The Art of the No-Deal

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Trump-Hanoi

Trump’s decision to walk away from the Hanoi Summit in February and reject the terms of a possible deal—ending all sanctions in return for a partial denuclearization—was a disappointment for his supporters. But it is only the beginning of a protracted peace process that must accompany this historic opportunity. In any case, Trump wasn’t buying what was on offer.

The sanctions are immoral, as innocents are being punished for the alleged sins of their government, and should be immediately ended on those grounds alone. But let’s be frank: North Korea wouldn’t get anywhere near a negotiating table without them. And these sanctions are not being enforced all that strictly, at least by the Chinese, who are not reliable partners in this regard.

You’ll recall that prior to the Singapore Summit, theatrical threats from both sides were the order of the day and the NeverTrumpers were declaring that the Orange Monster was going to start World War III. It was only a matter of days before the summit was on and everyone was getting on the peace train.

In short, we’ve been here before. The same people who are saying this means the end of the peace process never wanted it to begin in the first place.

What’s interesting—and perhaps key to understanding this incident—is that the Americans clearly had the upper hand: those sanctions are hurting. And Kim must face his public, the Party, the generals, and whatever secret factions are waiting for their chance to seize power. Despite Kim’s position as hereditary despot, every supposedly one-party system has factions.  North Korea is no exception.

Kim is betting the ranch on a Gorbachev-like “revolution from above,” in which communism is rejected and the old “military first” doctrine in force since the 1960s gives way to the production of consumer goods. Without a deal with the U.S., this won’t fly, and the possibility of a military coup becomes more than idle speculation.

Both leaders must deal with internal critics, and in Trump’s case this is a major factor—if not the major factor—in his decision-making. Lined up against him is a grand coalition that spans the political spectrum, from the “blue state” fanatics who oppose all things Trumpian, to the neoconservatives who oppose all things peaceful. The “experts” funded by the think tanks of the military-industrial complex are howling “We told you so!” In fact, they did nothing of the kind. Instead they got it backwards: they told us it was Pyongyang that would arrogantly reject a reasonable proposal and America would be in the position of propitiating Kim. Instead, the exact opposite occurred. America negotiated from a position of strength, while the North Koreans were desperate for a deal.

Politically, the so-called collapse of the Hanoi talks is a plus for Trump: now the idea that the President is too eager to make a deal and is likely to give away the farm is no longer tenable. Indeed, it wouldn’t surprise me at all to discover that this was a major consideration in Trump’s decision to walk away. He wants to be seen as tough, and yet he is genuinely devoted to the North Korean peace project. Anyway, as our debt-driven financial system approaches eventual bankruptcy, Trump the penny-pinching businessman probably realizes that financial insolvency is the real danger to U.S. national security.

Let the naysayers and phony “experts” sneer and jeer: the peanut gallery can watch from the sidelines while the real leaders make history.

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