This pres­i­dent tried some­thing

The Mercury (Pottstown, PA) - - OPINION -

Re­ac­tion to Pres­i­dent Trump’s sum­mit with North Korean dic­ta­tor Kim Jong Un has bro­ken down along the usual Trump-anti-Trump di­vi­sions. The truth is, it will take a while be­fore it’s clear whether the sum­mit achieved any­thing or not.

But give the pres­i­dent credit for try­ing a new ap­proach to an in­tractable prob­lem. Trump had no elec­toral man­date on North Korea. De­spite the over­sized role it has played in his pres­i­dency, the is­sue of Kim Jong Un did not come up much in the 2016 cam­paign. It was rarely dis­cussed in the GOP pri­mary de­bates and wasn’t a fac­tor in the Trump-Clin­ton gen­eral elec­tion de­bates.

Even when it did come up, the dis­cus­sion could be pretty uned­i­fy­ing, as when ri­val GOP can­di­date Sen. Marco Ru­bio com­pared can­di­date Trump to Kim. “You have a lu­natic in North Korea try­ing to get ac­cess to nu­clear weapons,” Ru­bio said in Fe­bru­ary 2016. “We have a lu­natic in Amer­ica try­ing to get hold of them, too.”

To the ex­tent that he had a po­si­tion on North Korea, Trump’s was that he would be will­ing to hold direct ne­go­ti­a­tions with Kim.

While he said he would not travel to North Korea to see Kim, and would not honor him with a White House din­ner, Trump made clear he saw ben­e­fit in talk­ing to the North Korean leader.

Of all the con­tro­ver­sial pro­pos­als that Trump made dur­ing the cam­paign — that wasn’t one of them. And that was be­cause of the long record of fail­ure of talks be­tween the U.S. and North Korea. What was wrong with sug­gest­ing a new ap­proach to a prob­lem no other pres­i­dent had been able to solve?

The prob­lem was, North Korea be­came a front-burner is­sue al­most im­me­di­ately af­ter Trump took of­fice, when Kim be­gan a se­ries of provoca­tive acts to test the new pres­i­dent.

On Feb. 12, 2017, North Korea tested a new bal­lis­tic mis­sile. On March 6, it fired four bal­lis­tic mis­siles into the ocean near Japan. On April 5, it fired an­other mis­sile. On April 16, an­other mis­sile. On April 28, an­other. Later, there was a nu­clear weapons test. And so on.

In response, Trump came up with some­thing called “max­i­mum pres­sure and en­gage­ment.” He im­posed sanc­tions on top of the sanc­tions that have long been in place against North Korea. He made more progress than pre­vi­ous ad­min­is­tra­tions in en­list­ing China to help. And he made mil­i­tary plans.

Have you heard peo­ple say war is not an op­tion in North Korea, or that it is un­think­able? Trump started think­ing about it. His top mil­i­tary of­fi­cers worked through a num­ber of sce­nar­ios for war on the Korean penin­sula.

And while they were do­ing it, Trump es­ca­lated his anti-Kim rhetoric to un­heard-of lev­els. Kim was “Lit­tle Rocket Man,” and North Korean ag­gres­sion would be “met with fire, fury, and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen be­fore.”

Trump later ex­plained he did it be­cause he be­lieved the old way had not worked. “Other ad­min­is­tra­tions ... had a pol­icy of si­lence,” he told Fox News’ Sean Han­nity af­ter the sum­mit. “That’s not the an­swer. That’s not what you have to do. So I think the rhetoric — I hated to do it, some­times I felt fool­ish do­ing it — but we had no choice.”

So while Trump bel­lowed threats, his ad­min­is­tra­tion qui­etly planned to make good on those threats, if it came to that.

Put it to­gether, and what seemed to some crit­ics like a reck­less strat­egy worked — or worked enough to pres­sure the North Kore­ans into at least tem­po­rar­ily stop­ping their provo­ca­tions and want­ing to talk.

And when, af­ter the talks were on track, the North Kore­ans re­sumed their provoca­tive state­ments, Trump abruptly can­celed them — and the North got back on board.

So now the talks have hap­pened, and North Korea has agreed — much like it has in years past — to de­nu­cle­arize. Crit­ics rightly point out that Kim and his pre­de­ces­sors never kept their prom­ises be­fore. On the other hand, these talks were the re­sult of a se­ries of events un­like those in the past.

Maybe Trump’s plan will work. Maybe it will work a lit­tle and not work a lit­tle. Or maybe it will fail al­to­gether. But it’s the re­sult of a pres­i­dent re­think­ing a prob­lem that des­per­ately needed a new ap­proach.

By­ron York Colum­nist

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.