Okay, I know a lot of liberals are tripping over themselves to give Trump some credit for the seeming breakthrough with North Korea, so they can show how non-partisan they are. But before we do so, let’s look at this objectively.
Yes, Kim has said that he will come to the table and meet Trump for direct negotiations. Now, why? Well, certainly the sanctions had something to do with it. The sanctions have existed for some time, by the U.N. and previous Presidential administrations. The Trump administration apparently ratcheted them up, hurting the North Korean people. But Kim supposedly doesn’t care about his people, right? So we move to factor number two, Trump’s threats.
Trump promised “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” The world has already seen Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the Holocaust and the Crusades, napalm and cluster bombs and Shock and Awe. So what monstrosity could Trump have been alluding to? And would any result justify it? He essentially said he would wipe out the North Korean people. So if Trump, whom we know admires dictators and dictatorship, actually believed what his spokespeople have been saying about Kim’s treatment of his own people being a justification for our opposition to his regime, how would wiping them out free them?
Now, who initiated this peace initiative? Well, clearly President Moon of South Korea was the main catalyst. He was elected on a platform of peace talks with the North. He secured the invitation of North Korean athletes to the Olympics. He met with them. Only then was there any movement. One has to also assume that the Chinese had something to do with this, as they have the greatest sway over North Korea. Undoubtedly there were other actors involved behind the scenes, maybe Americans. But, so, why does Kim want to meet with Trump? Why, in fact, can’t and shouldn’t the South and North work things out between themselves, why does the United States have to be the final arbiter at all? What’s our business there?
For dictators, whether it be Kim or the Donald, most everything is about saving face. Trump wants to look tough and successful, although in reality he’s a coward and failure. Kim wants to look like he won something rather than conceded. It was the same with Hirohito, who had essentially acquiesced to the same conditions that ended World War II and just wanted to save face before we dropped two nuclear bombs on Japanese civilians. So Kim gets to be seen on the world stage as someone of equal weight and legitimacy as the President of the United States (as if that’s a compliment). But I suspect there’s more to it.
Kim has seen how impulsive and ignorant Trump is. Will Trump, in the very few months before this summit, rigorously prepare? Will he bring along experienced and expert advisors (instead of another real estate conman who also happens to know nothing but who also happens to be his son-in-law)? Kim undoubtedly believes he can get Trump to unwittingly agree to things no other President ever would. Right now, all North Korea is offering is to freeze their nuclear program, not to dismantle it. Sure, sane people would see that as an accomplishment worthy of meeting half way. But Republicans militarists are hardly that sane, and wouldn’t accept it, so we’ll end up with another fiasco wherein Trump will have to back away from whatever deal he said he supported, like with guns, and the United States will be made to look like liars and hypocrites (you know, like our fearless leader) who don’t really want peace. In fact, they might already be backing off the summit as this is written.
And what is it that we would have to give up in order for the North Koreans to agree to freeze their nuclear efforts? We’d have to agree to respect the territorial integrity of North Korea and not invade it or try to overthrow its regime. Um, isn’t that part of the United Nation’s charter anyway? We’d also probably have to agree to halting our war maneuvers with South Korea. In other words, all North Korea has really ever wanted is, if you leave us alone and don’t threaten us we’ll leave you alone and won’t threaten you. But that’s not easy for America. We play by special rules.
Remember the Cuban missile crisis? Why did the Soviet Union send nuclear weapons to Cuba? Maybe it was because we had already invaded Cuba and tried several times to kill their President? Maybe it was because we had nuclear weapons aimed at the Soviet Union from their doorstep in Turkey? The Soviet Union had to publicly back down. But privately, Kennedy promised to stop invading Cuba and to dismantle the nuclear weapons threatening the Soviet Union (one of the reasons, some think, that he was assassinated). Why is it that the United States gets to make up all of the rules? We have nuclear weapons, in fact we are the only country on the face of the Earth that has actually used them against human beings. How did we become the moral arbiters?
If the invasion of Iraq taught the world anything it’s that countries on America’s radar had better develop nuclear weapons and quickly if they don’t want the same fate. You know, it’s the nuclear deterrence (what’s politely known as “mutually assured destruction”) that we get to talk about. We didn’t hesitate to attack Iraq twice, but blinked when it came to North Korea, resorting only to sanctions and, with Trump, what has clearly shown itself to be empty, albeit dangerous, bombast. But what if countries do decide that they have to defend themselves against such threats? Well, now we have been given the justification for attacking them, a neat little no-win trick. We proclaim that they can’t be trusted with nuclear weapons. That’s true, but can we? We always make rulers of countries we want to blockade or invade appear crazy. We did it with Qaddafi, going so far as to doctor a photograph of him in a dress, when that was in fact considered “crazy” by Americans. I don’t claim to know whether the claims about what Kim has done to his people are true, anymore than we know about the claims that were made against Saddam. Trump isn’t the only one who makes convenient shit up. But the offensive use of nuclear weapons is, itself, clear insanity, just a different kind, a kind that we have no right to be preaching about.
Is a denuclearized Korean peninsula a good thing? Sure it is, if they’re thereafter left alone. But will Trump promise that? And even if he does, if we don’t like their ultimate solution or if they suddenly find oil, what guarantees do they have? I mean, don’t we talk about guarantees when it comes to other countries? We didn’t like that the overwhelming majority of Vietnamese would have voted for Ho Chi Minh (Eisenhower estimated it at 80%), so we stopped the election, put up a puppet dictatorship in the South, then killed and replaced them with a more useful puppet, then virtually obliterated the country. Ah, exporting democracy indeed. So, while I’m thinking it will be nice to get Trump out of the country for a few days, I’m just not quite ready to start doling out credit for anything. We’ll see.