History Was Made At DMZ, But At What Price?


In the real world of international relations it is always better to be talking than not having open lines of communication.  The goes without saying.

But in the real world of diplomacy it is also true placing one of the world’s leading despots alongside the power and imagery of the leader of the free world should only come when there is a significant enhancement of behavior from the one seeking to bask in the light of such attention.  

That then is my issue with what played out today when Donald Trump became the first sitting American commander in chief to set foot in North Korea.  He met North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in the DMZ.   It is no wonder that Kim was grinning widely.  He had secured another international moment while his nation is starving and earning less per year than those who live in the Congo.

I recall when President Bush (43) was reported to have had a visceral reaction when hearing of the starvation taking place in North Korea while the ruling family and military chief lived high and mighty.  One can only image what he thought when it was reported by authoritative news operations in South Korea that Kim had multiple officials–including the lead negotiator in nuclear talks with the United States–executed.

Do not get me wrong.  In the gritty world of international dialogues nations must engage at times and in ways with heinous leaders so to further larger goals.  But when those meetings occur, and the benefactor is a dictator of the Kim variety, something of value to the international community needs to be secured.   Starting up again low level staff meetings between the two nations does not qualify for what took place today.

The tactics employed by North Korea are not new.  It is only Trump who has not come to terms with them.  That is why it is reported that even Trump’s foreign policy bench were not in favor of the free-wheeling approach that was taken for nothing more than a photo op and meeting at the DMZ.

This blog has made the point, repeatedly, that the term disarmament is not one that has the same meaning for Kim and the United States.  One does not need to be a rocket scientist to know that nation will never relinquish its nuclear weapons.   What I have also stressed repeatedly on CP is that Kim is far smarter at this power play, the latest act which played out today.  His family has been staging this play for decades.  Since Trump took office they have now added a Sunday matinee.

From the start we have seen Kim allow for symbolically potent but substantively modest concessions which make headlines that allows for the egomaniac with orange skin to get all giddy.  But the long range foreign policy needs require a truly cerebral leader at the helm for the United States, and we are lacking that essential ingredient.

Trump continues walking into a well-played trap and is not thinking clearly.  Kim is determined to cement his country’s status as a nuclear state while working to undermine and remove economic sanctions.   Why would Kim not want such a bargain?

And who better to play that to than someone who has no knowledge or skill in international relations.  Donald Trump.

Love Between Trump And North Korean Kim Even More Sickening

The news today underscores why the ‘love letters’ between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and  Donald Trump make me ill.

Trump said in 2018,  “I was really being tough and so was he. And we would go back and forth. And then we fell in love. No really. He wrote me beautiful letters. They were great letters. And then we fell in love.”

Cue the barfing.

Today we learned that North Korea executed five officials for their part in the failed second summit between Trump and Kim Jong Un.    Tonight Bloomberg News reported that Kim Hyok Chol, North Korea’s special envoy to the U.S., and four other North Korean Foreign Ministry officials were executed in March because of the breakdown of the February summit in Hanoi, Vietnam.

Blood runs cold hearing of this barbaric behavior.

Pictured is Kim Hyok-chol, left, the special envoy to the United States, during summit preparations in Hanoi, Vietnam, in February.



Kim And Putin

Words are not needed when such a perfect drawing makes the case.

What President Nixon Knew, And Trump Fails To Learn

The key to politics is always about addition.    If one is only holding steady with a level of support from a core base then one is not gaining among the nation as a whole.   And when that base of support starts to crumble there is no where else for a politician to head but south in the approval ratings.

As we exit another wild week of chaos and bombast from the Donald Trump White House I wish to take a moment to comment regarding how President Nixon would proceed if in the Oval Office.  This week was one of those which most White Houses would see as a fresh starting point.  The State of the Union, and the days which follow, can always play well for a president who knows how to command a strong message, and then allow for his communications team to use their skill and expertise to craft and guide the daily talking points.

That was not achieved this week as Trump took to twitter and seemed to relish in undercutting, what one has to assume, were the best efforts of his staff to stay on message.  In so doing Trump broke a cardinal rule that Nixon knew was essential for a leader.    Not only does Trump not work to expand his base of support, but he does nothing to walk his supporters towards the middle of American politics.

Recall that Nixon was a strict anti-communist when he took office in 1969.  In some respects one can place how Nixon viewed himself as a hardliner on foreign policy, being akin to how Trump sees himself as tough and willful on the issues that he deems important.   But where the two part company in grand fashion is that Nixon well understood to be an effective president requires stretching a political base towards the middle.   And in so doing it allows others in the center of American politics to feel, and see, a president making efforts for compromising policies.   Nixon was hoping by making such moves to create a new majority of voters.

Trump has stalled and stagnated at every turn when it comes to enlarging his base of support.

This week reports concerning a second summit meeting between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Trump were announced.  Following that news there were some loud ‘explosion’ type sounds in the Madison area.  Some called these noises ‘ice quakes’ due to water in the ground freezing and expanding.   Or they might have been a message from Nixon to this blogger about the folly that Trump is once again entertaining.

Nixon knew (and would say) summit meetings are only meaningful if they are well-prepared and reflect negotiations that had already made major progress through established diplomatic channels.  To pretend that personal relationships can be the basis for an understanding between conflicting nations is absurd.  What Trump offers as sentimental rhetoric regarding Kim and North Korea is dangerous.

But then Nixon read volumes of briefing books prepared by his staff and various departments.  He was also a very-well read man by the time he took the oath of office.  Trump, as reported by Time, need to have aides keep his attention by using visual aids, confining briefing points to two or three sentences, and repeating his name and title as frequently as possible to lure him along.

And so it goes.

Beware Transactional Foreign Policy

The world has witnessed the folly and pitfalls of having a mere transactional figure in the Oval Office.   Donald Trump will praise and elevate a person one day only to denounce and defame that same person only months later.  Praise Trump and you will be greeted with superlatives.  Speak candidly about Trump and the ridicule will fall like ash from a volcano.

It is most unseemly, and dysfunctional, to have such a character flaw show time and again when dealing with, for example, just a revolving door for a White House Chief of Staff.  But it is down-right dangerous to have it so obvious when dealing with the international order.  Transactional methods should never be applied to foreign policy making.  At the end of the day American interests must always trump personalities.

This week the world heard another message from North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un.  Once again, there was a play for redefining what denuclearizing means, and what a process would look like for a calming of relations.  It should trouble all who ponder the larger issues at hand that Trump is all giddy and randy by celebrating the North’s voluntary freeze on missile and nuclear testing.  The tactics and trade-craft of how North Korea plays this game has been a decades-long education on what we should never fall for.

But when there are no solid defined foundations from an American administration about nuclear proliferation, and instead a policy based on who has said the last nice thing about Trump, means we are in very problematic place.

Recall that constraining Iran’s nuclear capability, rather than eliminating it, was what Trump beefed about concerning the nuclear deal.  Trump, to the dismay of foreign policy analysts worldwide, abandoned the deal last year.   He stated the Iran deal was not a permanent solution.  He argued that the world was safer reimposing sanctions rather than sticking with an accord that would allow Iran to resume enriching nuclear material, but not build weapons, in 2030.

But hold on, folks.  This is where is gets even more bizarre.

Today it is estimated that North Korea has 20 to 60 such weapons.  Iran, let us be clear about this, does not have any.  Trump is now in a quandary whether it is better to constrain the growth of missiles in North Korea, or stick with the position he blathered about as a candidate, and during the early phase of his term in office.

What we are witnessing is what happens when there is no informed process by which a president gathers information, establishes basic concepts, and creates a broad policy design.  The outcomes are bad for the United States and international order.

Trump Says He ‘Fell In Love’ with Kim Jong Un

Sometimes it is best to just report the news and add no comments.

Donald Trump said that he and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un “fell in love,” The Hill reports.

Said Trump: “I was really being tough and so was he. And we would go back and forth. And then we fell in love. No really. He wrote me beautiful letters. They were great letters. And then we fell in love.”

Trumps Fails On International Stage-North Korea Lashes Out

So who might have predicted any of what has happened in the past 24 hours?

North Korea has accused the Donald Trump administration of pushing a “unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization” and called it “deeply regrettable”.  This took place only hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said his two days of talks in the North Korean capital were “productive.”

While North Korea has taken such tactics over the decades when it comes to negotiations, there is a difference this time given the lay of the land.

Trump told the American people, leading up to the summit with the North Korean leader, that he would know in a minute if Kim were serious.  Trump said he would just trust his gut.  That’s what he does, Trump told us.  And then Trump told us following the summit that Kim was serious.  Trump added our nation could sleep with ease as result of the summit.

But Kim has now basically told the world through actions and words that Trump is a dumb fool.

North Korea will never give up its nuclear weapons–as the very definition of denuclearization means vastly different things between the West and the Kim regime.  What Trump has done with the short-sighed summit–which this blogger was opposed to–was nothing more than to elevate Kim’s international stature.  The result of this move by Trump might very well  allow Kim to be even bolder and potentially more reckless.

And with what he have seen with Trump’s other foreign policy mistakes we can only assume that Russian President Putin, upon meeting Trump in several days, will eat his lunch and take all his pocket money for the week.

Kim Jong Won

The Economist.

Time plays to Mr Kim’s advantage. He intends to remain in power for decades. Mr Trump might be voted out in 2020. Mr Trump may return to Washington, DC, and reconsider his approach to Mr Kim; some in the administration seem to be distancing themselves from his announcement about “war games”. But Mr Kim is well-placed to string America along and play for time, offering concessions slowly, insincerely, or both.

That said, he has lost one of his old cards. He cannot play the world statesman and still rely on being able to wrong-foot adversaries with all-out weirdness; normalisation has some costs. But America has lost a card, too. If it finds it wants to reinforce sanctions, it will be hard to get Chinese support back. “If North Korea does not make another nuclear test or launch missiles again, I don’t think China will impose new sanctions,” says Li Nan, a scholar at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, a think-tank.