President Donald Trump is full of surprises – major surprises, such as getting elected in the first place. Can he now deliver the biggest surprise of all by getting North Korea to give up its nuclear arsenal, something that just might save the world from annihilation?
Probably not, many observers say. They agree it would be hallelujah time if he pulled something like that off in a summit meeeting with Kim Jong Un, supreme leader of the socialist slave state. But Kim and his family have spent murderous decades accumulating this power, it is noted, and the point now is not to say goodbye to all of that but to make a more prominent and bullying, threatening North Korea a rich North Korea.
True, Kim stopped nuclear testing. He also said there was no need – meaning, among other things, that he now has the capability to take out American cities. It is also true that he wants to negotiate the technical end of the war with South Korea, the United States and others. But the main point here may be to get America's 28,000 troops off the peninsula.
The Trump-era sanctions, it is said, have taken a toll, but not to the point of famine, especially since international cheaters have been in ample supply. China could economically crush this neighbor on its border but is not particularly excited about torrents of refugees or displacement of the regime by one less to its liking. A U.S. attack has to seem unlikely, especially with questions of retaliatory might.
Kim, say skeptics, may well think he can fool Trump into bunches of goodies and a soft hand with a promise of years-long nuke reductions without enough inspectors around to discover the lie.
The right moves by Kim and wrong ones by Trump could therefore leave North Korea as a happy-faced threat to humanity, prompting nuclear proliferation through neighbors starting their own programs or sales across the seas to such eager connivers as Iran. The world would grow more dangerous as Kim got safer. As one analyst has noted, he could figure he will not make the same mistake as Libya's Muammar Gaddafi, who gave up his nukes, saw his government wiped out and was rewarded with assassination.
But will Trump be tricked? As was shown in the attack on Syrian chemical weapons, he is surrounded by highly able officials who know how to call the shots. John Bolton, his new national security adviser, will say get all the nukes destroyed as quickly as possible, send in an army of inspectors, do not let up on a military presence and do not ease sanctions until all is done.
My own view is that we should be willing to pay for denuclearization, seeing the benefits it will bring along with incentives to act.
What's possible is that Kim thinks here is a president who means "fire and fury" when he says "fire and fury. " The sanctions may also portend truly serious harm that the rest of the world cannot yet see. Kim may believe the chief reward of nuclear armament has been to put North Korea in a place to get deals and relationships it might otherwise not have dreamed of.
"Mission accomplished," Trump said after the Syria strike, and he was right. It is almost certain Syria will not again play tortuous games with chemical weapons. The strike was so precise as not to kill anyone while demonstrating military muscle no one particularly wants to fool with.
"Mission immolated," should have been the cry of Trump's three Oval Office predecessors concerning their sometimes doltish, dishonest, limp-along policies on North Korea that got us to where we are today.
"Surprise, surprise," would be a welcome way for the summit to conclude.
– Jay Ambrose is a columnist for Tribune News Service. Readers may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.