This week Trump is off to Vietnam to meet with Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea. Revealingly, the bar is already being set very low for what may be accomplished at this meeting. Trump’s original goal was denuclearization, meaning that North Korea would have to give up its nuclear weapons program and remove whatever atomic bombs or warheads it has. But North Korea isn’t stupid. They know what happened to Qaddafi when he got rid of his weapons of mass destruction (WMD) in Libya. For North Korea, nuclear WMD is a sort of insurance policy — a rational arsenal to deter the U.S. from launching a regime-change war.
Coming out of the last summit in Singapore between these men, Trump essentially declared “peace in our time,” even though North Korea has yet to make any significant changes in its nuclear weapons program. Again, why should North Korea surrender its weapons?
If Ronald Reagan’s motto was “trust — but verify” with the Soviet Union, Trump’s motto with North Korea is simply “trust.” It’s encouraging that Trump is no longer threatening to bring nuclear fire and fury to the North Koreans, and that Kim Jong-un is no longer approving launches of missiles in the general direction of Hawaii. But is there any treaty being negotiated with substantive details of verification? Do the North Koreans truly have any intent to give up their nuclear weapons? I’d say the answer to both questions is no.
Interestingly, at the request of the Trump administration, the Japanese government has nominated Trump for a Nobel Peace Prize for his attempted rapprochement with North Korea. Perhaps Trump’s peculiar brand of diplomacy may ease tensions with North Korea. Detente may be followed by a negotiated settlement and an end to the rancor produced by the Korean War. Such an ending would indeed be prize-worthy.
Trump’s quixotic efforts seem more vanity project than a well-considered project for peace. Yet perhaps a vain wannabe dictator like Trump has an edge in understanding a vain and very real dictator like Kim Jong-un. Trump, after all, did speak of a special bond he has with Kim, one that’s akin to falling in love. And doesn’t love conquer all?
Trump, sadly, is probably being played by North Korea. But who cares if lives are saved? Facing possible famine, the North Korean people could surely use food and other aid. Let’s hope the U.S. is able to give them some in exchange for promises, however vague, of denuclearization, however defined.
At this point, I’m tired of thinking of countries and national egos. I’d rather think of saving lives. Why not start in North Korea?