I’m not sure where to start in reacting to Noah Rothman’s piece at Commentary on the announced meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. How about here?
This meeting between the leader of the free world and the criminal proprietor of the world’s largest open-air prison might produce a breakthrough. Trump might convince Kim to agree to the permanent and verifiable dismantling of his nuclear program, thus surrendering the only leverage that got North Korea to the table in the first place. Kim’s long-range missile program might be on the table for the first time in 20 years. In exchange, Trump could offer diplomatic recognition, a peace treaty, or sanctions relief. A grand bargain is possible in theory.
Donald Trump isn’t “leader of the free world”. He isn’t even leader of the United States. The United States doesn’t have a leader in the sense that North Korea does and, God willing, it never will. He’s the president of the United States, penned in by politics, law, the Congress, and the Supreme Court.
The prospects for anything material coming from these talks are essentially zero. We’ve seen this movie before. See here for a chronology of U. S.-North Korean missile and nuclear diplomatic history. At every step the North Koreans have lied and cheated. Throughout the 90s the U. S. conducted a series of negotiations with North Korea under the present Kim’s father and grandfather. Basically, nothing came from the negotiations other than temporizing long enough for North Korea to produce nuclear weapons.
Threats have been tried. Negotiations have been tried. The one thing that hasn’t been tried, at least not for long enough, is strategic patience.
We need to distinguish between acts of war that are worth going to war over and those that aren’t. North Korea has provided the latter in plenty for more than a half century. Its possession of nuclear weapons if one of them. We’ve got learn to live with risks.