Fantasy and Amnesia In North Korea

Businesses, politicians, and the press have a fascination with 'meetings' and 'summits.' All involved agree that something important must be going on if powerful people meet behind closed doors to talk about a very serious issue. The mystique of closed-door talks is evidenced by the frequency in which they figure in conspiracy theories (secret societies, the Bilderberg Group, the CFR...).

The Kim regime in North Korea -- a psychotic slave-driver regime gone nuclear -- has everybody desperately hoping for something, anything that can serve as a ray of hope. The very fact that North Korea is willing to come to the table and talk about their nuclear weapons was viewed as such a sign -- and, my goodness, on top of that, we even got a few of our prisoners back. Oh, happy day! David Brooks, that gatekeeper of respectable opinion, declared that Trump must be doing something right, and Politico unironically reports that he is chasing a Nobel Peace Prize.

How stupid are some of these pundits? How many times can North Korea hold our citizens hostage and release them after winning attention from important Americans before certain pundits and politicians wake up to the fact that no magnanimity is involved? Have they forgotten that we have already held 'talks' with the North Koreans, under both Clinton and then the vaunted 'multilateral' six-party talks, and nothing came of them but disappointment? Actually, I shouldn't say that nothing came of them: a lot came of them. The Kim regime bought a lot of time. It played our desire for reconciliation like a fiddle. 

Now, North Korea is trying to play on our fears again. They have promised nothing: they claim they will no longer pursue nukes (now that they already have them) and that they will stop testing nukes (now that they've already tested them). So what? Nothing has been promised in the way of denuclearization, let alone liberalization. Why should this psychotic slave-driver role-playing as the leader of a country be dignified by a visit from the President of the United States if he is not willing to make some kind of concession in advance? Let's take Hillary Clinton's 2008 warning and not allow our leaders to be used for propaganda purposes. There is nothing in North Korea's history that suggests it is acting in good faith. 

Thankfully, we don't need good faith to make inroads; the stick is more reliable than the carrot; people fear at your convenience and love at their convenience. Trump could make it clear to Kim Jung-un that he views him as a psychotic slave-driver and not as the leader of a legitimate government, and that talks with a real national leader come with a cost. But Trump does not think like that. Neither, for that matter, did Obama, nor George W. Bush, nor Bill Clinton, all of whom tried to deal with the Kim regime like a normal government, only to have all their pursuits end in tears.

I want peace on the Korean peninsula as badly as any other stupid pundit. But I do not want us to raise false hopes, I do not want us to delude ourselves into thinking that tyrants can or should be dealt with on an equal basis, and I want to see Americans actually gain something -- something beyond back-patting for how magnanimous and open to dialogue we are. Sadly, it seems Trump wants to follow the same failed path well-trodden by every president since at least Bill Clinton. Pundits, reporters, and politicians should serve as a memory-bank for the nation; they should remember what has been tried and has failed in North Korea, and what it means when the regime does something like use American hostages as bait -- but instead, they get distracted by any shiny object that appears in front of their eyes.

Alex Knepper