As tempting as it is to make light of that tawdry president-and-the-porn-star affair, the more important story on Thursday was President Donald Trump accepting an invitation for a face-to-face sit-down with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. The talks will concern such such weighty matters at North Korea’s lately impressive nuclear weapons program and the 68-year-old war the has never officially ceased on the Korean peninsula, and involve two of the flightiest figures on the world stage.
In the nerve-wracking lead-up to the negotiations Trump had taken to calling Kim “Little Rocket Man” and “tweeting” taunts about his height and weight, with a better command of the English language and a more subtle wit Kim had retorted by calling Trump a dotard, both had exchanged threats to utterly annihilate the other’s country, and the introductions should be awkward. The opening position that Trump has vowed not budge from is that North Korea never forswear its nuclear ambitions, Kim is holding just as fast to his country’s bedrock position that it will never do so, so the rest of it will also probably prove complicated.
Still, it’s a hopeful development, if you’re the hopeful sort. The past 68 years of carefully calibrated diplomacy by Republican and Democratic administrations alike haven’t solved the increasingly worse problem on the Korean peninsula, so a first-ever face-to-face meeting between the North Korean and American heads of state might be worth a try. “To jaw-jaw is always better than war-war,” as the great Winston Churchill famously said, and an international negotiation attended by such serious fellows as Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson might prove more useful than the recent “twitter” wars of schoolyard taunts. Trump’s opening position is quite sound, his administration has successfully imposed international economic sanctions that are having an apparent effect on North Korean’s thinking, and the past 68 years of Republican and Democratic administrations have bequeathed him some hefty military leverage as well.
Still, if you’re not the hopeful types it raises the unsettling question of what could go wrong. Kim is pretty much the madman that Trump portrays, but he’s got rational if self-interested reasons for his own unwavering position, and his conventional weaponry’s constant proximity to South Korea’s capital and most populous and friendship with formidable neighbor China also give him some significant leverage. He’s also got a point, alas, about Trump being something of a dotard.
Trump comes into the negotiations from a somewhat weaker political position, as Kim is an absolute dictator who can have have any critics quieted, while Trump, to his apparent disappointment, is not. Trump has to deal with brouhahas about porn stars and steel tariffs and his son-in-law and “dreamers” and that “Russia thing” and his desultory opinion polls and whatever he last “tweeted” about, so for now he needs a big win in the media more than does Kim. If a big win turns out to be a 69th straight year without a nuclear conflagration we’ll take it, and Trump might as well, but there’s no telling with this guy. We’re reassured by some of the remaining non-son-law and very serious fellows remaining in Trump’s administration, but the face-to-face is tentatively scheduled for early May and given the recent turnover there’s no telling how many of them will still be around.
In any case, we’ll hope for the best, even though we’re not really the hopeful type.
— Bud Norman