Trump is Walking into Kim Jong Un’s Trap

March 14, 2018
Jeffrey Lewis

The following is an excerpt of an op/ed published in The Washington Post.

Donald Trump

Donald Trump (src: Gage Skidmore via WikiMedia Commons)

North Korea wants a summit, that’s for sure. But Trump’s staff appears uninformed or unwilling to break it to the president that the North Koreans have sought a visit from a sitting president of the U.S. since the Clinton administration. Nor does the staff seem to have told the president that North Korea has given no indication that it is prepared to abandon its nuclear and missile programs. This strikes me as rather dangerous. After all, what happens when Trump figures that out?

Some conservatives are worried that Trump will recognize North Korea as a nuclear-weapons state. They believe that an authoritarian North Korea will beguile Trump just as it did his erstwhile apprentice, American basketball player Dennis Rodman. They fear that Trump will be so overjoyed by the site of tens of thousands of North Koreans in a stadium holding placards that make up a picture of his face that he will, on the spot, simply recognize North Korea as a nuclear power with every right to its half of the Korean peninsula.

That wouldn’t be so bad. I have long argued that a nuclear-armed North Korea is a fact of life that we should accept, at least privately. That is the best outcome, however clumsily Trump does it. The U.S. needs to come to terms with a nuclear-armed North Korea, just as it did with China. The goal is that North Korea would then reform itself, just as China has. Of course, as we have seen in China, reform and opening has limits. But on the whole, the world would be far safer with this outcome.

What if that’s not how Trump reacts? What if Trump, having deluded himself into thinking he’s going to pick up Kim Jong Un’s bombs, suddenly decides that he’s been double-crossed? He could use the summit outcome to discredit diplomacy and open the pathway toward war. We have already seen U.S. Senator Lindsay Graham threaten Kim that if he were to “try to play him … it will be the end of you — and your regime.” John Bolton, the architect of the collapse of the 1994 nuclear agreement with North Korea, has said the visit will fail, show that diplomacy is hopeless and allow us to move to using military might. And the president himself has warned of the “ominous alternative” if his outreach should fail.

Continue reading at The Washington Post.

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