*Donald Trump has been criticized for, among other summit things, legitimizing Kim Jong-un as a world-stage co-equal with the president of the United States. The orchestrated, optics-seen-around-the-world handshake did it. It topped Kim’s ultimate bucket list. It’s a huge, regime-enhancing deal over there; it’s more high-profile grist for the partisan political mill over here.
But while it was hardly a Ronald Reagan-Mikhail Gorbachev moment, it mattered mightily.
Ostensible, strategic quid pro quos are, as has been well noted, yet to manifest themselves. What the U.S. tangibly and verifiably got out of it remains to be seen. We know that.
But there is still this: What happened between Trump and Kim was well within the cardinal rule of statecraft that applies even to rogue dictators with warped priorities. You talk to the leader of the other side, no matter how dark.
Barack Obama voiced that reality during his presidential debates with John McCain. “You talk to your adversaries,” underscored the former president who even Republicans should miss more and more each perilous day. “The notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them … is ridiculous. We were willing to talk to the Soviet Union at the time when they were saying we’re going to wipe you off the planet.”
You talk to your adversaries–OK, enemies–because it’s part of any country’s enlightened self interest to do so. Lives are at stake. And if you’re America, it means you’re not too big to share a conference table–and global stage–with a nefarious lesser if the existential interest of imperiled lives is on the line. It is and they are.
This is not, to say the least, an endorsement of Donald Trump’s modus operandi, especially since his “Little Rocket Man” playground taunts and incineration threats helped, ironically, create the need for a summit in the first place. Especially since his understanding of Korea is likely derived from binge-watching “M*A*S*H.” But it is an acknowledgement that whatever the context, you need to talk. Whether it’s to Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, Bashar al-Assad, Ali Khamenei or Nicolas Maduro.
The Korean status quo–from war games and Cold War-remnant U.S. troops to an apocalyptic, nuclear trip wire has to change someday. So let’s do something before “someday” is too late. Even if the two leaders are incongruous caricatures of real statesmen.
* It’s bad enough to flat out lie and scurrilously scapegoat Democrats for the administration’s aggressive “zero-tolerance” approach to illegal border crossings that has resulted in the inhumane separation of children from their parents, but it’s made worse with an unconscionable religious justification. Attorney General Jeff Sessions cherry picked a verse in the Book of Romans on obeying government law. “God has ordained them for the purpose of order,” he sanctimoniously declared. “I can say that it is very biblical to enforce the law,” underscored deplorably disingenuous White House press secretary Sarah Sanders.
Apparently “What you do to the least of my brethren, that you do unto me” isn’t applicable in the context of presidential fiat, kids-as-pawns politics and what appeals to the Trump base. Here’s hoping the American electorate will show its outrage–and conscience–with a backlash vote that shows “zero tolerance” for hypocritically cruel, political pandering.
* “He speaks and his people sit up at attention. I want my people to do the same.”–That was Trump’s deadpan riff on the relationship that Kim Jong-un has with his people. He was kidding. Of course he was kidding.
* How do you go from being “America’s mayor” to Trump’s pimp, Rudy? From the point man for rallying a 9/11 city to being reviled by good people? From nonpareil to Nosferatu? Ghoul-iani, you sleep too well.