Sunday, April 29, 2018

Is the United States Necessary?

With all respect, don't see why they expect me to think this picture represents something real.

I don't know why I let it happen, but I keep getting enraged by the emerging consensus that Emperor Trump did something positive to bring about whatever is going on on the Korean peninsula, from the wingnuts calling for him to be given the Nobel Peace Prize right away (don't wait for the Norwegians to do it, just steal Obama's and give him that one) to Mr. Magisterial David Sanger offering his balanced appraisal to readers of The New York Times:
President Trump insists that his own actions are responsible, that his threats of “fire and fury” and, more important, his intensified sanctions, forced Mr. Kim to this moment. He is partly right: Mr. Trump has shown an energy in confronting North Korea that President Barack Obama never did.
But disarmament experts who watched the Korean leaders meet in the DMZ agreed that Mr. Kim had been driving the events.
"Shown" being the operative word there: Obama certainly didn't tweet threats of nuclear war or offensive nicknames to the wider public. He did what he did quietly, without checking with David Sanger first, and Sanger still can't forgive him for that. He prefers a White House like that of George W. Bush or the current occupant flooding the press with 50 or 60 lies a day to one that puts him on a low-calorie diet of truth, in modest quantities.

But it isn't even the implied insult to Obama that bothers me: it is, once again, the continuing inability to recognize that South Korea has anything to do with it, or even exists.

I'm sorry if I seem to have been writing the same post over and over since last June, but it's because nobody, neither these people nor people I respect, like Robert Farley at LGM or Paul Waldman at The Week, seems to be getting it: everything good that has happened with respect to North Korea in the last months is a result of express policy and careful planning on the part of the Moon Jae-in administration in Seoul, in a continuation of the same policy followed by every left or liberal coalition in South Korea since the end of the Chun Doo-hwan dictatorship in 1987 and especially the Kim Dae-jung presidency 1998-2003.

Indeed you could say that he and foreign minister Kang Kyung-wha (who was Kim Dae-jung's principal interpreter and senior adviser/speechwriter to his foreign minister) are virtually replicating Kim's Sunshine Policy of détente with the North, which led to the first meeting ever between a South Korean head of state and a North Korean leader, when Kim's summit with Kim Jong-il earned him the Nobel Peace Prize (he also forged the ROK welfare state, ushered in a new era of economic transparency, and hosted the 2002 World Cup).

This was, of course, before the DPRK had built its first nuclear weapon; at a time when the North Koreans were dismantling their nuclear program, according to the Agreed Framework negotiated with the Clinton administration in 1994, and in the wake of some very hot diplomacy between DPRK and the US, after Clinton had sent ex–Defense Secretary William Perry to Pyongyang in 1999. There was a terrific long read on this American move by Julian Borger in The Guardian last month. The summit with Kim Dae-jung convinced Kim Jong-il that he could trust the Americans, Borger thinks, but it was the last few months of the Clinton presidency, not enough time to bring anything to fruition, and then George Bush "won" the election, and set about tearing the Agreed Framework down, as if he wanted North Korea to have nuclear weapons—
After the supreme court halted the recount, confirming Bush as president, Bolton was one of several Republican lawyers rewarded for their efforts in Florida. “People ask what [job] John should get,” said vice president-elect Dick Cheney at the time. “My answer is: anything he wants.” Bolton was made undersecretary of state for arms control, although he was a splenetic opponent of almost all arms-control agreements, especially with North Korea. In his memoir, Surrender Is Not an Option, Bolton derides the “high-minded Clintonites” and “careerists” who believed peace was possible with North Korea....
Colin Powell, the former general appointed as Bush’s secretary of state, was enthusiastic about a potential agreement. According to Perry, “Colin assured me and assured Clinton that he liked this agreement and was going to go through with it. And he intended to do that.” As late as 6 March 2001, Powell stated publicly that the new administration planned “to engage with North Korea, to pick up where President Clinton left off.”
He was wrong. Cheney and the new defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, shared Bolton’s antipathy to talks, and won the day with Bush.
—which, of course, they soon did. (Some folks will still tell you North Korea broke the Agreed Framework, but it's long been clear to me that they're the same folks who will tell you there was some reason for the 2003 Iraq invasion, and I'm not buying it.)

Which, of course, makes the whole project a good deal more complicated than it was 18 years ago, since those bombs really get in the way, and since the Bush administration's treatment of unarmed Saddam Hussein and NATO's (with Obama's acquiescence) of unarmed Muammar Qadhafi has convinced them that it's not really safe to go out without a bomb in a neighborhood where you might bump into America.

Personally, I think Waldman's take is right as far as the Trump administration is concerned; nothing is going to come out of the Trump-Kim meeting at all, if the meeting even takes place. There's not going to be a denuclearization of the peninsula (guess what—South Koreans know those bombs won't be used on Seoul anyway), certainly not  as long as there is a US military presence in the south (with bombers that could be nuclear armed). There's not going to be a replacement of the (dreadful, murderous) regime, either.

What there might be is a lot less stress on the peninsula, more reunification of families, more projects in the North running on Southern capital, kids from the North studying in Southern universities, folk musicians from the South touring in Northern towns, and if the international community wants to get engaged, measures toward build-downs of this and that sanctions regime to match build-downs of this and that aspect of the nuclear and missile programs. But Trump's contribution is no more something to praise him for than if you praised an earthquake.

We may be approaching a period of recognition that the indispensable country, the United States, isn't indispensable any more. All praise to Obama for his efforts in "leading from behind" and inviting countries to try exercising their own judgment, but it may be that Trump's arbitrary explosions and vanishings are an even more salutary measure. If so, South Korea will be among the first to show how to do without the US in the right way.

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