After staging his summit with Kim Jong Un, South Korean President Moon Jae-in hustled to make sure that Donald Trump sticks with the program. With Trump so mercurial, the battle is on between doves and hawks to persuade him what he should ask of Kim and be willing to pay to Kim. The South Korean media is following every step. Hankyoreh, the left-wing paper supportive of Moon, thinks it already spotted a rift between National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The Moon administration is working hard to make sure Kim is seen in the best light and that it seems to Trump that he is going to get what he wants when he talks to Kim. Andrei Lankov thinks this will all crash down on the Moon administration, but let’s look at their efforts so far.
On Saturday, Moon said North Korea would invite outsiders to observe the destruction of its nuclear test site. (Three days later, this still hasn’t been confirmed by North Korea but everyone acts like it’s happening and a mini-debate emerged over whether the site has collapsed anyway.) On Sunday, Moon announced that Kim said he would be willing to give up his nuclear weapons if the U.S. commits to a formal end to the Korean War and a pledge not to attack the North. That is not a new bargain, but it dominated the headlines for the rest of Sunday. And then Moon scored another PR victory on Monday with comment, leaked by the Blue House Monday evening, that Trump should be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for getting the Koreas to talk. Even for Moon, that took obsequiousness to a new level.
— Edward Oh (@EdwardHBOh) April 30, 2018
Someone needs to explain to the President how transparently he’s really being manipulated, patronized & insulted here. https://t.co/ONeQtg8RtA
— (((Joshua))) Stanton (@freekorea_us) May 1, 2018
My thinking too. Don’t Bolton and Ivanka see this? Pretty surprised this Nobel campaign is starting to get traction in the US. Wow. Are the Trumpers/Fox that desperate for a win? Is Trump this easy a mark? What happens when Kim Jong Un flatters Trump at the summit? Yikes https://t.co/zWUcoPl6QI
— Robert E Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly) May 1, 2018
As Moon’s Nobel comments were hitting websites, Trump on Monday morning tweeted that he was considering meeting Kim at the DMZ, a move that would give Kim a home turf advantage in their negotiation. But Trump appears to be a glass half-full guy when it comes to the summit outcome. Later Monday, he told reporters, “There’s something that I like about it because you’re there, you’re actually there where if things work out, there’s a great celebration to be had on the site not in a third-party country.”
Since the Korea Shock on March 8, when Trump snap-agreed to meet Kim Jong Un, there has always been hanging in the background the prospect that Trump thinks a peace deal will allow him to pull U.S. troops out of South Korea. He could thus take action in one of the countries he has long believed unfairly secures themselves on the dime of the U.S. taxpayer. There have been hints of Trump’s thinking in recent weeks at rallies where he complained about American spending overseas. But on Monday evening, there was a flashing red sign of it, deep in the NBC report by team led by Carol Lee, the former WSJ White House correspondent, about Chief of Staff John Kelly’s ongoing fractious relationship with Trump. Key excerpt:
In one heated exchange between the two men before February’s Winter Olympics in South Korea, Kelly strongly — and successfully — dissuaded Trump from ordering the withdrawal of all U.S. troops from the Korean Peninsula, according to two officials.
Lee and her colleagues added a caveat of official White House response later in the piece, saying, “The spokespeople said they have not heard Trump talk seriously about withdrawing all troops from the Korean Peninsula.” Even so, Trump’s predilection to pull troops out of places like South Korea certainly appears to be dovetailing with Kim’s desire to see them go and Moon’s desire for at-all-costs peace. That could lead Trump to a move that he will see and portray as bold but that will ultimately serve North Korea. Meanwhile, all three appear blinded by the Nobel Peace Prize.
As the tweets above show, I am not the first to worry that Trump is falling right into North Korea’s hands. Mike Green, one of the Asia specialists at CSIS, outright declared in Foreign Policy on Friday that Trump is being played. Jennifer Rubin, writing on the Washington Post website, called it on Sunday. Robert Kuttner, writing on the American Prospect website today, wonders if Trump is capable of realism when it comes to the Korea problem. Even Cal Thomas, one of the hawks at Fox News, sounds alarmed in this piece. And Trump was questioned about it on Friday after he reacted so enthusiastically to the inter-Korean summit.
On the other hand, Trump’s enthusiasm to strike a deal with North Korea is winning big applause with the people who have long pushed for engagement with and appeasement of the Kim regime in North Korea. See Christine Ahn here and Tim Shorrock here. They think it’s funny to see Korea policymakers and ex-negotiators in Washington become alarmed at the prospect of peace breaking out. But those policymakers and ex-negotiators aren’t alarmed at the prospect of peace but by the prospect that North Korea will later break it and that South Koreans will ultimately pay a high price in treasure and liberty.
For the moment, South Koreans are all-in, with 86 percent saying the inter-Korean summit achieved results. The summit has shifted some views in the U.S. too, such as Daniel Larison’s, who previously worried whether Trump was realistic in all this but now fears that hard-liners will cry appeasement if he strikes a deal with Kim. And of course, Trump supporters are eager for him to score a big political win and possibly a Nobel Peace Prize. So critics and worriers about how this whole process is going down are whispering into a gale.