who are saying this means the end of the peace process never wanted it to begin in the first place.
What’s interesting – and perhaps key to understanding this incident – is that the Americans clearly had the upper hand: those sanctions are hurting. And Kim must face his public, the Party, the generals, and whatever secret factions are waiting for their chance to seize power. Despite Kim’s position as hereditary despot, every supposedly one-party system has factions, and North Korea is no exception.
Kim is betting the ranch on a Gorbachev-like “revolution from above,” in which communism is rejected, and the old “military first” doctrine in force since the 1960s gives way to the production of consumer goods. Without a deal with the US, this won’t fly – and the possibility of a military coup becomes more than idle speculation.
Both leaders must deal with internal critics, and in Trump’s case this is a major factor – if not the major factor – in his decision-making. Lined up against him is a grand coalition that spans the political spectrum, from the “blue state” fanatics who oppose all things Trumpian to the neoconservatives who oppose all things peaceful. The “experts” funded by the thinktanks of the military-industrial complex are howling “We told you so!” In fact, they did nothing of the kind. Instead they got it backwards: they told us it was Pyongyang that would arrogantly reject a reasonable proposal and America would be in the position of propitiating Kim. Instead, the exact opposite occurred. America negotiated from a position of strength, while the North Koreans were desperate for a deal.
Politically, the so-called “collapse” of the Hanoi talks is a plus for Trump: now the idea that the President is too eager to make a deal and is likely to give away the farm is no longer tenable. Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to discover that this was a major consideration in Trump’s decision to walk away. He wants to be seen as tough, and yet he is genuinely devoted to his peace project. As we approach bankruptcy, Trump, the penny-pinching businessman, realizes that financial insolvency is the main danger to US national security.
Let the nay-sayers and phony “experts” sneer and jeer: the peanut gallery is content to watch from the sidelines while the real leaders make history.
Editor’s Note: This morning former South Korea unification minister Chong Se-hyun suggests that summit was derailed by last minute attendance of John Bolton, who added demands for North Korea to also report chemical/biological weapons. In response to this North Korea increased their demand for sanctions relief.
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.