Editorial: Wait and see on North Korea
One of the most unfortunate effects of today’s chronically divided political climate is the reflexive reaction to any proposal, idea or initiative that comes from the opposition party — no matter how good it may be.
Programs are opposed not on their merit, but on the basis of who offers them up. Likewise, they are defended based not on pragmatic reflection but on party orthodoxy.
It is such siloed thinking that has prevented many politicians and voters from acknowledging that there are potential benefits to be realized in the wake of President Donald Trump’s summit this month with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Was the president rash in meeting with the unpredictable strongman? Unquestionably.
Did he break with international protocol and imperil long-term strategic U.S. policy in the region by impetuously offering to suspend South Pacific military maneuvers with South Korea? Absolutely.
Has he been overly effusive in complimenting Kim? God, yes.
But the bottom line is that it is better for the two leaders to be talking constructively than tweeting threateningly. The president is wrong to suggest that there is no longer a nuclear threat in the form of North Korea. But it is unfair to ignore the reality that said threat is at least somewhat diminished from where it stood one year ago.
Whether the potential benefits from this summit become reality is, of course, yet to be seen. The famously detail-averse Trump seemed more interested in holding up a signed document at the conclusion of the Singapore sit-down than he was with what that document included.
And what it included was notably broad, unusually vague and potentially non-binding.
But the administration deserves a chance to cement the deal by coloring in the specifics — even if such work is usually hashed out before the pomp of a summit signature ceremony than after.
Until such work is done, however — until the alleged North Korean pledge to “denuclearize” is verifiably honored — the president should spare us the victory lap.
North Korea has made very similar promises in the past. Little is known of its current leader’s long-term plans for his country (although reports he wants to pivot from building up nuclear weaponry to building up the economy are promising). And now that the U.S. has granted Kim his long-sought spotlight on the world stage and his wish to end U.S.-South Korean war games, it has little to bargain with other than a return to the sanctions route.
A little uncharacteristic humility from the Oval Office is thus called for.
Spare us, too, the lavish praise of a leader who has shown no compunction in killing enemies both real and perceived (including family members), ignoring human rights, and overseeing a state-run military and media that precludes North Korean citizens from accessing true information about their nation, let alone speaking out about it.
Kim has much to atone for even if he does carry out legitimate denuclearization.
Trump will have much to atone for if Kim does not, having gambled that his personal deal-making skills, such as they are, could resolve an international crisis point that dates back more than 50 years.
In terms of praising both Kim and himself (Trump’s lust for a Nobel Peace Prize is embarrassing), the president’s behavior is unseemly, unwise and unproductive.
But in terms of an audacious effort to pull the plug on North Korea’s nuclear machinery, the president’s administration, for now at least, deserves the benefit of the doubt.