National Security

Sometimes You Gotta Wait

Sometimes You Gotta Wait
Sometimes You Gotta Wait
Sometimes You Gotta Wait
Sometimes You Gotta Wait - It May Take Time For Clarity On North Korea - One gathers from the pundits that the summit was a failure, a success or nothing much at all. | Photo: James Faddis | Trump, Korea, North, Things, Summit,

It May Take Time For Clarity On North Korea

The Singapore summit meeting between President Trump and Kim Jong Un is a useful reminder that with some things in life, you've just got to wait.

Much of the commentary before, during, and after the Summit appears to be the work of clairvoyants – who know what Trump, Kim, the Chinese, Shinzo Abe, ROK President Moon, John Bolton, and others are thinking, and they appear equally confident predicting the future. (If only they'll help out with my NCAA Basketball Tournament Brackets next year.)

One gathers from the pundits that the Summit was a failure, a success, or nothing much at all.

This can be confusing.

Following things too closely as the punditry often does, can be like watching stock prices all day. They go up and down -- and when they go up you're happy, delirious even, and when they go down you're not, and even panic. One tends to lose perspective.

It's sometimes best to take a longer view of things. Say, six months before an event, and then look ahead six months to where things might be.

In early 2018 before the Winter Olympics it looked like war with North Korea was in the offing. And now six months later, after exchanging insults, President Trump and Kim Jung Un meet in Singapore. Who'd have thought? Such roller coaster rides from panic to euphoria and back again (and again) are best watched from a certain distance.

Whatever anyone's view of Mr. Trump was before the summit it is probably the same after the summit. It is ironic that Mr. Trump was a war monger a year ago, and now he's an appeaser who's given away too much, and for nothing.

I am a Republican and did not sign a letter damning Mr. Trump as an intemperate rascal.

But I always hoped the State Department's North Korea point man, Christopher Hill could talk Pyongyang to its senses, and wouldn't have minded if Madeline Albright and even Jimmy Carter had succeeded as well. But they didn't.

Nevertheless, many former USG officials involved in the failed policy efforts that allowed North Korea to develop both nuclear weapons and long-range missiles – while tormenting its citizens – are now offering advice and criticism in Mr. Trump's direction. One might fairly ask them: "How'd you do when you had the chance?"

I'm inclined to give the Trump administration a chance to show what it can accomplish with North Korea. How will this turn out? Who knows? But they deserve some time.

It was comforting to see who accompanied Mr. Trump in his meetings with the North Koreans. John Bolton – not exactly a friend of tyrants. John Kelly – a former Marine General, but more importantly, a tough customer from a part of Boston former-Secretary of State John Kerry is not so familiar with. And Matt Pottinger – one of the few people to ever serve in the National Security Council who knows what a punch in the face from Chinese Ministry of State Security goons feels like.

Would I have done things exactly like Mr. Trump did in Singapore. Probably not. And while I'm not the 'man in the ring,' I'd not have described US-ROK military exercises as 'provocative'. Would I have put exercises on hold without getting something in return? Probably not, though it's possible there is something 'in return' that we in the peanut gallery are unaware of.

And in any event, exercises can be easily 'restarted' if North Korea does not produce. Mr. Trump has certainly shown the ability to turn on a dime when necessary.

And unlike previous negotiations with Pyongyang where the Americans fretted over how to keep the Kim's happy, the ball is now in Kim's (and the PRC's) court. If North Korea doesn't cooperate, we just might see the plug pulled on China's ZTE telecom company to whom Mr. Trump recently granted a reprieve, followed by serious sanctions on the Peoples Bank of China (for starters). And North Korea might also learn what 'maximum pressure' really is.

In this particular case, if the US side sticks to its position -- sets deadlines -- and doesn't allow itself to be strung along by Pyongyang (or Beijing) and is willing to say things are not working, it can get over this ROK-inspired 'diversion' while also being able to say, 'we tried.'



As for our allies being worried over Mr. Trump's mercurial behavior: Well, they are always worried. And probably have been since at least the Truman administration.

Does anyone recall Tokyo worries about 'Japan bashing' and 'Japan passing', long before Donald Trump was in the White House, and when the anointed foreign policy elite was still firmly in control. As for the South Koreans worrying about suspended military exercises: some of President Moon's advisors stated publicly that the US is the problem – so it's not as if the Americans are always the unreliable ally. Indeed, a temporary pause in exercises should be welcome in South Korea, so intra-Korean fraternity can blossom.

And piling on further, all of America's Asian friends have worried since Scarborough Shoals in 2012 when the Obama Administration left a treaty ally, the Philippines, in the lurch and started a chain of events that led to PRC de facto control of the South China Sea.

So, after the Singapore summit, I'll say I am 'cautiously pessimistic' – to borrow an expression from Sean King of Park Strategies.

And I don't mind waiting a few months, or even longer, to see how things turn out.

Sometimes you gotta wait.

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Updated Dec 8, 2018 9:33 AM EST | More details

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