The talking heads at CNN were nearly unanimous: President Donald Trump was a dupe for meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un.
The neo-cons concur. Bill Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard, tweeted “Thumbs up to tyranny.”
But when President Barack Obama normalized relations with Cuba, he was hailed as a peacemaker. It was about time, said many politicians and reporters, apparently not overly concerned with the Castro brothers’ propensity for dictatorship.
In exchange for restoring diplomatic relations, normalizing trade, and dropping sanctions, Obama obtained … nothing. No accord. No release of political prisoners. No return of fugitives, such as FALN bomber Guillermo Morales and Black Liberation Army leader Assata Shakur (previously known as Joanne Chesimard, convicted in the murder of a New Jersey state trooper in 1973). Nor was there any liberalization of Cuba’s draconian enforcement of statutes suppressing political expression.
By contrast, Kim has released Americans he held prisoner and apparently has destroyed a nuclear weapons test site. They may be token gestures, but they signal to the world positive intentions. Likewise, Trump has suspended joint military exercises with South Korea, intended no doubt as a reciprocal gesture, though all the parties concerned understand that war games or no war games, the United States retains the capability to quickly pulverize North Korea.
Both leaders are unpredictable and respond impulsively to perceived insult, yet history has placed them in a position from which there is the potential for significant results.
Richard Nixon was lauded, appropriately, for taking the first steps toward normalizing relations with communist China. Now, the threat of military hostilities with Beijing is minimal. Trade wars, yes. Nukes, no.
Whether by design or by temperament, Trump is the first U.S. president to use the appropriate approach with North Korea, recognizing it to be a Stalinist state that understands only one approach: strength. Our bombs are more powerful, we have more of them, and we’re willing to use them.
Saddam Hussein was in the same mold. When told by his foreign minister that Iran had expressed a willingness to negotiate over the disputed Kush Islands, Saddam responded true to form, went to war, and lost. To him, the Iranian offer to negotiate could have meant only one thing: weakness.
This is how dictators and brutes reason. Western leaders, who are “book smart” but without street sense, without an understanding of how tough guys, dictators, and criminals think, employ a naïve approach: “Let’s all sit at the table and talk like reasonable people. How can we thus not arrive at a reasonable result?”
We saw the naïve approach’s disastrous consequences in the Arab Spring, the destabilization of Libya being a prime example. Muammar Gaddafi, having finally come into the fold, dropping his WMDs and providing the West with real assistance in the war on terror, was then abandoned by Washington and left to be murdered by the mob as the country descended into anarchy and became a haven for terrorists.
Force without a willingness to apply it is worse than useless. Remember the bright Red Line drawn by Obama across the Syrian tyrant Bashar al-Assad’s feet? When Assad crossed the “line” with chemical weapons, Washington reacted with panic and inaction, which was followed by its pathetic reliance on assurances by Putin that Russia could handle things for us. There was little outcry about the Obama–Putin relationship by the media, it should be noted.
Trump has not been duped by Kim. On the contrary, by choosing, or stumbling, onto the correct approach, he has taken the first steps to pacify the Far East, to the benefit of the world.
Desperate to find flaws in the president’s bridge-building, many in the media chose not to report the summit as the first step in a process, what diplomats refer to as the initiation of a dialogue, but rather pointed to the absence of major concessions by Kim as being indicative of failure. But this is not the case, according to State Department North Korea expert Patrick McEachern, who is currently a fellow in residence at the Wilson Institute.
The summit was not meant to be a “capstone summit,” according to McEachern. He interpreted the joint statement as indicating that North Korea expects what the United States expects—that is, a step-by-step process, with no indication that Kim expects a front-loading of concessions by the United States.
PBS NewsHour correspondent Nick Schifrin opined that Kim Jong Un’s use of “if” in his statement—that “if the U.S. takes genuine measures for building trust”—indicates ill will and the North Korean leader’s lack of commitment. Former CIA analyst and linguist Soo Kim added that after the summit, “there is no tangible hope of improvement,” though she offered no facts to support this conclusion. Kim Jong Un’s statement, taken as a whole, belies her interpretation—particularly in light of North Korea’s state-run media which, having previously demonized the United States and its leadership, is now portraying them in a positive light.
Having exposed his people to his new worldview, and using the state’s propaganda tool to do it, Kim would be hard put to reverse his new stand without empowering political enemies at home—in particular, hardline military officers.
The road has been opened to eventual diplomatic ties, bringing North Korea into the community of nations, and thereby eventually reducing its sense of isolation and diminishing the likelihood of hostilities. Economic ties by definition enhance peace. War is bad for business.
Marc Ruskin, a 27-year veteran of the FBI, is a regular contributor and the author of “The Pretender: My Life Undercover for the FBI.” He served on the legislative staff of U.S. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan and as an assistant district attorney in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.