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So Long Nobel Peace Prize!

Hours after North Korea, with Western reporters watching, publicly destroyed the tunnels composing its underground nuclear test site, President Trump announced his withdrawal from the upcoming summit meeting with Kim Jong-un. The president cited  “the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement,” as the reason for his decision to  cancel the meeting. Curiously, he also said, “If you change your mind having to do with this most important summit, please do not hesitate to call me or write. The world, and North Korea in particular, has lost a great opportunity for lasting peace and great prosperity and wealth. This missed opportunity is a truly sad moment in history.” These last words seemed odd, given it was he, Trump, who canceled the meeting, not Kim.

While Trump boasted, that “everyone thinks” that he should get a Nobel Prize, “but I would never say it,” he was right, in that many in both the conservative and liberal media and no less than former president Jimmy Carter, himself a Nobel recipient agreed that a successful summit could mean that Trump deserved such an honor. But alas, the Nobel Prize, is, for the moment, off the table. 

Things had been getting rocky for the last few weeks, most conspicuously since National Security Advisor, John Bolton, who, less than a year ago, recommended that we “eliminate the regime by reunifying the peninsula under South Korean control,”  and suggested that military force, including bombing North Korea was the way to do it, went on several television shows. Bolton said that North Korea must achieve "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearisation."  before the U.S. lifts any sanctions on them and that we should follow the “Libya model” in requiring they ship all of their fissionable material to the U.S. for disposal. He called the Libya model successful, despite the fact that following his relinquishment of his nuclear program, Gaddafi was overthrown by a U.S. militarily supported  revolution and died a horrible death at the hands of a mob.

Even the most naïve observers of U.S./North Korean relations were aware that Bolton’s words would inflame Kim Jong-un, who has, for years, told his supporters that he will not allow North Korea to suffer the fate of Libya. Soon after the Bolton pronouncements, Kim Kye-gwan, North Korea’s foreign minister, responded that his country has no intention of unilaterally giving up its nuclear weapons program, and, lambasted Bolton by saying,  "we do not hide our feelings of repugnance towards him."  The foreign minister went on to say that, "this is not an expression of intention to address the issue through dialogue. It is essentially a manifestation of awfully sinister moves to impose on our dignified state the destiny of Libya or Iraq which had [sic] been collapsed due to yielding the whole of their countries to big powers."

Although President Trump tried to walk back Bolton’s comments by claiming, “the Libyan model is not a model that we have at all when we are thinking of North Korea,”  he followed that with a thinly veiled threat that, “now, that model would take place if we don’t make a deal, most likely.” Later, Vice President Pence, on FOX News, reiterated Bolton’s point that “we need complete and verifiable and irreversible denuclearization, and there's opportunities and benefits for North Korea once we reach that point of no return.” After that, he drove home the threat about treating North Korea like Libya, saying, “ And you know, as the president made clear, you know, this will only end like the Libya Model ended if Kim Jong-un doesn't make a deal.”

North Korea reacted. It’s vice foreign minister, Choe Son-hui, said, Vice President Pence  made“unbridled and impudent remarks that North Korea might end like Libya.” She called Pence’s remarks “ignorant and stupid” and ended her statement with the words,“Whether the U.S. will meet us at a meeting room or encounter us at nuclear-to-nuclear showdown is entirely dependent upon the decision and behavior of the United States.”


Whether it was the final saber-rattling in Minister Choe’s  statement or her characterization of Vice President Pence, Trump reacted by saying that, “based on the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement, I feel it is inappropriate, at this time, to have this long-planned meeting.” He couldn’t resist a little saber-rattling of is own, reminding Kim Jong-un that “you talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.” Minutes after presenting the text of his letter to the Korean leader, president Trump said he hoped that a summit could some day take place, but, in case it didn’t, “our military, which is by far the most powerful anywhere in the world ... is ready if necessary.” 

So the immediate prospects of a summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un are over. 

Kim Jong-un, like his father and grandfather before him, has always been prone to intemperate statements, as have those in his government. He is known to be thin-skinned and petulant, and most of all paranoid about being overthrown by the U.S. in some sort of regime-change action—either a full-scale war or an assassination. He has doggedly built up his nuclear program to the point that it poses a threat to other countries. Virtually everyone knowledgeable about international affairs believes that Kim’s intention is not to use his weapons in a self-destructive war (unless he is faced with imminent annihilation), but to use them as a powerful bargaining chip to secure economic progress and diplomatic respect for his country. To do so is a difficult threading of the needle, given that he can’t give away his bargaining chip at the outset and even well down the road, because if he loses it, he has no leverage with other nations. The only solution is that his country is able to reverse its economic stagnation and present such a non-belligerent face to the world, that, at some point, a threatening nuclear arsenal is no longer needed for Kim to obtain the goals that he is hoping for, and because of the cost of maintaining it, becomes, in fact, a liability.

Unfortunately, U.S. policy, despite peace overtures by Kim Jong-un, was not able to modify itself to meet the situation. It appeared that President Trump, who seems to have rushed into the agreement about a summit without either  checking with his advisors or thinking about what it would entail, and perhaps even Secretary Pompeo, were ready to talk and negotiate with Kim, but the circus of advisors that the president has around him – most publicly, Bolton and Pence—could not keep the U.S. position consistent or even coherent. Furthermore, Trump himself began to wobble, fearing that he might look as if he was giving in to Kim, which could make him look weak, and eventually holding out one hand in friendship (with gushing praise for the North Korean leader) while threatening Kim with the fate of Libya and its leader, Gaddafi with the other.

North Korea and Kim Jong-un are a difficult to predict temperamental and highly secretive mess when it comes to a negotiating partner. The United States and its president are supposed to be the adults in the room. Unfortunately, the U.S. and its president acted with almost no coordination among the members of the administration, with impulsive statements being the rule of the day, and with no coherent plan concerning what they wanted to achieve in negotiating with Kim. The entire charade was topped off with the president’s nonsensical letter praising and castigating Kim at the same time, canceling the summit because of feeling slighted by words that were no more belligerent than those of his own administration, and then portraying North Korea as the one that caused the summit to be canceled.

If ever there was a demonstration that immaturity and lack of competence can be a disaster in foreign relations, this is it.















Reader Comments (7)

It's hard not to get the feeling that you have a little boy king who about 7 years old looking at the pretty buttons in the castle tempted to press the one everyone says, "You mustn't touch". After listening to former policy advisor Jake Sullivan on Wolf Blitzer this afternoon, a sad yearning for his kind of intellect to magically prevail overtakes a person. Knowing Trump's modus operandi, the most likely scenario of his cancellation of the meeting was that North Korea was ready to postpone it for some reason, and Trump needed to save face.

Trump's total lack of cultural considerations is astounding to me. The man has no understanding that his values are not everyone's values. His rhetoric is sickening. I wonder how parents are explaining this kind of problem-solving and crisis prevention to their children. I'm sorry, but I can't help saying that this President is an utterly disgusting role model. I have never felt this much repugnance toward a Republican leader ever in my 50 years of voting, nor have I ever felt so unsafe.

Evangelicals and radical Muslim extremists may have their wish of Armageddon and seven virgins after all. It's a sickening shame - all that mankind has achieved, all the promise of technology, blown up because of a psychologically impaired human being. And if anyone thinks that once the codes are launched that won't happen, he's fooling himself.

Meanwhile, behind the scenes, the courts are being filled with conservative judges, the restrictions on banks are being lifted, the EPA protections are being obliterated, and the very fabric of our government is being undermined by a President who, for his own selfish purposes, proposes vast conspiracy theories. And now we have to all stand in allegiance to the flag that represents all this?

Maybe we don't deserve for humankind to go on if there has been such a large number of people who couldn't identify the fools among us, who admire materialism and money so much that all other values of honor and integrity fall by the wayside. I'm just so sad for the rest of the world and sad for the children.

May 24, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBillie Kelpin

Apparently, very few people here understand that to have a fair hand in negotiating, you need to be willing to walk away to make the other side recognize what they’re potentially losing. Now that Kim has been smacked down, he’ll be eager to get back to the table, but with a more cooperative attitude. The meeting will take place, the denuclearization will occur and President Trump will deservedly win a Nobel Peace Prize, unlike his predecessor who got one for having been elected president while possessing a particularly commendable immutable characteristic. That’s pretty much the epitome of racial bias and the opposite of meritocracy.

May 24, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

Anyone who has bought a car, negotiated the price of a house, has read "The Art of the Deal," or has had children, understands walking away from the table and the necessity of doing so at strategic times. This is not a case of walking away from the table. There is nothing strategic about what Trump did today.
My intuitive sense tells me that's not why Trump did this. It makes no sense. I don't know what the reason is, but it's not that. There were journalists in place in North Korea watching what seemed to be North Korea blowing up of certain nuclear test sites (whether the action was staged or not), there was the return of the three prisoners, and other conciliatory actions. Plus, the South Korean President Moon Jae-In (the real peace initiator) wasn't even informed of Trump's decision, nor were any of our allies, It's also my understanding that China has even started the process of lifting sanctions on North Korea in anticipation of the lessening of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, so everything was moving along.. Something else that we don't know about is going on, and it isn't about walking away from the table, and it wasn't about defending Pence. (When has Trump ever defended anyone if his own selfish interests were not on the line?) Nothing about his actions today make sense. Peace Prize? Ha! This man has brought so much discord to our nation, has caused such chaos, generated so much disrespect for the separation of powers and the very institutions that our Constitution has set up that he darn well better do something spectacular to reverse the harm he has caused. Something spectacular would simply pay for his misdeeds. Two somethings spectacular might squeak him by for some kind of applause - maybe.

May 25, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBillie Kelpin

Something broke down in the pre-negotiations which would not have allowed the world a true easement of concern regarding North Korea. It seems clear that North Korea has already rethought their position. A simple but effective tactic has been deftly employed.

I think that President Trump has brought discord to the country only for a vocal minority of sore losers who seem to have an unwavering animus toward President Trump for defeating their chosen candidate. Otherwise, a plurality of people seem to think their life is better under the current president even if some don't want to give him credit. I don't think there has been a disrespect for the separation of powers- in many respects I think the president has been too benign in dealing with the malignancy of the deep state and the unholy bureaucracy. I'm not sure what misdeeds you're referring to, but if you mean illegalities, then I agree that any citizen needs to be held accountable for their actions. If by misdeeds you mean things which offend you, well, being offended doesn't make you right- just indignant, sad and tired.

May 25, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

I have voted in elections for 52 years since I was 21 years old and have seen many candidates lose, federal, state, and local. I have worked for candidates for the House and Senate in MN and CA. I have seen many of the people I have supported and for whom I marched in parades lose elections; I have seen many candidates I supported for President lose. But you're exactly right, I do feel unwavering animus, the animus I have NEVER felt for George W. Bush, George HW Bush, Reagan, Ford, or even Nixon. I find Trump to be an intellectually challenged and dangerous person whose values and views of conflict resolution are despicable to me. I sincerely don't enjoy ranting on political articles I read, but I feel it's a moral imperative to speak out in this visceral way because I appreciate having been in a country whose government was so elegantly designed and I can see that fabric eroding with this President.

May 25, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBillie Kelpin

it seems to me you're seeing our president through a backwards lens. Only a person with President Trump's particular fearlessness can usurp control of this country from the unelected functionaries in our capitol who have seized power. It's what his supporters find most attractive about him.

By values, do you mean political or personal values? Though I didn't care for the personal values of many of our past presidents, I did however care about their political values. I grew to dislike President Obama because of his weakness of character on the international stage, not because of his many illegal and immoral personal propensities.

May 25, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

One final note: Everyone on this board should be fervidly hoping that our president does win the Nobel Peace Prize. I would assume that we are all for achieving peace on the Korean Peninsula and the denuclearization of North Korea. If you are rooting for President Trump to fail in this endeavor, I must question why you are more committed to perpetuating war than achieving peace. It’s an entirely illiberal and illogical desire.

May 25, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterMark Wheeler

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