Guy W. Farmer: Korea: What next?
May 19, 2018
About 10 days ago, President Trump and his new Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo, engineered the release of three American citizens who had been held as hostages, or prisoners, by North Korea. Subsequently, Trump will probably meet with North Korean dictator-for-life Kim Jong Un at Singapore on June 12 in a bold and challenging effort to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula.
If Trump accomplishes anything in Singapore, he's likely to declare victory and nominate himself for a Nobel Peace Prize. Well, why not? Former President Obama received a Nobel Prize for delivering a couple of high-sounding speeches about world peace shortly after he took office. Let's face it, anything can happen when two of the world's most unstable and unpredictable leaders meet to talk about nuclear weapons and world peace. What could possibly go wrong? That's why I hope for the best, but expect the worst.
"There's less here than meets the eye," wrote Phillip Terzian of the neoconservative Weekly Standard. "My suspicion is that Trump-Kim diplomacy will yield less than we might hope for — that is, a denuclearized North Korea and 'normalization' between Seoul and Pyongyang — but more than the current unsustainable impasse." I think those are reasonable expectations for the Trump-Kim summit because any softening of relations between North and South Korea will lessen the possibility of nuclear warfare, which should be unthinkable in today's troubled world.
Kim, a brutal dictator who has murdered members of his own family, launched a "charm offensive" at the Winter Olympics in South Korea earlier this year. Trump, who enjoyed calling Kim "Little Rocket Man," now showers him with praise for releasing the American hostages and agreeing to sit down to discuss giving up his nuclear weapons program. Trump even lauded Kim for treating the hostages "well." Really?
Of course North Korea has broken many promises in the past. Ex-President Clinton's Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright, thought she had negotiated an arms control agreement with Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, only to discover he had violated the agreement as soon as it was signed. All we're left with from that diplomatic fiasco are embarrassing images of Ms. Albright dancing the Maracrena in Pyongyang. She now bills herself as an expert on North Korea — a dubious expert at best.
Three local foreign policy and national security experts — former Reagan White House staffer Ty Cobb and retired senior CIA officials Keith Hansen and Rae Huffstutler — reiterated Reagan's "trust but verify" admonition in Reno last week, citing North Korea's long record of broken promises on international agreements. That's why Trump should be careful when he comes face-to-face with the young North Korean dictator, and walk away if Kim declines to negotiate seriously. I hope our president will follow the good advice of his new national security team including Secretary of State Pompeo (who's off to a fast and promising start at Foggy Bottom), National Security Adviser John Bolton and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.
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They'll soon be joined by incoming CIA Director Gina Haspel, a 33-year veteran of the agency with an outstanding record as a field operative at dangerous overseas posts. Liberal Democrats hassled her during Senate confirmation hearings, but she calmly rejected their nasty accusations and insinuations. Ms. Haspel helped to keep us safe after 9/11 and her effective work to locate and neutralize terrorists is a badge of honor. I knew many CIA officers like Ms. Haspel during my Foreign Service career and have the highest respect for their courage and patriotism.
Guy W. Farmer is a retired U.S. Foreign Service officer who served at seven overseas posts — but never in Korea — during the Cold War.