June 13, 2018

Horse 2419 - Nothing Was Achieved In Singapore By Trump And Kim... And That's Fine

Depending on which sections of the media that you listen to (I like to be across editorials from as wildly varying viewpoints as Breitbart and Xinhua), then the meeting of US President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un, is either a tale of shining cooperation and leadership, or a betrayal of everything that democracy stands for. I have read opinions that this shows incredibly strong leadership, incredibly weak leadership, that you shouldn't negotiate with tyrants under any circumstances and that any negotiations at all are virtuous.
Throwing my opinion into the world is very much like throwing a cup of tea into the ocean; nevertheless, allow me to brew a cup before I hurl one of Earl Grey's finest into the waves.

The details of the communique which was released after the meeting took place are nothing new in the slightest. North Korea has restated its desire for the Korean peninsula to be denuclearised, has made vague promises about its part in that process but no specific details, and the United States has agreed in principle to be nominally nonaggressive. This is well short of a peace treaty, because technically the Korean War has never been formally concluded, and while South Korea and Japan look on in horror as US warships are going to stop exercises in the Sea of Japan, they probably should also see the other side of the coin and tentatively accept that North Korea is sort of hinting that it's not going to hurl random missiles at anyone.

Those of a more hawkish persuasion will say that in simply meeting with North Korea, the United States has lost some of its prestige. I counter this with the rather obvious statement that for almost the entire of the Union's existence, it has defined itself as being against something and for the latter half of the twentieth century and opening of the twenty-first, it has spent its time going to war against anyone that it found as an acceptable target. If there is any prestige to be lost, I think that it is that of a belligerent bully and maybe that prestige is not actually worth it. Those same people have probably deliberately ignored the fact that part of the reason why there even are two Koreas is because of the United States' actions in the post World War Two carve up of the world. The 38th parallel was drawn with an American red pen, with help from the Soviet Union who only had red pens.

If I was going to game this out, my plan would be to unequivocally forgive the North Korean regime for the hideous abuses which have been carried out against its own people and then hope that the regime simply collapses. This is kind of what happened after the borders were accidentally opened in a pique of confusion in East Germany on August 4th 1989 and by October 3rd 1990, East Germany ceased to exist. The obvious risk with this is that the regime just continues on its merry cruel way. This world only be held out at the very end of the process, whatever that happens to be.
In the real world though, I can only assume that the North wants to be taken seriously as a player on the world's stage. The inherent problem is that because they haven't been taken seriously for so very long, I have a suspicion that not even they truly know what they want, much less how to go about achieving it.
If the plan is to rehabilitate the North into some sort of semi coherent nation, is the goal to make it more like China? If the goal is full reunification with the South, then what do you do about carrying the financial load of the people of the North who would immediately form a vast statistical underclass of systemic poverty. The gap between the two Koreas is even wider than the gap between the two Germanys was. If the plan is to eventually convert the country to some form of capitalist democracy, then what on earth is the North supposed to sell to the world?  What happens about the moral imperative for justice? To what extent do you hold those in power accountable for crimes against humanity?
I know none of the answers to any of these questions. I don't know how anyone is supposed to answer any of these questions. I do know that those who are tasked with the job of finding anything that approaches answers has a Herculean task as nasty as cleaning out the Augean Stables of the immortal cattle; it's mostly unbelievable piles of poo.

Actually my greatest wish from this particular meeting is that Donald Trump, who is himself an affront to decency and hopefully a democratic anomaly, thinks that he has singlehandedly solved the problem of North Korea. Then, after he thinks that he's solved it, he will move on to the next thing in his extended reality TV series (which, let's be honest, is what his presidency actually is). After Mr Trump has moved on to something else, then the actual real work of diplomacy can continue.

I think that everything which could have been expected to be achieved, was achieved. If anyone thought that this meeting was anything than a TV opportunity for Messers Trump and Kim, then they're delusional. This was a carefully orchestrated piece of theatre an audience of millions looking on; where the only important thing was that it was happening in the first place. This was the first square on the board and nothing more.

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