Trump Makes a Bold, Risky and Realistic Move in Accepting North Korea's Invitation to Meet

South Korean national security director Chung Eui-yong, center, speaks to reporters at the White House in Washington, Thursday, March 8, 2018, as intelligence chief Suh Hoon, left and Cho Yoon-je, the South Korea ambassador to United States, listen. President Donald Trump has accepted an offer of a summit from the North Korean leader and will meet with Kim Jong Un by May, Chung said in a remarkable turnaround in relations between two historic adversaries. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

South Korean national security director Chung Eui-yong, center, speaks to reporters at the White House in Washington, Thursday, March 8, 2018, as intelligence chief Suh Hoon, left and Cho Yoon-je, the South Korea ambassador to United States, listen. President Donald Trump has accepted an offer of a summit from the North Korean leader and will meet with Kim Jong Un by May, Chung said in a remarkable turnaround in relations between two historic adversaries. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

 

Last night, there was a rather surprising move in the arena of the crisis with North Korea and its development of nuclear weapons. The Never Trump world, which seems intellectually incapable of moving past its twin obsessions of hate of Trump and self-congratulatory back-patting, responded as usual. On the flip side, Trump’s supporters hailed this as a vindication of their man’s genius. The truth, I believe, lies somewhere in between but much closer to the view of Trump’s fans than of is monomaniacal critics.

These are some of the main points, or at least the main points as I see them.

Is this meeting real?

As I noted a couple of days ago, the great mystery of this entire affair is the fact that North Korea has yet to say squat about any of the offers. Pyongyang has yet to acknowledge that it has agreed to meet with Trump. This makes me less than convinced that this is actually a substantive offer.

North Korea is offering concessions…

…and they are demanding nothing.

North Korea is unilaterally suspending ballistic missile tests and nuclear tests. U.S./ROK exercises are still on schedule and North Korea acknowledges they can proceed without affecting the various offers on the table.

The goal for North Korea, I believe, remains the same. They want U.S. troops out of ROK because they are convinced that absent U.S. forces, they can negotiate some kind of a “federal” status in which the DPRK will have access to South Korea’s money and resources. It is entirely possible they have decided (and very reasonably) that that eventuality is much more likely without nuclear weapons than with them. And while they moved passed some of their long-standing pre-conditions for talks, the language they’ve used on what they are offering remains unchanged.

Jaw-jaw is better than war-war

It is no secret that I’ve seen the glide slope of our relations with North Korea as looking a lot like Europe in 1913 and early 1914. You can nearly feel the creep toward war as both sides look at it and come to the conclusion that rolling the dice on war has more to offer than a static status quo which North Korea sees ending in economic Armageddon and we see as a nuke popping over Los Angeles.

In the words of Winston Churchill (who may or may not have said it), “jaw-jaw is better than war-war.”

Responding to North Korea is not optional

Some people–including friends for whose opinions I have high regard–see accepting the invitation to meet as giving a rogue state legitimacy. I think that is a misplaced fear.

We don’t know how these talks will turn out — if they turn out at all. I suspect we will find that the objective is to work for sanctions relief. This is sort of the Wimpy Strategy North Korea used so brilliantly against the feckless Clinton administration:

https://youtu.be/30knrJBeyr0

If they are not legitimate about responding to our only issue…denuclearization…then we are back on the course for military action. What talks will have done is freeze North Korea missile development and we will be able to tell the South Koreans that we made a good faith effort to avert war but, well…

Had Trump dismissed the offer, it would have pushed Korea’s President Moon further away from an alliance in which his country is a critical partner.

These are not negotiations and we should keep them that way

Not every meeting between world leaders is a Reykjavik Summit with a finite outcome decided in advance. Trump has nothing at all to lose by meeting with Kim Jong Un in order to take his measure.

On the other hand, there is a great deal to lose if actual agreements are reached and things are given away. I think if Trump sets his goal as meeting with Kim in order to show he’s done his part and then they issue a joint communique saying they will have more talks in the future, then it is a success. If Trump gives away military exercises or troop deployments as a goodwill gesture, then it was not a good thing.

This announcement from the White House encourages me that they are not approaching this with an overabundance of expectations.

North Korea is not Iran and it is not Cuba

It is funny how one can nearly predict how the hard core Never Trump people will react by reading DailyKos and ThinkProgress.

The announcement of the meeting was hardly spoken when cries of hypocrisy were made. The claim is that Republicans who criticized Obama’s negotiations with Iran and Cuba are now hypocrites because they think talks between Trump and Kim might be a good thing. This is just douchebaggery of the worst sort. In the case of Cuba, we literally got nothing for normalizing relations, In fact, the lives of pro-democracy groups and people in Cuba became much worse. In the case of Iran, again we got nothing and Iran got a pathway to a nuclear weapon.

In the case of North Korea, we are on the cusp of a very nasty little war with North Korea. Sane people should be encouraged that everything possible is being done to avert that war. Oh…did I say sane? My bad.

This is not about Stormy Daniels

Not only was Joe Scarborough pushing the idea that Trump apparently colluded with Kim Jong Un to arrange a historic offer to meet as a way of keeping the Stormy Daniels story from being the biggest thing on CNN and MSNBC and one or two other places (full disclosure–I’ve tried to care about this and failed) but so was Politico in their daily Playbook bulletin:

WE’RE NOT SAYING THIS WAS THE GOAL, but Trump knocked Stormy Daniels and GOP opposition to his tariff plan off the front burner.

You’re not saying it but you’re saying it.

Like him or not, Trump deserves credit for this

It was Trump’s policy of direct confrontation and of imposing the most extensive array of sanctions in the history of our relations with North Korea that made them realize talks were necessary. It was Trump’s diplomacy in the UN and Pacific Rim that has convinced even China that North Korea is more of a millstone than an asset.

https://twitter.com/EvanSparks/status/972087243161645058