North Korea: Can Trump succeed where others have failed?
President Trump’s claim that he’s a master dealmaker is about to face “the ultimate test,” said Yochi Dreazen in Vox.com. Trump last week stunned the world—and his own foreign-policy advisers—by abruptly accepting an offer to meet with dictator Kim Jong Un to negotiate the future of North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program. Kim has promised a missile-test freeze as a show of good faith, and unless something goes wrong, the talks could happen in about two months. Negotiating with Kim is certainly better than exchanging threats to incinerate each other’s population, said Ryu Spaeth in NewRepublic.com. But the odds of Trump pulling off a “Nixon in China” breakthrough with North Korea are “infinitesimally small.” Trump lacks the “emotional fortitude and intellectual wiles” to wrest meaningful concessions from the canny, duplicitous Kim, who is highly unlikely to surrender the nuclear weapons he believes ensure his regime’s survival. Is Trump falling “into a trap that Kim has laid, like a cackling Bond villain, with utter transparency?”
This negotiation will be “like Richard Nixon going to China,” said Jeffrey Lewis in ForeignPolicy.com, “but if Nixon were a moron.” Reportedly, Trump jumped on Kim’s offer, relayed by South Korean diplomats, not realizing that North Korea has been begging for a presidential meeting “since at least the Clinton administration.” Trump’s predecessors all rebuffed these overtures, refusing to elevate the authoritarian leader of North Korea’s Orwellian regime to equal status with America’s president. But Trump is evidently convinced that his own personal genius not only brought Kim to the table but can now persuade him to give up his nuclear weapons. Kim, however, knows that when Muammar al-Qaddafi surrendered his nuclear weapons, he was invaded, toppled, and beaten to death by a mob. This meeting is occurring only because of Trump’s childish need to “one-up” previous presidents, said William Saletan in Slate.com. He’ll directly negotiate with Kim simply “because no other president has done it.”
On North Korea, Trump has actually done far better than his predecessors, said Ed Krayewski in TheFederalist.com. The president has made Kim very nervous by flexing U.S. military muscle with “a gusto that his predecessors lacked,” and by organizing the toughest-ever sanctions against the Hermit Kingdom, with even China joining in. For Trump, Kim’s peace overture “is a huge diplomatic win.” In negotiating with Kim, Trump does have one major advantage over previous presidents, said Ross Douthat in NYTimes.com: He doesn’t care about promoting democracy or human rights abroad. So any promises he makes to Kim not to pursue regime change will be more believable. In exchange for a real guarantee of his survival, who knows what Kim might give up?
The more worrying question is what will Trump give up? said Thomas Wright in TheAtlantic.com. He may be so eager for a historic “win” that he’ll agree to Kim’s offer to surrender his ICBMs in return for a U.S. troop withdrawal from South Korea. That would be a disaster, exposing our ally to later invasion; unfortunately, Trump has made it clear he thinks defending the South is a waste of U.S. dollars. “Let’s hope this White House knows what it’s doing,” said Noah Rothman in CommentaryMagazine.com. If the talks fail and insults resume, a catastrophic war becomes far more likely. If a deal is struck that strengthens Kim and inspires other rogue regimes to engage in nuclear blackmail, the outcome will be nearly as bad. Either way, “we will be living with the consequences” of Trump’s high-stakes gamble “for decades to come.”