Max Boot: North Korea is conning Donald Trump yet again

Historians in the News
tags: nuclear weapons, North Korea, Kim Jong Un, nuclear war, Trump

Max Boot, a Post columnist, is the Jeane J. Kirkpatrick senior fellow for national security studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a global affairs analyst for CNN. A best-selling historian, he is the author most recently of “The Road Not Taken: Edward Lansdale and the American Tragedy in Vietnam.”  Follow @MaxBoot

Kim has let it be known that he is willing to discuss denuclearization and a peace treatyto end the Korean War — without insisting on a pullout of U.S. forces. CIA Director Mike Pompeo has journeyed to Pyongyang to meet with Kim. And on Friday Kim announcedthat he will end nuclear and missile tests and shut down the site where the nuclear tests have been conducted.

In light of all this news, a reader writes to ask: “Just wondering if you are going to update your March 8 ‘snooker’ piece.” Yes, I am. Here’s the update: Kim is a more adept con man, and Trump an easier mark, than even I had imagined.

These are not “breakthroughs” signaling peace in our time. These are indications of how skillfully Kim is maneuvering to preserve his nuclear program while relaxing international sanctions and dissipating Trump’s “fire and fury.”

Trump is the one who has made a significant concession by becoming the first sitting U.S. president willing to meet with the leader of North Korea — an act that will inherently legitimize the ruler of the world’s most despotic regime and feed its propaganda that even the world’s sole superpower feels compelled to bow before its mighty nuclear arsenal. What is Trump getting in return? So far, not even freedom for the three American hostages in North Korea — although Kim hints that this small concession will come.

Trump seems to think that much bigger concessions are on the way, too. On Wednesday he tweeted: “Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong Un in North Korea last week. Meeting went very smoothly and a good relationship was formed. Details of Summit are being worked out now. Denuclearization will be a great thing for World, but also for North Korea!”

In reality, as numerous experts have pointed out, “denuclearization” doesn’t mean the same thing to Kim that it does to Trump. For Kim, it’s a code word for the United States withdrawing its security guarantee from South Korea, allowing the North to bully and possibly even swallow its neighbor. A “peace treaty” would advance this goal. Why would the United States need to protect the South if it’s “at peace” with the North?

Ah, but hasn’t Kim now said that he is willing to allow U.S. troops to remain in the South even after an agreement? Yes, and so did his father Kim Jong Il in the 1990s. The elder Kim saidNorth Korea would be amenable to U.S. troops staying “as a peacekeeping force in Korea, instead of a hostile force against the North.” It’s hard to know exactly what that means, but it suggests a small, symbolic, lightly armed presence that cannot credibly deter North Korea.

Kim’s latest pledge — to stop nuclear and missile testing — is not, as Trump tweeted, “big progress,” because he has said it before and it can easily be reversed. Explaining this move, Kim claimed that his nuclear weapons program is complete and doesn’t need any more tests. Even if that’s not true, there may be a practical reason for closing the nuclear test site — repeated nuclear explosions deep in Mount Mantap may be bringing it close to collapse. The junior Kim is again following the example of his father, who in 2008 blew upthe cooling tower of a nuclear facility to show he was serious about talks. Only he wasn’t. ...

Read entire article at The Washington Post

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