New York Times reporter Alex Burns seemed to approve of the “intellectual honesty” on display Monday night when Barack Obama’s former director of national intelligence, James Clapper, defended President Donald Trump’s diplomatic engagement with North Korea as hard-nosed realism. “We’ve had diplomatic relations with plenty of brutal dictators when it has seemed to suit our interests,” Burns recalled Clapper saying. Advocates of this approach to foreign affairs want to believe their Olympian posture amounts to the absence of undue judgment, but it’s more like the absence of critical thought. On that score, both Donald Trump and Barack Obama share many similarities. Kim Jong-un is not just one dictator among many, and the Democratic Republic of Korea is not just another country.

North Korea is a prison in which up to 200,000 people are consigned to gulags. Sometimes the prison population consists of whole families, some of which have no hope of leaving the camps alive, as the country has a policy of punishing three generations for the so-called crimes of one individual. The number of people in hard-labor camps is only an estimate—there have been no human-rights observers in the country since 1995—but enough defectors scramble across the Yalu River to give us an accurate idea of what happens inside North Korea. Those defectors, if they survive the escape, are terribly malnourished and plagued by chronic infections and parasites. North Korea’s people are hostages, subject to extortion, indoctrination, and grotesque torture in a violent and corrupt environment without equal on the face of the earth.

North Korea manufactures and exports opiate narcotics and weapons on an industrial scale to destabilize the world around it. It is willing to offer its support for any rogue state or non-state actor that requests it, including state sponsors of terrorism and genocidal despots such as the theocrats in Iran and Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. It executes terrorist attacks using complex nerve agents on foreign soil and in crowded public places. It has violated almost every treaty to which it was a signatory, including those related to nuclear non-proliferation when it began covertly developing a functional nuclear deterrent.

For all these criminal acts, this mafia enterprise disguised as a state should be squeezed and isolated until the thugs in epaulets who have enslaved millions meet the kind of justice that can only be meted out by a righteous and abused people. Instead, Donald Trump has chosen to follow in his predecessor’s footsteps—indeed, to expand upon his ignominious legacy—and usher North Korea by the hand into the international spotlight.

What happened on Monday in Singapore was a disgrace. What was billed as a summit designed to secure a negotiated end to the crisis on the Korean Peninsula—a crisis that the North Korean regime alone inaugurated and aggravates—became Kim Jong-un’s coming-out party.

Kim arrived in Singapore to great fanfare; paparazzi snapped his picture and onlookers called his name like he was a boyband heartthrob. The man who murdered his half-brother, uncle, and ex-girlfriend, among scores more, took selfies with democratic figures and toured the town before the main event: a meeting with the leader of the free world.

Donald Trump, the legitimately elected president of the world’s most powerful free republic, beamed as he pressed the flesh with the warden of the world’s largest prison—a country with an annual GDP comparable to that of Eugene, Oregon. They dined together on short rib confit and soy-braised codfish—a Korean favorite, in deference to Kim. Trump said it was “my honor” to greet Kim, who is a “very talented man.” “We have a terrific relationship,” he added. They took photographs before a backdrop of American and North Korean flags. It was a scene suggestive of a relationship between equals, which is something Americans with a cursory understanding of history and a functioning moral compass have previously denied the Kim dynasty.

At no point in the last three months has the president or his administration appeared to understand that the summit itself was a considerable concession to the Kim regime. The North Korean government sought the summit, as it has for the last quarter century, and the administration finally accepted the overture as a chance to achieve “denuclearization.” But once this grandiose affair got underway, “denuclearization” seemed an afterthought.

Trump talked up the concessions he got from the 30-something dynast king; the repatriation of the remains of U.S. soldiers and the dismantling of a missile-engine testing site, on top of the return of the Americans that Pyongyang abducted and held captive for years (thanks ever so much). But Trump gave, too, above and beyond the spectacle he had arranged for the pipsqueak he elevated to peer.

Trump pledged to halt U.S. military exercises with America’s true friend, the Republic of Korea, but he didn’t call them “exercises.” He called them “war games,” which, he added, were expensive and “very provocative,” borrowing and legitimizing propagandistic language used by the North Koreans to describe the sovereign affairs of two free nations. A joint declaration from Kim and Trump pledged to “work towards the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula,” but reaffirmed only the vague and aspirational objectives to which South and North Korea agreed in April. Former CIA Deputy Division Chief for Korea, Bruce Klingner, said the “denuclearization” language was weaker than that to which North Korea had agreed during the Bush administration, and we know how that ended.

The statement pledged to pursue “follow-on negotiations.” There, perhaps, the U.S. might offer North Korea more concessions; everything from economic assistance to diplomatic recognition and a U.S. embassy in Pyongyang to a drawdown of U.S. troops on the peninsula is on the table. Anything to get North Korea to give up its hard-won nuclear deterrent. But that will not happen. Why would it? The lavish concessions associated with this summit have made lower-level agreements on the dismantling of nuclear weapons harder to envision. Look at all that a few functional fission devices have conferred upon the Kim regime. Why would they give them up? Why wouldn’t any other rogue state follow in the Kim Dynasty’s footsteps?

This whole affair ratified Barack Obama’s efforts to bury the U.S. concern for human rights under a mountain of moral equivalencies. It sacrificed America’s pursuit of concrete security guarantees from rogue actors to the cowardice that masquerades as realism. North Korea isn’t just another dictatorship; it is not Turkmenistan or Eritrea. It is a unique horror. The victory North Korea won at the negotiating table is the product of a narcissism that Obama and Trump share. It is a narcissism that views the status quo, which was forged and maintained by political, diplomatic, and military professionals over the course of 70 years, as a failure rather than a success. After all, if this were only about the utilitarian work of neutralizing a threat, the president would avoid the appearance of triumphalism. He and his allies have done just the opposite.

If anything positive emerged from this escapade, it is the extent to which the North Korean regime allowed its people to get an eyeful of what life is like in a developed Asian country. If that and a recklessly conciliatory U.S. posture eventually weakens Kim’s hold over his people and leads his criminal regime to the slaughter, only then will this affair have been worth it. America’s goal cannot just be “denuclearization,” because the North Korean threat is not limited to its nuclear arsenal. America’s ultimate objective should be the total dissolution of the worst country on earth. Sadly, it seems for now as if this pomp and pageantry only made Kim Jong-un and his gangsters stronger.

+ A A -
You may also like
Share via
Copy link