The news that Donald Trump has agreed to meet with Kim Jong-un has prompted some unusual reactions. Take for instance this amusing, if far too premature, conclusion from CNN’s Erin Burnett in her wrap-up of a panel discussion. Burnett notes that solving the North Korea crisis would make Trump “a truly great president, And,” she adds with a notable lack of enthusiasm, “there’s no way around that, that is the reality here.”
Heck, it’s worth a meeting just for this clip alone, no? Via Twitchy:
Erin Burnett on CNN: If Trump solves the North Korea problem he “would be going down as a great president, and there’s no getting around that.” pic.twitter.com/cATtTfaFFh
— Eric Hartmane (@erichartmane) March 9, 2018
This is way too premature even if Trump does actually succeed in defusing the Pyongyang time bomb left for him by a long string of failures by a long string of his predecessors. Richard Nixon opened China to the West, helping to change the direction of the Cold War and defusing significant tension in the Pacific, and we don’t exactly think of Nixon as a “great president.” For that matter, Ronald Reagan won the Cold War and many do think of him as a great president, but the Left has tried mightily to undercut that by claiming that Mikhail Gorbachev deserves the credit … for throwing the game, one might suppose. Give the Left enough time, and they’ll make a redeemed Kim Jong-un into a teddy bear who braved Trump’s warmongering to deliver peace. And I’m only half-kidding about that.
Even those discussions are premature, because nothing has actually been solved, and it’s not likely to be solved anytime soon. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson dialed back expectations after the announcement was made at the White House, explaining that Trump sees this as more of a personal meeting rather than a negotiation:
“We have been saying for sometime that we are open for talks.”
— NBC News (@NBCNews) March 9, 2018
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says a “dramatic” and surprising change of posture by Kim Jong Un led President Donald Trump to agree to a meeting with the North Korean leader.
Tillerson says the U.S. was taken aback at how “forward-leaning” Kim was in his conversations with a visiting South Korean delegation.
He said Friday it was the strongest indication to date of Kim’s “not just willingness but really his desire for talks.”
Tillerson said Trump made the decision “himself” after determining the time was right for “talks” — but not formal negotiations.
Normally when two hostile heads of government meet, the groundwork for a treaty has already been accomplished, and the meeting is for public relations. (The Reykjavik summit in 1986 was an example of even a managed meeting going awry.) In this case, Trump and Kim are putting the summit ahead of serious negotiations. The meeting will not result in any grand reconciliation, but rather establish the bonds of respect that will allow Pyongyang to re-enter more substantive talks that will likely take place in parallel to the meeting and go long afterward before a final conclusion can be reached — if it can be reached at all.
So why take the meeting at all? As Allahpundit pointed out last night, Republicans criticized Barack Obama’s campaign pledge (never fulfilled) to meet with Kim Jong-il one-on-one, but that was because Obama had pledged to do so “without preconditions.” Obama later and wisely thought better of that, but at least according to the announcement last night and news over the past week, so has Trump, who once made a similar pledge. The US had insisted that the talks include denuclearization and would not include a suspension of joint military exercises with the South, both of which are preconditions that North Korea has apparently accepted. Had North Korea accepted those preconditions two years ago, Obama would likely have met with Kim, too.
Kim definitely gets what he wants out of this, which is recognition as a world leader on the same status as other world leaders. That was inevitable, however, once Pyongyang developed ICBMs that could hit the US and acquired the capability to cap them with nuclear warheads. Had we used a “maximum pressure” strategy a decade ago during the Bush or Obama administrations and made clear that we were considering a pre-emptive strike as the nuclear program restarted, we might not be in this position today. For better or worse, the only way out of a nuclear war now is to talk our way out of it. That’s what happens when inaction allows the calculations to change.
If Trump does manage to get verifiable denuclearization in exchange for a permanent settlement of the Korean War on favorable terms to the South, he’ll get the credit and deserve it. But there’s still a lot of time left before we get to that point, and a lot of other issues facing his presidency. Let’s wait for success before calculating how it plays.