Donald Trump’s announcement during a meeting with South Korean national security advisor Chung Eui-yong that he would be willing to enter talks with Kim Jong-un of North Korea has played like the teasers that are standard fare of reality television, drawing out the flurry of commentary calculated to make us forget that Robert Mueller and Stormy Daniels are still with us.
First published in March 2018.
As the Vulcan proverb puts it, only Nixon can go to China. Or perhaps we should say that only Hitler can go to Munich. The latter reference, as clichéd as it sounds, is appropriate, given the Austrian corporal’s willingness to bring the world to the unwalled borders of war to get what he wanted. A reckless disregard for the millions of lives at stake may work for a while, and when nothing else has proved effective, that might be what is required.
If Trump is able to achieve a Korean peninsula without nuclear weapons, I will give him the credit that he will be due. He does show an affinity for the world’s dictators, praising the vicious war on drugs in the Philippines and expressing his desire to see our country adopt the Chinese model of a president for life. It may be that he has a sense of what the North Korean dictator needs to feel secure. And as the antics of Dennis Rodman show, playing along with madmen sometimes works.
But to what end? Trump’s adulation of tyrants leaves me wondering if we will not see an agreement to leave the North Koreans as a nuclear power. The regime has no moral basis for its continuation, and its leaders understand that their own version of the Samson Option is what keeps bringing us back to talk with them. And as has been pointed out in the past, from the North Korean perspective, it was the decision of Libya’s Gaddafi to renounce his weapons program that led to his downfall.
Would Trump be willing to normalize relations with North Korea remaining a nuclear power? He has shown no interest in addressing Russia’s annexation of Crimea or in stopping that country’s interference in our elections. His use of force so far, beyond carrying out Obama’s plans against ISIS, has resulted in four special forces soldiers killed in Niger and bombs dropped on Afghanistan and Syria — to limited effect, and the latter done only after warning the target of what was coming.
This is not to say that I want to see Trump become increasingly belligerent. Instead, I am concerned that having vented his spleen against Rocket Man, he may now reveal himself to be in the “hearts and flowers” phase of an abusive relationship, ready to accept whatever Kim demands in an effort to appear to have made a deal.
At which point, his dutiful supporters will be all too likely to rewrite their previous vitriol against North Korea and give Putin some competition for most beloved foreign potentate. Peace is an end to be desired, but the illusion of peace in hopes of adding something to the win column is not, especially in the case of a U.S. president who would love to see a Mansu Hill-style monument to himself on the National Mall.
One danger of a mercurial and narcissistic leader is that policy decisions depend on who was the last person to flatter him or on whatever mood he is experiencing at the moment. Putting two such leaders in a room together could result in any number of disasters, and the people of both countries are left to hope that there will be enough stable adults present to restrain the wilder impulses of those whom they serve. Upon such fragility is our future grounded with Trump as president.🔷
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