It’s amusing to observe how some on both sides of the political divide are talking about President Trump’s North Korea diplomacy. Some anti-Trumpers castigate the president for “making nice” with a despicable dictator like Kim Jong Un, when there is no realistic hope of a deal that leads to North Korea’s denuclearization. Some Trump supporters applaud Trump’s outreach to the dictator as an “art of the deal” moment that may, indeed, result in denuclearization.
What’s amusing is that many of these people, on both sides, would be taking the opposite position if a Democratic president were engaging in the outreach to Kim.
I take a middle ground position. No, Kim Jong Un isn’t going to dismantle his nuclear program in exchange for economic concessions, no matter how substantial. There is no viable deal to be had on these terms regardless of how artful a negotiator Trump may be.
But the fact that Trump has established a non-hostile relationship with Kim makes both the Korean peninsula and the U.S. safer places. It reduces, somewhat, the possibility of war due to miscalculation or fear.
How do I reconcile this position with my opposition to President Obama negotiating without preconditions with the Iranian regime? Easily. North Korea possesses nuclear weapons.
This reality changes everything (which is why North Korea isn’t about to give up its nukes). Once a nation obtains nuclear weapons, we can’t afford not to talk with it.
Thus, President Trump deserves credit for his outreach to North Korea. But let’s not pretend that his diplomacy represents some sort of masterstroke. And let’s not be disappointed if Trump fails to reach a deal that produces denuclearlization.