Friday, March 9, 2018

The Fire-and-Fury Next Time

Carl von Clausewitz, via ZenPundit.

As I've been arguing, the best thing that could have happened in the North Korea issue was that South Korea should take command of the diplomatic process, and this has happened in more spectacular form than I could have imagined, with intrepid South Korean negotiators wangling Kim Jong-un into inviting Donald Trump to hang out some time in the spring and Trump into accepting.

Congratulations President Moon Jae-in and people of the Republic of Korea, delivered, at least for what's probably quite a long moment, from the threat of devastating war! And shame on the US press for continuing not to notice them, and the real responsibility for this achievement, from Moon's New Year démarche inviting a DPRK delegation to the Pyeongchang Olympics and persuading the US to postpone the annual ROK-US military exercises, to South Korea's national security adviser Chung Eui-yong getting the invitation from Kim on Monday, passing it to our dotard emperor yesterday, and managing, as they say, to be the last person to talk to him and get the word out to the press before some courtier had a chance to change his mind, although that seems to have been Trump's own idea, as if he was afraid any delay at all might break this moment of lucidity:

Mr. Trump was not scheduled to meet Mr. Chung until Friday, but when he heard that the envoy was in the West Wing seeing other officials, the president summoned him to the Oval Office, according to a senior administration official.
Mr. Trump, the official said, then asked Mr. Chung to tell him about his meeting with Mr. Kim. When Mr. Chung said that the North Korean leader had expressed a desire to meet Mr. Trump, the president immediately said he would do it, and directed Mr. Chung to announce it to the White House press corps.
Mr. Chung, nonplused, said he first needed approval from Mr. Moon, who quickly granted it in a phone call. Mr. Trump later called Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, and the two discussed coordinating diplomatic efforts. Mr. Trump also plans to call President Xi Jinping of China.
He was afraid even to make his own announcement, or to allow his own staff to do it.

The announcement was even worse prepared than the tariff announcement, too; since Trump clearly had no idea he was going to do it, nobody else did, either, leaving the White House entirely blindsided:
The North Korea decision wasn't immune from the appearance of disarray. Speaking in Ethiopia hours before Trump, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said direct talks between the US and North Korea were still in the distant future.
"We're a long way from negotiations. We just need to be very clear-eyed and realistic about it," Tillerson said. "I don't know yet, until we are able to meet ourselves face to face with representatives of North Korea, whether the conditions are right to even begin thinking about negotiations."
Obviously the timing was fortunate—between the resurfacing of Stormy Daniels and the departure of Gary Cohn, just about the last somewhat respectable member of the Cabinet, the negative reception of Trump's crabby and impulsive decision to impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports and Wilbur Ross and his soup can, the continuing tightening of the noose in the Russia investigation, and the increasing sense that the president is "unglued", he must have been pretty receptive to any proposals for making him look positive and decisive at the end of the week. It's also apparently the case that the current sanctions on North Korea really are biting, in spite of the daily reports we hear of cheating, whether it's on DPRK's exports of coal or of sophisticated weaponry. And I don't want to suggest that Americans and North Koreans haven't been doing any of the work at all (mostly the latter, judging from an NPR interview with Suzanne DiMaggio of the New America think tank, who was present for exploratory US-DPRK talks last year and observed the North Korean diplomats were more rational and focused than you might have expected, with a very clear sense of where they wanted to go, and the US ones less so). And of course victory has a thousand fathers (BBC got someone in Beijing to take credit for it on behalf of China) yada yada.

And it's not clear what's actually going to happen, for that matter. I can't see how they can climb down from having the meeting itself, at this point, though I also can't imagine where they're going to have it (maybe Dubai or the Seychelles, heh-heh), but it will certainly not produce anything close to an actual agreement on denuclearization and sanctions relief, unless there's some completely prepared Obama plan lying around. I've heard it suggested (but can't remember where) that a serious agreement will take around ten years, until a time well after the end of the Trump presidency.

Nevertheless it's an unambiguously good thing, and I naturally don't want Trump given credit for something he was tricked into. As Clausewitz ought to have said but didn't, politics is war continued by other means, and they're better means too. And South Korea deserves our primary gratitude for the work they've done to make it happen.

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