Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Ave, Joshua!

Joshua Stanton is understandably skeptical about what has or hasn't been achieved at the Trump-Kim summit in Singapore. Read his fisking here. Excerpts:

Historically, vague agreements are the agreements Pyongyang loves. [On] the one hand, it will put an implausibly narrow interpretation on its own concessions: “What you do mean this includes uranium?,” or, “You said missile tests, not satellite tests!” On the other hand, it will interpret our own concessions broadly.


We have given legitimacy to the man responsible for “crimes against humanity, arising from ‘policies established at the highest level of State,’” including “extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.” And for a regime that values myths, symbols, and legitimacy more than a million lives, that will cost the people of both Koreas — and eventually, us — incalculably.


To North Korea, this will certainly mean an end to U.S.-South Korean exercises. You’ll see (update: sooner than expected, as it turned out). The next one is Ulchi Freedom Guardian, and it’s usually held in August. By then, South Korea’s left-wing government, empowered by the electoral gift that Trump has just given it, will be joining Pyongyang in demanding the cancelation of the exercise. As I’ve said before, Pyongyang will not demand our withdrawal until Moon Jae-in’s control of the press and suppression of his domestic critics has advanced to the point when no domestic backlash can stop it. I suspect that when the results are in from South Korea’s local elections today, we’ll have taken a giant leap toward that.


Just bear in mind: to Pyongyang, film parodies of Kim Jong-un, White House meetings with North Korean defectors, and think tank conferences on human rights in North Korea are all incompatible with its idea of “security of the Korean Peninsula.” It sees words that are U.S. policy prerogatives, moral imperatives, and protected speech under the First Amendment as a threat to its security.


Overall, what’s not in the agreement is much more significant than what is.
Is Trump still playing his vaunted 4-D chess, or has he been had, like so many feckless presidents before him? My current assumption is that North Korea has been using the same playbook for decades and will continue to do so, mainly because it's worked so well up to now. Like Charlie Brown running toward Lucy's football, we in the West fall for this nonsense every single time. There's a chorus, however, slowly gaining momentum, that declares, "This time, it's different." There have been enough differences between Trump's approach and that of previous administrations for me to pause and at least consider the possibility that this new chorus might be right. But my native caution and skepticism lead me to think that Joshua's dour assessment is probably closer to reality.

As I've been saying with regard to all things Trump: we'll see.


Charles said...

I'm pretty sure you already know how I feel about this, so I will not elaborate. Good read from Joshua, though.

Kevin Kim said...

My boss's comment on this was that, despite the vague wording of the agreement, what matters in Korean culture is more the gesture than the words because Koreans view things like contracts as the beginning of a relationship, not the codifying of one. The boss is generally more optimistic than I am, although I concede that a face-to-face meeting may carry its own yet-unknown significance.

Or Trump and Kim could go right back to insulting each other.

Charles said...

I will only add that your boss is definitely more optimistic than I am, too.