When Richard Nixon traveled to Beijing to begin a relationship with communist China, that was historic. When Jimmy Carter traveled to the Mid-East to shepherd the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt, that was historic. When Ronald Reagan stood before the Berlin Wall and exhorted Mikhail Gorbachev to tear it down, that was historic.
All these trips made the world better.
But when Donald J Trump traveled a few feet into North Korea with that countries murderous dictator Kim Jong Un, stayed a few seconds before scurrying back into South Korea, that “historic” event was simply another Act in a tragic opera that is making the world more dangerous.
And how did this event come about?
To hear Donald J Trump tell it, while attending the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, long planned and scheduled, he was simply struck with a brilliant thought.
“Yesterday I was just thinking ‘I am here, let’s see whether or not we can say hello to Kim Jong Un,” Trump told us.
So, using his favorite form of communication, our President “tweeted” to Kim his idea of meeting. And presto, vola, Trump shot over to South Korea, Kim rushed down to the Demilitarized Zone and it happened.
Many observers don’t believe that, including one as quoted thusly in the Washington Post.
“Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University in Seoul, said it was inconceivable that the leaders of two powerful nations had arranged a meeting at such short notice, calling it a “show” designed to send a political message, without raising expectations about them making actual progress.
“They needed something that is strong on optics but weak on substance,” he said….Trump, under fire for inflaming tensions with Iran, wanted to portray himself as a diplomat who prevented war with North Korea….And Kim wanted to counter domestic criticism that his engagement with the United States had failed to yield results,” Lankov said.
But Trump insisted that this meeting further moved the two Countries toward reaching an overall settlement of differences because it further strengthened their personal relationship.
“We’ve developed a very good relationship and we understand each other very well. I do believe he understands me, and I think I maybe understand him, and sometimes that can lead to very good things.”
Let us pause here to explore these “understandings.”
Does Donald J Trump “understand” that Kim is a murderous dictator who had his Uncle and several of his Uncle’s aides publicly killed by putting them in front of anti-aircraft guns which then blew them to pieces. Does he “understand” that Kim had his half brother murdered with a nerve agent at the Kuala Lumpur airport? Does he “understand” that Kim finally released his American college student prisoner Otto Warmbier who arrived home in a vegetative state and died soon after? Does he understand that the Kim family which has ruled North Korea for so long has never moved toward ending the Korean war which has only been suspended since the 1953 armistice agreement?
And Does Kim Jung Un “understand” who Trump is? Have his experts studied this poor, pathetic damaged man who is our president? Have they watched him withdraw us from World organizations, tear up a treaty with Iran that prevented that country from continuing work on nuclear weapons for a decade, belittle our traditional allies and cozy up to Kim’s fellow dictators, promulgate policies at home and abroad of cruelty and hardship for ordinary people and strut about in the style of the late Benito Mussolini?
Well, there have now been two formal “summits” and this brief border “skirmish” between the two leaders. So who understands what and what will their understandings lead to?
Trump says these meetings may well lead to a denuclearization of North Korea, thus ending the threat of nuclear war initiated by North Korea and resulting in peaceful relations. He then foresees a North Korea that can be helped economically to provide a better life for its people and though he does not say it such an outcome might well lead to a democratization of that country.
The reality is, at each meeting Kim Jong Un has re-affirmed what his father and his grandfather also said – that they are willing and even eager to consider ways for a complete de-nuclearization of the Korean theatre – but of course nothing has come of it . Because that would require a withdrawal of the United States forces from and guarantees for our allies in the region. The Kim family keeps trying and perhaps now hopes they have found someone who can be persuaded to give them the free hand such a withdrawal would allow.
Trump’s first meeting with Kim resulted in nothing but the familiar language on Kim’s part of willingness to consider total de-nuclearization of both sides.
Trump’s second meeting with Kim resulted in the same failure to do anything but hear the same North Korea rhetoric followed by nothing more.
Now, as a result of this third “border skirmish,” we are told both sides have agreed to appoint new emissaries to consider ways not for agreement but ways to find a way to consider ways for an agreement (these are my words to describe was said as the result but read what the two sides said and tell me I’m off the mark.
So, for us, for the United States, these meetings have led to nothing of substance that makes the Theatre or us safer but, I would argue, actually makes it more dangerous because of what Kim has gained.
For Kim, before only a dangerous and murderous “nobody,” he has gained world stature.
He has stood on equal photo op platforms with the President of the United States. He has now traveled to Moscow (first time any North Korean leader has been so invited) to meet Vladimir Putin and talk over common interests. He and China’s Xi Jinpjng have exchanged visits to also talk over common interests.
Would we have been able to sit in on all those meeting as a “fly on the wall,” what would we have heard? Valdimir and Zi advising Kim to denuclearize as the United States wishes, telling Kim it is in their three countries’ interest to agree to the reasonable demands of the United States which will lead to peace, harmony and prosperity for all?
I think not.
I believe we would have heard discussions of how the American President could continue to be “played” and led through his own ignorant sense of grandeur (Nobel prize material, he says) toward doing things and making concessions that will further the interests of those three countries who wish us ill, not well, as demonstrated by their actions to date.
Okay, enough pessimistic talk. Let us hope people like me are totally wrong about all this, wrong about Trump, wrong about Kim, wrong about what we believe we see happening.
Maybe this time when our president returns from some future trip to meet Chairman Kim he can wave a piece of paper on which is written a firm agreement that really means “Peace for our time” and not once again down the dangerous rabbit hole of unfulfilled and unjustified expectations.
Let us hope.