Trump and Kim

Donald Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has been criticized for its lack of content. More or less a general statement of intent rather than concrete proposals. As well, what President Trump did not bring up — most notably human rights violations — have also been mentioned as a shortcoming. Coming off the heels of the G-7 controversy, Trump is not getting high marks from the foreign policy establishment.

Yet one has to credit Trump for treating Kim with respect. Perhaps he has put away the laminated card of instruction that former presidents have preferred. He did not lecture or scold and he concluded with a modest set of demands with promises of further talks.

Predictably the military has been rattled by his canceling of exercises with South Korea, something Trump correctly referred to as “Wargames.” While the Atlantic Council and the Council of Foreign Relations stewed about their beloved process, Trump was taking the first steps to demilitarize the Korean peninsula. And hidden within the walls of paper preferred by the Stat, which was trying to keep Yugoslavia united, to the perpetual burdens placed on Iraq, Libya and Syria, the endgames, most assuredly, involved regime change.

Again, the liberal commentators praised the antics of General James “Mad Dog” Mattis when he assured the South Koreans that the “exercises” were a go demonstrated a distinct Bushian preference for war. Diplomatic process can be as comforting as it is misleading. For instance, when Tsar Nicholas II, of Russia, and Kaiser Wilhelm II, of Germany, proposed an alliance under the noses of their foreign secretaries they were lambasted. But it could be argued that both sovereigns, clumsy to be sure, might have hit on an idea that may have preserved the peace. Perhaps Germany could have been weaned from its disastrous alliance with Austria-Hungary and Russia could have been spared the humiliation of the seizure of Bosnia-Herzegovina by Vienna. Diplomatic form eventually provided no way out in 1914 for any power.

Since taking office in 2017, Trump has been surrounded by the gatekeepers of foreign policy. George W. Bush was their creation and they got their wars. Neo-Conservatives celebrated “shock and awe” and the United States found itself in the unenviable position as the world’s policeman. Trillions of dollars were invested in conflicts which destabalized the world.

As for human rights, if Kim were constantly lectured on the subject, he would have never sat down in Singapore. Is it a bad government on this score — it is an issue for future negotiations, assuming regime change is not a part of those talks, a non-starter. John Kennedy’s remarks at American University in 1963 urging an acceptance of different government systems was not an ideological position but a practical realization. Constant lecturing in the end leads to inevitable conflict.

But there are limits to person to person diplomacy. Process-driven leaders are correct that their way is more consistent and verifiable. But it is also unimaginative. Perhaps by trying, Trump is accepting the conclusion that dull consistency is the surest way to conflict, not peace.