The news of a potential meeting between President Trump and the North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un hits like a thunderclap. There is shock and disbelief, and then a cavalcade of questions. Where did this come from? Why was it announced by a South Korean delegation to Washington? Why were many in the U.S. government caught seemingly unaware of the President’s decision? What is the end game?
One has to enter these developments with a very healthy dose of skepticism, and even a weary pessimism, considering the tortured history of escalation and broken promises. There must also be worry that the American diplomatic corps, so vital for a high-stakes showdown like this, has been decimated. North Korea remains one of the most brutal and duplicitous regimes on Earth, if not the most. Having covered many high-level summits, I also know that they are meticulously planned and prepared affairs. One cannot but worry about how this President will approach these negotiations.
But there is no way to cut it, this is a big development.
The President’s partisans are already claiming that this vindicates his bellicose approach to the tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Perhaps. Or perhaps Kim had his arsenal and is negotiating from strength. Or perhaps this is a ruse. Or perhaps it’s a chance for Kim to get what he and his predecessors always wanted, legitimacy on the world stage. Or perhaps something else. Or perhaps, and likely, it’s a combination of many factors.
One note I wish to add is that there has been a tough bipartisan agreement for decades to keep the Korean threat as contained as possible. And I think that deserves some acknowledgment. To wish that foreign policy was not as political is perhaps foolishness considering our fraught partisan environment. But wish it nonetheless I do.
For in the end, I worry a lot less about credit than about calm. I want peace no matter who takes a victory lap. I think odds are against a breakthrough here and there are many reasons to fear things could go horribly wrong but I pray that these fears are proven incorrect. This is about our country and our world. May we find a way to proceed in peace with our allies and our adversaries.
We shall see…