Did Donald Trump make the deal of the century, or did he just mark time? If he’s not willing to bring the agreement with Kim Jong-un to the Senate for ratification, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) tells NBC’s Today show, it will be more the latter than the former:
I don’t think they would sit down with him [Trump] if they didn’t think they would get something out of it. Kim comes out of this thing bigger; I think we come out of it stronger too.
Not only do I want to see the details, I want to vote on them. Here’s what I would tell President Trump: I stand with you…but anything you negotiate with North Korea will have to come to the Congress for our approval…details matter. But I’m hopeful. I think he has convinced Kim Jong Un that he’s better off giving up his nuclear weapons than he is keeping them.
Ratification would be a rather historic step. Bill Clinton never submitted the Agreed Framework with Kim’s father for Senate ratification, in large part because it probably wouldn’t have passed. At the time in late 1994, that didn’t seem to be much of an issue for the Clinton administration, which thought the Kim regime was on the verge of collapse. They wanted to keep Pyongyang roped into the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and saw the Agreed Framework as an easy way to tie Kim Jong-il’s hands. They didn’t put much interest in it as a lasting peace accord. Instead, it became a precedent for bad “executive agreements,” such as the Iran deal cut by Barack Obama and John Kerry twenty-one years later.
Will the deal announced today pass Senate muster for ratification? Graham thinks it will, as long as it doesn’t contain a full retreat from the Korean Peninsula:
I don’t think cancelling a war game is going to matter over the arc of time. The one thing that I would violently disagree with is removing our troops. I can’t imagine I would vote for any agreement that requires us to withdraw our forces because that would destabilize Asia. That’s what China wants. That doesn’t make the world more peaceful, it makes it more dangerous.
Graham agrees that Trump’s decision to call off the war games is a big concession, but it’s at least a scalable one. Trump can cancel war games as long as Kim cooperates, but it’s relatively easy to put them back on again. It’s pretty expensive, Trump complains to George Stephanopoulos in an interview after the summit, which is why he was planning on cutting them back anyway:
EXCLUSIVE: President Trump tells @GStephanopoulos “I wanted to stop the war games, I thought they were very provocative, but I also think they’re very expensive,” when asked if he discussed pulling U.S. troops out of South Korea with Kim Jong Un. https://t.co/ANdmOzpPd9 pic.twitter.com/k015aM4PH9
— ABC News (@ABC) June 12, 2018
More interesting from this clip is Trump’s answer to Graham’s question. Stephanopoulos asks whether Trump discussed a full military withdrawal, and Trump replies that “we didn’t discuss that.” A military withdrawal from the 38th Parallel would be a permanent move, unlike a decision to cancel military exercises that can simply be put back on the calendar. Graham can rest easy on that score.
On the larger issue of ratification, though, there seems to be one big problem: what is there to ratify? At least as laid out at the moment, the “agreement” that the two leaders signed contains a series of aspirational goals, not concrete commitments to specific actions and objectives. It’s a good first step to have two men who were trading insults over the size of their nuclear capacities to shake hands and settle on a shared set of diplomatic goals, but it’s just a first step, unless there was more to the agreement than anyone’s letting on. That may be what Graham is worried about.