Trump’s triumph, Trump’s folly

“Using nearly the identical set of publicly available facts, one can make a plausible argument that either Trump has succeeded where others have failed for decades, or that Trump is falling into the same trap his predecessors did.”

From The Atlantic:

Trump’s madman act, including bringing the U.S. and North Korea closer to nuclear war than at any time in recent memory, may indeed have convinced Kim Jong-Un to make some overtures to both Washington and Seoul. But as Trump would know if he studied his history, his predecessors, and South Korean President Moon Jae-In’s, have had some success getting North Korean leaders to talk. Getting them to act is another thing entirely. What emerged from Friday’s meeting was a concise statement. Ending a war requires a treaty, and that’s something entirely different.

As Nicholas Eberstadt wrote this week in The New York Times, North and South Korea have embraced and offered warm, fuzzy statements several times before: 1992, 2000, 2007. “All of these deals were then trash-canned,” Eberstadt wrote. “The North Korean promises in them were worthless, indeed deceitful. These agreements only seemed to hold force until, well, they no longer did, when Pyongyang unilaterally decided to ignore, violate or repudiate them.” Trump is quick (and correct) to point to his predecessors’ failures to contain North Korea’s nuclear program, but he hasn’t studied the reasons well enough to avoid falling into the same traps.

The speed with which matters have progressed from fear of a shooting war to hand-holding in the DMZ should be reason for uneasiness, not optimism. Few major diplomatic breakthroughs happen overnight. Besides, if Trump was able to convince Kim that he was just crazy enough to act, that impression will not quickly dissolve: North Korea would reasonably conclude that it should take any American promises with a full cellar’s worth of salt. […]

Trump deserves credit for persuading China to put fresh pressure on North Korea. “Please do not forget the great help that my good friend, President Xi of China, has given to the United States, particularly at the Border of North Korea. Without him it would have been a much longer, tougher, process!” he tweeted Friday. But here again, Trump’s inconstancy is a danger. Even as the president relies on Beijing to help seal a deal on the Korean Peninsula, he’s pushing the U.S. toward a trade war with China.

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