Friday, March 09, 2018

A Trump-Kim Summit? (with Chinese Subtitles…)

A few excited Trump supporting friends of mine, (yes I do have friends who are Trump supporters, I consider it a form of missionary work .) gleefully messaged me today lauding the announcement that President Trump would be meeting with North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un this Spring. “See Obama never achieved that!! #MAGA!”


Ok then… since they seemed truly interested in what I thought of this latest development, fine. Lets set aside for the moment the massive, glaring flashing bright neon sign of  hypocrisy, where these very same people lost their freaking minds when in 2008 Barack Obama merely suggested that he would “Willing to meet” with the North Korean Leader.

Apparently when the Black guy just talks about it, it is giving support to America’s enemies, but when the Orange guy  actually does it, it’s a triumph of statesmanship. OK….Whatever.

The popular take on the political Right is that it was Trump’s tough guy stance and willingness to use military force that brought Kim to the table. Or at least Trump's willingness to say things that gave that impression. And to be fair, there may be some truth in that. The North Korean regime has made a career out of being the “Crazy” one in the room. The unpredictable one. They were accustomed to dealing with a US Administration that always followed the rules of international diplomacy.

North Korean provocations were always met with ‘strongly worded” statements and watered down sanctions from the UN. (Sanctions that China would never quite fall in line with fully implementing.) The worst thing that would usually happen would be stepped up joint military exercises between the US And South Korea. Which in turn provided the North with great PR at home being able to claim the US was the clear aggressor and all North Korea was doing is ensuring its own security.
Lather, rinse, repeat.

Then suddenly you have a US President who is threatening a nuclear first strike on Twitter. Referring to the North Korean Leader by insulting nick names and not giving a rip how his comments and behavior is viewed around the world. North Korea has always counted on the US belief that war on the Korean Peninsula was unthinkable. Suddenly, that was no longer a given,

Add to this, the fact that is has become clear that you have an American Administration that was more than willing to escalate tensions with North Korea as a way to shift the news cycle away from its political problems and scandals at home. Suddenly, North Korea wasn’t the most unpredictable one in the room, and Kim had to factor in the very real possibility of an actual military conflict, that he couldn’t possibly survive on his own.

Which is where the Trump is so smart narrative runs into trouble. Yes the actions by Donald Trump may have had an impact here, but not on North Korea. What is clear, is the Adult in the room finally decided that things were getting out of hand. The reason North Korea is suddenly singing “Give peace a chance”, is because China decided enough was enough.

North Korea is completely dependent on China who for the most part, is happy to let  North Korea get away with being a thorn in the side of the United States,  because that is something that actually benefits China. That being said, the LAST thing China wants is a REAL  military conflict on its back porch.

The only way the North Korean regime could possibly survive any military conflict with the US, is if China went to war on its behalf. Like it did on November 25th 1950, during the Korean War. Something China is not at all about to do In 2018. But what China has done is actually implement many ( not all) of the latest batch of economic sanctions against its unruly little neighbor. Sending a very loud and clear message to Kim that Nuclear playtime was over and it was time to sit down and talk.

Not change, not disarm, just talk.

If the latest round of diplomacy  is feeling somewhat familiar,  it is because we have been down this road more than a few times before. Back during the George W Bush administration the North Koreans made basically the same offer they did this week. They will sit down and talk about disarmament in exchange for security guarantees and lifting of sanctions

Christopher Hill, the former US ambassador who led the negotiations in George W. Bush‘s second term, said at the time, ”The idea that North Korea will abandon its weapons programs in exchange for the promise of security and regime survival has failed whenever it has been tested.“

If you remember, the previous North Korean Leader, Kim Jong-il made a very similar offer. The US then tried to woo North Korea to the negotiating table by giving back frozen assets and removing the regime from the list of state sponsors of terrorism. It was all show. In the end, North Korean balked at even basic verification to prove they had disarmed. And just like every other  time before, Pyongyang pocketed the up-front concessions and used the talks to stall for time.

As long as China sees the threat of conflict (not actual conflict) on the Korean Peninsula as something that works in China’s favor, keeping the US focused on the DMZ instead of China’s massive military build up in other parts of Asia, or the expansion of China’s strategic and economic influence in other parts of the world, like Africa and South America , there is no reason whatsoever to believe this latest diplomatic thaw will be any different.

By meeting with Kim Jong-un as an equal Head of State. Trump is actually doing what conservatives hysterically accused Obama of being willing to do.  Giving a petty violent little dictator the standing on the world stage that only the American Presidency can bestow.

But then again, that’s totally fine, because……?   Oh yeah, it’s the Orange guy who’s doing it.

Anything to distract from Russia,  right? 

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