Kim Jong-un is not trying to pull a fast one on Trump. He doesn’t have something up his sleeve, and he’s not trying to pull the wool over anyone’s eyes. He wants to end the war, establish good relations with his neighbors in the South, and get on with the business of improving the lives of his people. There’s nothing more to it than that.
Kim’s nuclear weapons have been a bust from the get-go. They haven’t provided security or prosperity. They have only intensified the North’s isolation, damaged the economy, and triggered a crisis that could end in a mushroom cloud.
The only thing they’ve been good for, is bringing Trump to the bargaining table. In that regard, Kim’s nukes have succeeded beyond anyone’s wildest imagination. And the importance of that development cannot be overstated because the critical issues cannot be resolved until the two leaders get together and sort things out. So, at least there is one positive thread to all this. (The Kim-Trump Summit is scheduled to take place sometime in late May or June.)
Unfortunately, the Trump administration has decided to take a hard-nosed approach to the negotiations. Administration officials have already said that they will demand “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization”. They also expect Kim to cooperate in the decommissioning of his arsenal. In exchange, the administration is offering nothing, no concessions at all. That could change, but with warhawks like Bolton and Pompeo at the helm, the prospects do not look good.
Surprisingly, Kim isn’t particularly phased by the administration’s uncompromising approach. In fact, he doesn’t seem bothered by it at all. Even more surprising is the fact that Kim has not made any of the demands the DPRK has made in the past. For example, Kim hasn’t asked Trump to withdraw US troops from South Korea, or to remove the Pentagon’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system (THAAD) from its location in the South or to stop Washington’s provocative military drills on the North’s border. He hasn’t asked for food or energy assistance, financial inducements or the lifting of economic sanctions. Kim hasn’t even asked for the resumption of normal diplomatic relations with United States. He’s only asked for two things:
- He wants a formal end to the Korean War (A Peace Treaty)
- He wants Washington to promise that it will not attack the North in the future.
That’s it. That’s all he’s asking for. Kim is willing to oversee the liquidation of his nuclear weapons arsenal for the same security guarantees that are already provided to every sovereign nation in the world under International Law and the UN Charter. That seems like a pretty small request to me.
Is it a trick? The New York Times seems to think so. Here’s what the Times said on Monday:
“Skeptics fear that Mr. Kim does not really intend to give up his nuclear weapons and is merely trying to soften his image, escape sanctions and make it more difficult for Mr. Trump to continue to threaten military action.” (NYT)
The Times is both right and wrong. It is a trick, but not in the way they describe. Kim is not laying a trap for Trump. The trap is the inflexibility of US policy. That is the problem Trump is going to face in the weeks ahead. Not Kim, but deep-state Washington, the all-powerful foreign policy establishment that doesn’t want change, doesn’t want compromise, and sure as heck doesn’t want peace. That is the brick wall Trump is about to run into head-first.
Consider, for a minute, what the public reaction is going to be if Kim, as I predict, asks for nothing more than a piece of paper that formally ends the war?
Will Kim look like a peacemaker who wants to end the crisis and normalize relations or will he be criticized for not taking a tougher stance?
He will be praised, right, lauded by everyone except the warmongering western media and their neocon paymasters in the political establishment. They, of course, will hate Kim more than ever and find new ways to heap abuse on him.
But that’s not going to bother Trump, after all, Trump has had plenty of dust-ups with the fake news stations and doesn’t take them seriously anyway. Besides, Trump knows a good deal when he sees one. If Kim is willing to abandon his nukes for a piece of paper with his name scratched at the bottom, Trump will be more than willing to oblige. Trump knows that an agreement with Kim will make him look like a foreign policy genius. Think about it. He will have solved a niggling problem that has bedeviled the Washington bigshots for more than 6 decades. It will be a triumph he can point to in his stump speeches, and during his reelection campaign, and in the lead-up to the midterms when he’s trying to drum-up support for the sad sack Republicans. Bottom line: There is nothing but “upside” to a nuclear deal with North Korea. It is a win-win situation for Donald J. Trump, foreign policy Maestro.
So, where’s the downside? Where’s the trap? If both Kim and Trump are eager to make a deal, then what’s to stop them?
Ahh, but there’s the rub. You see, Trump is still under the illusion that the president sets foreign policy, but the president doesn’t set foreign policy. The powerful, but largely invisible, foreign policy establishment sets foreign policy. And they’re not going to give up anything. No security guarantees, no end to the war, and no concessions. Nothing. Not even a miserable piece of paper. Why?
Because US policy towards Korea is already set in stone. The ruling elites don’t want any changes to their wonderful plan for the permanent division of the Korean peninsula, the endless antagonism between the North and South, the constant threat of hostilities, and the perennial justification for US military occupation. They want to maintain the status quo, which involves a subjugated people constantly at each others throats, on a splintered stretch of land forever dependent on their colonial masters in Washington. This is the precise arrangement that Washington has always sought. Why, in God’s name, would they give it up now?
This is what Trump is up against, an intractable coalition of vicious, bloodsucking elites who are forever angling for their own best advantage despite the suffering it might cost to their victims. If it was up to Trump, he’d sign the treaty in a heartbeat, nab the Nobel Prize, and use his victory to kick the holy bejeesus out of the Democrats in the midterms. But it’s not up to Trump. He won’t be allowed to make that decision. You’ll see.
China knows the US is not going to change its Korean policy. They know how the game is played in Washington. The Chinese assessment of how things really work in the US is no different than Putin’s. Some readers will remember how Putin summed it up in an interview with Le Figaro shortly after Trump was elected. He said:
“I have already spoken to three US Presidents. They come and go, but politics stay the same at all times. Do you know why? Because of the powerful bureaucracy. When a person is elected, they may have some ideas. Then people with briefcases arrive, well dressed, wearing dark suits, just like mine, except for the red tie, since they wear black or dark blue ones. These people start explaining how things are done. And instantly, everything changes. This is what happens with every administration.”
This isn’t a conspiracy theory. This is the way things actually work. The president is a meaningless figurehead, with almost no power at all. And, no, I am not saying that Trump is a peacemaker or a great president or even a good person. He’s not. But he knows a good deal when he sees one, and the Korean nuclear deal is a no-brainer. Pyongyang gives away the farm and Washington gives up zilch. What’s not to like about that?
So what’s the plan here? Why would Kim huddle with Beijing to concoct a goofy scheme that has no chance of succeeding?
I can only speculate, but I suspect China wants the deal to flop, because when the deal flops, all the egg will be on Washington’s face. The world will see, what most people who have followed this issue already know, that the real source of the problems on the peninsula is Washington. And the only way to fix the problem, is for Washington to leave.