Choose your adjective.
It is infuriating/disgusting/hilarious/mind-blowing to watch Republicans suddenly do a 180 degree pirouette on the advisability of direct talks with rogue terror-sponsoring nations, now that President Trump has announced that is precisely what he is intending to do. For years they have excoriated any Democratic politician who hinted at anything approaching negotiations, saying that doing so was a sign of weakness, and a surrender of important principles. They made some very good points about the unreliability of North Korean leaders as negotiating partners and highlighted repeated violations of past agreements by the North Koreans. Their success in making their point was impressive, and many Democrats agreed with them. As a result, no recent American administration, Republican or Democratic, has agreed to direct bilateral talks with the North Koreans without significant preconditions.
President Trump’s sudden conversion from a man who repeatedly rejected negotiations with North Korea and believed the solution lay in piling on more sanctions (like there is really anything left to sanction) and making threats of war is enough to give anyone whiplash. And much of the Republican Party has suddenly made that conversion with him. It’s a wonder they aren’t all walking around Capitol Hill wearing neck braces. I guess being utterly without principles does give your policy neck a bit more flexibility.
But I’m not really mad about it, because the result may be worthwhile. I’ve always been of the opinion that talking to our enemies hurts no one and nothing. Talking increases the chances for understanding and progress, and in and of itself harms nothing. I’ve never supported the policy (urged by conservatives, consistently when Democrats are in power and somewhat less consistently when Republicans hold the reins) that talking is a sign of weakness or gives “legitimacy” to our enemies.
I don’t really know what is going through Trump’s head (and I’m kind of thankful of that), or what his reasons are for his sudden reversal, but to some extent I don’t care. Whatever the reason, it presents an opportunity we have not had in some time. It certainly annoys me that if President Obama had tried to do the exact same thing, Republicans would have branded him a traitor, a spineless weakling and worse, but I can get past that for the possibility of real progress toward peace in Korea.
It is just a slim possibility of course, and there is considerable danger in these talks as well. I have no confidence in Trump, an ignorant man who does not show any desire to learn, to negotiate on our behalf. Only a few of his closest advisers have the experience and knowledge necessary to advise him well, and I pray that those few are able to guide him as he enters talks with very high stakes.
The North Koreans may be playing this just for the advantage in prestige it will give them. They are very likely to renege on any commitment they make. They undoubtedly believe they can take advantage of Trump’s inexperience and lack of knowledge to advance their own goals. These are givens, but so long as you know that going in, they aren’t showstoppers.
Any sane person should also worry about the possible explosive fallout from putting two combustible personalities like Trump and Kim in the same room together. Trump is never one to forgive a slight, and Kim has called him a dotard and vowed to destroy him. Kim, on the other hand, is also notably volatile and has reportedly had many who criticized him killed. And Trump has called him short, fat, a maniac and a madman. Doesn’t sound like a match made in heaven.
On the other hand, perhaps they are kindred spirits who can come to an understanding. Generally understandings reached between two such people have not been of great benefit to the world (think Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact), but that’s not a certainty.
What is a certainty is that our long policy of opposing North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs through diplomatic isolation and ever tougher sanctions has been a complete and utter failure. North Korea is a nuclear power now. We have to deal with that new reality, as it can’t be wished away. Maybe it’s time to try something new, like talking.
Don’t get me wrong, I think these negotiations are unlikely to result in any real progress, but they’re worth a try. For once Trump’s instincts might be right. There is at least a hope for something positive to come out of it, hope that has been utterly missing from our North Korea policy for a long time.
Doesn’t change how I feel about Trump. He’s still a racist buffoon and an abomination that should never ever have been elected. I won’t ever like him and won’t ever stop working to see he is defeated in 2020.
But I wish him well in his talks with Kim, and I’m glad he is having them.