Donald Trump’s acceptance of Kim Jong-un’s invitation to meet is a master stroke. It’s exactly the kind of thing Ronald Reagan liked to do. Reagan, you may recall, announced his pursuit of a missile defence system in March 1983 on national television without alerting his advisors beforehand. Liberals went crazy. Then he decided to end the Cold War by reaching out to Mikhail Gorbachev. Conservatives went bonkers. Reagan, we were told, had become a useful idiot. Today he is hailed as a visionary by all and sundry.
Whether Trump’s move will work depends in part on how eager the North Korean regime is to escape the increasingly draconian sanctions that have been imposed upon it. Has the moment arrived for a grand bargain in which the North forfeits its nuclear arsenal in exchange for the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea? This is what Trump’s erstwhile comrade-in-arms Steve Bannon has previously floated and it is doubtless on Trump’s mind. Japan would quiver at this prospect and Prime Minister Abe is now slated to visit Washington to discuss such matters with Trump.
The prospect of a deal also rests on Trump’s desire for a diplomatic solution, which has to be rated as very high indeed. All along Trump, like Reagan, has been dismissed as a buffoon by the regnant foreign policy establishment. He now wants to show that his much-vaunted deal-making prowess is for real. That he, and he alone, can solve the conundrum that has vexed his predecessors, dating back to Harry Truman. Trump has repeatedly mocked and derided previous presidents for failing to grasp the Korean nettle. He would love in particular to show up Barack Obama, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in the first year of his presidency. Maybe Trump will show up in Oslo to claim his in a year’s time.
Plus, Trump and Kim may hit it off in human terms. Trump has made plain his admiration for a variety of dictators and authoritarian leaders around the globe. Most recently he lauded China’s Xi for becoming dictator for life. Why stop there? Kim is the big kahuna, someone who makes his coevals look comparatively restrained when it comes to ruthlessness of rule. So, all the stars may be aligned for an accord.
Indeed, in crass political terms there are immediate upsides for Trump. His administration has been lurching from crisis to crisis, whether it is Stormy Daniels or the Mueller investigation. He needs a breather. It may not last long. The risks are high. But Korea can help provide him with the respite he needs and eventually maybe even a Nobel.