Posted on 09-03-2018
Filed Under (Foreign Policy, Politics) by Rashtrakut

In his typical seat of the pants way of managing things, Donald Trump surprised the world by announcing (actually having the South Koreans announce) an impending summit with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un in May.  Taken by surprise were the Pentagon and the State Department.  Just a few hours before the feckless Secretary of State had been announcing that talks were not on the horizon.

Given that the administration’s incoherent policy to date included Mike Pence glaring at North Korea, making a fool of himself at the Winter Olympics and making silly demands like requiring the abandonment of the North Korean nuclear weapons program as a pre-condition of talks, it is not surprising that talks were not going anywhere.  The stage was set for Kim Jong Un to make his offer of an in person meeting and Donald Trump’s ego promptly bit at the bait.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a President meeting a rival face to face.  Under a competent administration it is possible that there could be some progress made towards reducing North Korean paranoia and reckless behavior.  Unfortunately there are a lot of perils with THIS president meeting Kim Jong Un.  Lazy, uninformed, uninterested and incurious about the details of policy matters, Donald Trump still functions as a reality show host and only cares for the spectacle of the photo-op.  On at least two occasions he has publicly met with Democratic members of Congress only to have Baghdad Sarah clarify that he did not mean what he said.

The autocrats of Russia, China, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines have played Donald Trump (who seems to have a soft spot for autocrats) like a fiddle with flattery designed to boost his insecure ego.  This is something that the North Korean despot has likely noticed between large bites of emmental cheese.

Finally, there is the hollowing out the State Department under the incompetent Rex Tillerson.  Even had he been willing/able to read a policy briefing, there is no American ambassador to South Korea and the Senate has not confirmed the top diplomat to South Korea.  It is hard to see Donald Trump making the effort between rounds of golf to bring himself up to speed on the issues to be discussed here.

There will be some who will credit Trump’s reckless brinkmanship in the past few months and loose talk by the warmongers in his administration of a bloody nose strike for bringing this meeting about.  However, given the likely policy gains of such a summit it is hard to see why the bellicose talk was needed.

When Barack Obama received shrill cries from the foreign policy establishment that he was willing to meet with America’s enemies, he clarified that obviously there would have to be ground work before such a meeting.  Such ground work took place before his trip to Cuba.  There has been no such ground work here.

After watching the fate of Saddam Hussein (who had not yet obtained them) and Muammar Gaddafi (who voluntarily dismantled his WMD program) it is hard to see Kim Jong Un ever handing over his nukes (even though his artillery trained on Seoul is probably sufficient to make any offensive war a non-starter).  So at best we will get some unverifiable commitment of the sort that North Korea has repeatedly reneged upon.  We will likely get some easing of sanctions for good behavior i.e. the same dog and pony show that we have seen over the past few decades.  And then there is the risk of Trump blurting out something dumb as is his wont.

In exchange Kim Jong Un achieves a North Korean foreign policy goal for at least the past 20 years – a summit with the American President.  He gets the propaganda value of broadcasting his acceptance as a world leader to his people.  He also gets the opportunity to deal with a naive self proclaimed deal maker and will likely walk away with his nuclear program intact.

We still do not have the details of the location and exact timing of the summit.  However, at this point it is hard to see this as anything other than a win for Kim Jong Un.



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