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Hope from Singapore?

Well, I said that I wished President Trump and Leader Kim well before their Singapore summit and that those who were carping in advance and trying to lay down impossible conditions should “cut down on the nonsensical rhetoric.” What I hoped for was a summit that at least didn’t fall apart and achieved a limited first step in disarming North Korea and achieving peace between the U.S and the North as well as between the two Koreas. So how successful was the summit in reaching these goals?

The summit was a middling success. North Korea fell short of my expectations, because Kim took no new steps in reducing his nuclear program. He reiterated his aim to completely denuclearize in the future, which is the ultimate goal, but one he had stated in earlier talks with South Korea’s Moon Jae-in. Trump reported that after the signing of the joint statement, Kim assented to dismantling a missile-engine test site, at the president’s request. Further steps for ending Kim’s nuclear program will be determined in future talks between American negotiators, led by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who has been an able negotiator with Kim in the past, and a North Korean team. We can hope that John Bolton is excluded from the American group and, the greatest negative of the summit, in my mind, was to see Bolton included in the pre-negotiations and the working lunch with the two leaders and their teams.

Kudos to President Trump for remaining cordial and enthusiastic in his warm response to Kim Jong-un. Even more so, I was glad to see the president offer to “stop the war games” that the U.S. jointly runs with South Korea, even labeling them “very provocative.”  That the U.S. continued to carry out military exercises in the region as late as April of this year, prior to the summit was absurd in the first place and threatened to sabotage the meeting. 

Trump’s detractors (of which I am almost always one) have claimed that Trump was “played” or, as Nicholas Kristoff put it, “outfoxed” by Kim because Trump made a new concession and Kim didn’t. I disagree. In the first place, the joint war games are provocative and are conducted more as a threat than as a strategic necessity. In the second place, to be the first to make a concession is only an error to those who see negotiation in the narrow terms of mutual demonstrations of power. Stopping the war games costs us nothing in real-life terms and demonstrates a willingness to see the situation from Kim’s point of view and puts him in the position of needing to make the next move in a give and take of reciprocal compromises. This is, after all, a method very similar to how the U.S. negotiated the Iran nuclear deal. And personally, I applaud any reduction in “shows of force” as our way of communicating between nations. War games are a dangerous and, yes, provocative, way of dealing with adversaries and virtually always serve to maintain hostilities, not reduce them.

What about the claim, plastered all over today’s American media, that what was achieved was just another instance of North Korea promising a lot and either doing nothing or reneging on its agreements. The history of efforts to get North Korea to abandon its nuclear program is one of misunderstandings and mutual mistakes. The usual picture portrayed in the U.S. media —which is one in which North Korea cheats on every deal made with them—is a gross oversimplification of a series of situations in which both sides showed bad faith. As former diplomat and Clinton administration negotiator with North Korea, Richard Boucher, recently revealed, the breakdown of the Agreed Framework talks, led by Madeline Albright and with Kim Jong-il, was due to the North Korean leader’s insistence that, after initial agreements, the next phase of the talks should include a face to face meeting between Kim and President Clinton, but Secretary Albright (and presumably the president) refused such a meeting. Feeling insulted, Kim walked away and suspended his cooperation. Later, when the agreement was reinstated during the Bush administration, it was found that North Korea was enriching uranium. Kim Jong-il claimed that he was violating nothing by doing so, because he had suspended the Agreed Framework. He also pointed out that the U.S. had itself violated the agreement by failing to stay current with grain and fuel shipments to his country, which were part of the deal. North Korea’s continued drive to develop a nuclear program and its exportation of missile technology further undercut the efforts to curtail their nuclear ambitions during the Six-Party talks, but in most cases, North Korea refused to concede the end of its program rather than saying they were ending it and cheating. Meanwhile, the U.S. continued to conduct war game, which included the presence of missile-carrying ships and aircraft and, at times, nuclear bomb capable B-52s.

This was an initial meeting between the two countries’ leaders. It was friendly, perhaps constructive, and better than the mutual threats that had many people on the edge of their chairs only a few months ago. Could it have accomplished more? Probably. Could it have accomplished less? Certainly.  It’s a first step. Let's try to look at it realistically, instead of through the lens of politics. Peace is important enough for that.


Reader Comments (1)

I agree wholeheartedly with your point of view. As a Progressive Democrat, I find it most difficult to do so, but when you see liberal principles of "talk over silence" used to attempt to promote peace, there is not much to disagree with.

The whole situation of Trump having success seems to be difficult from a psychological and philosophical point of view. As I said before, I wish there was a companion book to "When Bad Things Happen to Good People," titled "When Good Things Happen to Bad People." (I will never put Trump into a category of people I respect or admire. And let me be perfectly clear, if he paid me five million dollars to put a sticker on my Prius with his name, I couldn't do it. I find many of his actions unforgivable, naive, uninformed, short-sighted and immoral.) However, to deny that the possibility for peace exists more with open dialog than with confrontation would be disingenuous on my part.
Trump's success reminds me of a situation in a classroom with preschoolers. Let's imagine little Kyle is sitting in the coatroom refusing to come into the room. I talk to him to no avail. I go out of the coatroom and ask little Christopher, who I know Kyle likes if he'll tell Kyle it's time to come in. Christopher talks to Kyle in a language they both understand, and sure enough, Kyle joins the rest of the class. He begins to copy the behavior of the others. And now we have something to work with.

What I find most difficult to swallow is that it's the person of Trump who was able to get a dialog started. Why couldn't it have been one of the "good guys", one of the intelligent, mentally balanced, dedicated public servants who have worked so hard and sagaciously throughout all these years? That's the part that's hard to accept. I remember doing a google search on the woman my husband married after he left my daughter and me. Two families were devastated; people tried to commit suicide; kids were psychologically destroyed; lives were affected negatively. But guess what I found when I searched her name years later? I found her name listed under their community awards for "Random Acts of Kindness!" Trump's victory feels like that to me. We know what he has done and continues to do to education, the environment, the courts, the press, and our system of government, but we can't look at it through our own selfish need for a vindication of our belief system. We have to look at any good as a good. If this dialog opens up a better life for the people of North Korea, a more open society, a lessening of the possibility of nuclear annihilation it has to be, as Martha Stewart would say, "a good thing".

June 13, 2018 | Unregistered CommenterBillie Kelpin

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