Despite my contempt for Donald Trump, I’m rooting that his Hail Mary pass in the direction of Kim Jong-un succeeds. And I think other liberals and progressives should hope for the same.
Yet even before Air Force One landed back in the U.S. from Singapore, much of the American left—including Democratic Senators and MSNBC pundits—attacked Trump’s Korean diplomacy, echoing many of the Republicans’ attacks on President Obama’s Iran nuclear deal.
Listen – I despise our corrupt, narcissistic, lying, ignorant, racist, woman-groping excuse for a President as much as anyone, and support Tom Steyer’s impeachment campaign over the objections of Democratic Party leaders who wish talk of impeachment would just go away.
But hopes for a more peaceful world should trump (no pun intended) short-term party politics.
Progressive Attacks on Korean Peace Talks
Here are some of the attacks on Trump’s Korea initiative being put forth by so-called liberals and progressives, as well as leading Democrats, and the reasons why I feel they’re just wrong:
- *North Korea has a totalitarian regime and Kim Jong-un is a thug.
- Yes, but it’s a totalitarian regime which now possesses 20-50 nuclear weapons, as well as short and long-range missiles to deliver them. Stalin’s Russia was a totalitarian regime, but that didn’t stop the U.S. from becoming its World War II ally in the fight to defeat Nazism. Nor did it stop the U.S. from negotiating with a nuclear-armed Soviet Union or Communist China.
- Indeed, some of America’s current allies, like Saudi Arabia and Egypt, are dictatorial regimes. And the U.S. has diplomatic and economic relations with Communist China and America’s former military adversaries in Vietnam. Distaste for the North Korean regime is not a reason not to negotiate to contain its nuclear threat. Democrats insisted, over Republican objections, that regime change should not be a prerequisite to a nuclear deal with Iran. They should be happy that apparently (though hypocritically) Trump is not making regime change a prerequisite to a nuclear deal with North Korea. (Criticism of Trump’s fawning praise of Kim’s “talents” and the screening of a US-produced infomercial for the North Korean regime are legitimate targets for criticism.)
- *The statement signed by Trump and Kim was vague, contained no timetable for negotiating denuclearization, and went no farther than past deals with North Korea.
- True, but so what? Trump’s approach of holding a Summit meeting first, and negotiating the specifics of a deal later is certainly unconventional, and may indeed fail. But we should be hoping for its success, not its failure. The questions is not whether the Trump/Kim statement contained specifics. The question is whether it will begin an extended period of behind-the-scenes negotiations among diplomats and technical experts to work out the specifics of a nuclear deal.
- *Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer, have demanded permanent dismantling and removal of every North Korean weapon of mass destruction, the destruction of the North’s entire nuclear weapons infrastructure, and the end of Pyongyang’s ballistic missile programs as the pre-conditions to any sanctions relief.
- This all-or-nothing approach parrots John Bolton and his neocon opponents of a meaningful agreement, and would guarantee the failure of any negotiations. The success of Korean negotiations will depend, in large part, on whether the U.S. will agree to a step-by-step process, supported by South Korea, in which North Korea incrementally and verifiably reduces its nuclear arsenal and the U.S. incrementally reduces sanctions as denuclearization steps are successfully taken. It may also require the U.S. to accept North Korea continuing to possess a small and reduced number of carefully-monitored nuclear weapons. Democrats, progressives, and liberals should be advocating for such a realistic negotiating strategy, not attempting to scuttle it.
- *Trump was “played” by Kim – he unilaterally gave up joint American/South Korean war exercises against North Korea and got nothing in return.
- Actually, shortly before the Singapore Summit, Kim unilaterally froze his nuclear and missile programs by suspending testing and blowing up nuclear test facilities as foreign journalist watched. This is not such a bad trade-off. The “war games,” known as Foal Eagle, are largely a relic of the Cold War. They involve over 30,000 U.S. and South Korean troops, along with the highest tech weaponry, simulating a hot war with North Korea close to the North Korean border. But a hot war in Korea is unthinkable, and even without nuclear weapons, would likely to result in millions of casualties in the first weeks. If, say, Canada and Russia conducted similar war games close to the U.S. border, the U.S. would have ample reasons to feel threatened. So halting these war games while negotiations proceed is a gesture towards peace that will bring little harm to the U.S. or South Korea, and will save tens of millions of American taxpayer dollars.
- *Just by meeting with Kim, Trump elevated Kim to America’s “equal.”
- Nonsense. The U.S. is the strongest economic power in the world with nearly 7,000 nuclear warheads and a larger military budget than the next seven countries combined. North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world and its military is dwarfed by that of the U.S. and its allies. Trump and Kim are “equals” in the limited sense that both a heads of state of their respective countries. In that sense, Saudi King Salman, Belgian Prime Minister Michel, Polish President Duda, Croatian President, Graber-Kitacovic, Indonesian President Widodo, and countless other foreign heads of state with whom Trump has met could be said to have been elevated to the “equal” of the American President. But few would say that Saudi Arabia, Belgium, Poland, Croatia, or Indonesia have been elevated to America’s “equal” in economic or military power on in super-power status. So why is this argument being used with respect to the Trump-Kim meeting, except to poison the well?
Why We Should Hope for Peace
If Trump’s attempt to negotiate peace terms with North Korea fail, there will be plenty of time for retroactive criticism. But in the meantime, liberals and progressives should be supporting a realistic approach to Korean peace negotiations, not hoping they tank and putting down unrealistic conditions, in the hope that Trump will look bad.
A more peaceful world, with a reduced threat of nuclear war, is one area where party politics should be put aside.