Here’s a recent typical headline about the upcoming talks between President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un: “Will Trump’s Ignorance (and Bolton’s Impetuousness) Doom the North Korea Summit?”
When it comes to ignorance, there can be little question that the Trump administration is in a league all its own. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, for instance, recently referred to Kim as “Chairman Un” (perhaps confusing him with the U.N.), which would be as if someone referred to Pompeo as Secretary of State Mike. Meanwhile, who could claim that new National Security Advisor John Bolton, a man who still thinks the invasion of Iraq (which he championed) was a fine idea and has long called for an American policy of bombing both Iran and North Korea, is anything but impetuous? He’s similarly promoted the idea of “eliminating” the North Korean regime in a forced reunification of that peninsula. And yet, I can imagine another headline entirely about that June 12th meeting scheduled for Singapore (despite present bumps in the road on the way there): “Will Trump’s Ignorance (and Bolton’s Impetuousness) Ensure the Summit’s Success?”
Let’s start with this: we in the United States have long thought of Kim Jong-un as a madman. In fact, Donald Trump used that very word back when he was still referring to Chairman Un as “Little Rocket Man,” a leader on “a suicide mission for himself.” That, of course, was before he became, in the president’s eyes, a “very honorable” person. Is he, in fact, a grim leader, perfectly capable of ordering the death of his own half-brother? You bet. Is he a madman? I’d put my money on the opposite. I suspect that he’s a canny guy with a fairly clear-eyed view of North Korea’s sole trump card (those nuclear weapons and the missiles to carry them) and the country’s deficits (an economy that, to put it kindly, is struggling in a kind of illegal international nether world).
I suspect that he will arrive in Singapore with a clear plan and will find himself in a room with an impulsive, self-obsessed man easily swayed by praise, flattery, and Obama-topping Nobel dreams. The combination might turn out to be a formula not for “doom” when it comes to a future agreement, but for success, especially since it’s clear that the future war Trump and his men are focused on isn’t on the Korean peninsula with a nuclear-armed power, but halfway across the world, where Iran is distinctly in their gun sights.
It’s easy to forget just how preoccupied we are with, well, ourselves as the ultimate focus of everything. So there have been a million pieces written on Trump and the Korean situation, but it’s remarkable how few of them actually focus on the Koreas, north and south. Today, TomDispatch regular John Feffer, author of the dystopian novel Splinterlands and most recently Aftershock: A Journey into Eastern Europe’s Broken Dreams, does something quite different. He puts the spotlight on Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in. What he points out is just how cleverly the two of them have taken control of the Korean situation, playing President Donald Trump like a fiddle, and why, against all odds, that just might indeed lead to a Nobel-worthy result in a world otherwise increasingly gone mad.