The Democrats, the anti-Trump news anchors and the panels of parroting pundits are working their biases overtime in trying to avoid giving President Trump any credit for the progress being made with North Korea. They are trying very hard to vindicate their earlier warnings that Trump was leading us into World War III. That is not an exaggeration. That is what they said.
The #neverTrump crowd has a number of theories to explain Kim Jong-un’s decision to come to the table, to accept U.S. military presence in South Korea and to hold out the possibility of ending his nuclear program. They credit the dialogue that has taken place between North and South Korea since the Olympics – often suggesting that Trump is out of the loop. They say it is actually China or Russia that have exerted their influence on Kim. They say Kim’s change of heart is because the sanctions are beginning to have an impact on the North Korean economy.
Since they deny Trump any positive credit, the Democrats and the anti-Trump media continue to characterize Trump as the bull in the china shop – or in this case, the North Korean shop. They say he is not capable of conducting such serious negotiations. They speculate that a hot-headed Trump will make some monumental – though unexplained – blunder that will worsen the situation. A few have even brought up the ridiculous World War III fear mongering if no deal is reached.
They thought that Trump’s bellicose language directed at “rocket man” Kim was undiplomatic. But his critics missed the point. Behind all the name-calling was a serious and credible threat that the United States would take down the regime of Kim Jong-un if he persisted with his nuclear program. The threat was credible because every nation in the world – friend and foe alike – believed that Trump would do it. Of course, that is the only way a threat can be considered credible. One has to admit that Trump’s tough talk (which I usually dislike) was far more effective than all those empty threats and invisible red lines of the past.
They accuse Trump of being irrational, erratic and impulsive. He has no strategy, they chime. They arrogantly believe that if they are not told the strategy, the White House does not have one. This is because they obsess on his tweets.
As with all of Trump’s international moves, he seeks and listens to a range of advisors, including his Chief of Staff, his CIA Director and incoming Secretary of State, his highly competent and respected Secretary of Defense and leaders of the House and Senate. He regularly confers with various involved heads of state. Do the constant critics really expect us to believe that Japanese Prime Minister Abe came all the way to Mar-a-Lago to play golf?
Since taking office, Trump has executed the “maximum pressure” campaign on North Korea – publicly and privately. The initial phase was to dramatically end the repeatedly failed “diplomatic” rhetoric of the old pinstriped establishment. Trump did not “call on” Kim to change his ways, as was done over and over in the past. He did not echo the empty policies that stated a nuclear North Korea was unacceptable only to accept it. Unlike three presidents before him, Trump gave meaning to their oft-repeated claim that “the military option was on the table.”
Even as Trump hit Kim across the forehead with the military two-by-four, he hinted at the diplomatic “carrot.” “We could get along,” Trump said – with a major IF implied. As soon as things began to mellow in Pyongyang, Trump dropped the name calling. He praised Kim’s moves toward negotiation. And all the time, Trump was using back channels to advance serious talks – culminating in the secret visit to Pyongyang by CIA Director and Secretary of State nominee Mike Pompeo.
It is also noteworthy that Pompeo also addresses the future of the Americans currently held prisoners in North Korea. This is something that President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry sadly omitted from their negotiation with Iran.
If we were to more carefully examine all those factors the Trump critics attributed to the easing of tensions, we are likely to find the strategic hand of President Trump.
First, there is the softening of the tensions between the still officially warring halves of the Korean peninsula. The first noteworthy thaw in the relationship was the inclusion of North Korean athletes in the Seoul Olympics – a breakthrough Trump had encouraged and praised.
The next move was planning official “talks” between the South and North. The anti-Trump media spun this as an indication that Trump was out of the loop. In reality, the Trump White House was very much involved in the promotion and planning of the North/South dialogue – so said South Korean President Moon Jae-in. If one is to conjecture, the far more likely spin would be that the seeming rapprochement was part and parcel of the overall Trump strategy.
Avoiding the obvious, some #neverTrump pundits gave the lion’s share of the credit to President Xi Jinping of China. They especially noted Kim’s rare out-of-country visit to Beijing. It is very likely that Xi gave Kim a lot of good fatherly advice – maybe even a trip to the proverbial woodshed.
But, why would Xi do that? The most obvious reason is under pressure from Trump. For decades, the old guard had affirmed that China was the key to get North Korea to reform. It was Trump, however, that shifted from talking ABOUT China and started talking TO China – and in no uncertain terms. The credible threat of a military solution was important in getting China to publicly state that a nuclear North Korea was unacceptable. It was this and other threats that got China and Russia to support a UN resolution condemning North Korea. China and to some extent Russia are in play in a positive way not despite Trump, but because of his strategy and his one-on-one negotiations.
Several of the media pundits saw the sanctions as a key element in getting Kim to fold. They fail to note, however, that it was Trump that was instrumental in imposing those sanctions. They were all part of the larger strategy.
When Trump first said that he would be more than happy to sit down with Kim, the old establishment when a bit berserk. They theorized that such a meeting would be a disaster because it would only give Kim his greatest desire – to appear to be a player on the big world stage. That seems to be a reasonable price to pay for getting nukes off the Korean peninsula, heading off further nuclear proliferation and limiting terrorist access to weapons of mass destruction.
With little factual basis for criticism, Democrats and the media are still prognosticating all kinds of foreboding outcomes. They say that a deal cannot be reached because the North Koreans lie and ignore any deal to which they agree. The old guard should know because they have been accepting empty promises without repercussion for decades. It would be wrong to assume, as they do, that Trump would follow that fruitless policy. It is more likely that Trump will refuse any deal that does not establish effective monitoring. He is more likely to follow the Reagan diplomacy axiom – trust but verify.
The future is always uncertain, but Trump has already come closer to resolving the nuclear issue and having the 60-year war footing end with a peace treaty than any of his predecessors. Should he be successful, it would be a historic achievement on par with Reagan ending the cold war and Nixon opening China. It could also tamp down the Democrats optimism over the 2018 election.