I’ll make two points about the meeting between our president and Kim Jong Un. One is that Democrats and their favored media should stop displaying toward Trump the indiscriminate opposition Republicans and the right-wing media showed Obama. Second, if the U.S. wishes to maintain global leadership while its ability to bully the world wanes, we must learn to see through the eyes of other peoples.
Writing in MSN’s The Week, conservative columnist Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry asserted, “Given what could be realistically accomplished in one day, it’s hard not to think that if anybody other than Trump were president, the summit would immediately have been hailed a preliminary success.” Trump’s willingness to meet with Kim was akin to Nixon’s willingness to meet with Zhou Enlai in China in 1972. Like Nixon’s, Trump’s unprecedented action may initiate the normalization of our relations with a country we’ve stigmatized as unworthy of being a member of the family of nations, thus assuring its belligerence.
What president before Trump had the courage to declare, “we aren’t going to play war games any more” because they’re “very provocative”? What president committed to provide security guarantees to North Korea? What president said that we must end the Korean War? (Yes, it would have been better had he notified South Korea and the Pentagon before laying down his sword. Shame on him, but I wonder how our generals would have responded.)
My assessment probably doesn’t sound like those you’ve heard from the commentators you listen to. There’s been some faint praise, but mostly they’ve dwelt on what Trump didn’t accomplish in five hours. No, Kim didn’t say his regime would end its human rights abuses. No, he didn’t agree to adopt a Western-style democracy. And no, his pledge to give up his nuclear weapons has no timetable. (Nor does ours, but that seems beneath our notice.)
And yes, Kim got what he wanted — a public show of respect. Horrors! That, too, was held against Trump. For instance, Wendy Sherman, a senior State Department official under Obama, said on MSNBC, “I was a little taken aback by the North Korean flags and the American flags side by side ... We aren’t equals to each other, and this conferred power to Kim Jong Un that I don’t believe he has yet earned in terms of the respect from the United States.” Could anyone be deafer to her own arrogance?
Which brings me to my second point. We seem to have no idea what it’s like to live with the enduring fear — entirely reasonable, given our past behavior toward North Korea and the other nations we’ve decided merit regime change — that the U.S. will destroy your nation if we can.
The Korean War devastated Korea. Destruction was particularly acute in the north, which was subjected to years of American bombing. Roughly 25 percent of its prewar population was killed. Bruce Cumings, a Korean history specialist at the University of Chicago, wrote, “North Korea was flattened. The North Koreans see the American bombing as a Holocaust, and every child is taught about it.” He added, “Its generals are still fighting the war. For them it has never ended.”
More than anything else we can do to curb the threat of war by North Korea is to end our threat of war against North Korea. That’s what Trump, in his erratic way, has done. If only such behavior toward other nations were the hallmark of our entire foreign policy.
Herb Rothschild’s column appears in the Tidings every Saturday.