Thanks no doubt to his bellicose national security adviser John Bolton, President Donald Trump has now lost control of the movement toward peace between the two Koreas. Trump has put himself in a corner; he must now either reject — or, better, fire — Bolton, or face the prospect of wide war in the Far East, including the Chinese, with whom a mutual defense treaty with North Korea is still on the books.
The visuals of the surprise meeting late yesterday (local time) between the top leaders of South Korea and North Korea pretty much tell the story. South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in drove into the North Korean side of the demilitarized zone (DMZ), and Seoul quickly released a one-minute video of what, by all appearances, was an extremely warm encounter with Kim Jung-un. It amounted to a smiling, thumbing of two noses at Bolton and the rest of the “crazies” who follow his advice, such as Vice President Mike Pence who echoed Bolton’s insane evocation of the “Libya model” for North Korea, which caused Pyongyang to go ballistic. Their angry response was the reason Trump cited for cancelling the June 12 summit with Kim.
But Trump almost immediately afterward began to waffle. At their meeting on Friday the two Korean leaders made it clear their main purpose was to make “the successful holding of the North Korea-U.S. Summit” happen. Moon is expected to announce the outcome of his talks with Kim Sunday morning (Korean time).
Why is Trump Waffling?
One cannot rule out the possibility that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has some cojones beneath his girth. He has a personal, as well as a diplomatic stake in whether or not Bolton succeeds in wrecking the summit. (Trump, after all, deputized Pompeo, while he was still CIA director, to set it up.) It’s also possible some non-crazy advisers are warning Trump about Bolton’s next “March of Folly.” Other advisers may be appealing to Trump’s legendary vanity by dangling the prospect that he may blow his only shot at a Nobel Peace Prize.
The two Korean leaders have made abundantly clear their determination to continue on the path of reconciliation despite the artificial divide created by the U.S. 70 years ago. Now, a lot depends on the unpredictable Trump. If enough people talk sense to him and help him see the dangerous consequences of letting himself be led by Bolton, peace on the Korean peninsula may be within reach.
It is no longer a fantasy to suggest that the DMZ could evaporate just as unexpectedly and quickly as that other artifact of the Cold War did — the Berlin Wall almost three decades ago.
Ray McGovern works with Tell the Word, a publishing arm of the ecumenical Church of the Saviour in inner-city Washington. In 1963, when he began his 27-year career as a CIA analyst, he was responsible for evaluating Soviet policy toward China and the Far East. Later, he prepared the President’s Daily Brief for Nixon, Ford, and Reagan, delivering it one-on-one to Reagans five most senior national security advisers from 1981 to 1985