When the clock strikes midnight on December 31, we’ll pass the deadline set by the North Koreans for the United States to cave into their demands and come to terms on a nuclear deal.
It’s not altogether clear what exactly are their demands, but they fall into two distinct categories. They really want an end to those sanctions that pro-Northers tell us are doing nothing to bring about denuclearization but are depriving impoverished people of medicine, food and clothing for which the North would have lots of money if it gave up its nukes and missiles.
And they want an end-of-war declaration. Oh, how they want the United States to declare the Korean War, which ended in an armistice on July 27, 1953, has ended, really, finally and fully! True, that armistice has worked a whole lot better than many a peace treaty, but the regime of Kim Jong-un, and a host of pro-Northers who support everything he wants, want the United States to sign on to that piece of paper as a step on the way to getting rid of U.S. troops and bases.
Let us, then, imagine the frightful consequences if President Donald Trump fails to come through with something, anything, to put off the terrible disaster that North Korea’s state media warns will befall all of us, Americans, South Korean, Japanese too, if Trump does not do or say something. Can’t Trump make a face-saving attempt at keeping Kim Jong-un from losing face?
In other words, whatever Trump offers has to appear as not caving into the North’s demands while making an offer to which Kim can say, “Thanks, bro, I knew you could do it.” That may not be easy. While getting impeached by the House of Representatives, the last thing Trump needs is to appear weak while the Senate decides whether to throw him and the rest of his family out of the White House.
Didn’t Trump already show enough weakness, or plain stupidity, at the Singapore summit? Much as Trump would love to claim, yet again, look, I just solved the North Korean problem, he has to be aware a lot of folks won’t believe him. How could they, considering, after he and Kim signed their meaningless statement in Singapore, he canceled war games with the South Koreans ― a gift that Jim Mattis, then defense secretary, had no idea was coming.
At the same time, assuming Trump still wants to make a deal that doesn’t confirm he’s “a moron,” as his former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson adjudged him, he’s got to think of something that will make both him and Kim look good. It’s OK if Kim sticks to testing medium-to-short-range missiles, but heaven forbid if he chooses to fire off the intercontinental kind or, oh no, orders the North’s seventh nuclear test.
It’s far from certain Trump will come up with the magic formula for placating the North Koreans. One thing the North has ruled out is more negotiations, meaning, thank goodness, we don’t have to hang on to every word from negotiator Stephen Biegun talking about “progress” or “meaningful exchange,” or whatever the State Department puts out.
All we really have to think about is what did North Korean vice foreign minister Ri Thae-song mean when he said it’s “up to the U.S. what Christmas gift it will select.” Let’s see. If the U.S. yields on sanctions, would the North Koreans shut down their Yongbyon nuclear complex?
Actually, although Christian services in North Korea are punishable by death, waiting for whatever “gift” North Korea cares to bestow may be the best option. Closing Yongbyon would convince sundry useful idiots they were doing something, but we know they’d still be making ever more nukes at facilities elsewhere.
One thing they’re not about to do is hit a real target. They’re smart enough to understand the result would be holy hell. OK, might their idea of a “gift” be to blow up another mountainside in a nuclear test?
Rather than yield to demands for a deal that won’t work, maybe the best course is to see what they have in mind ― assuming no one gets hurt besides, sadly, hundreds of their own people, as happened in their sixth and last such blast in September 2017.