The Trump-Kim Summit and Liberal Delusions

The Trump-Kim Summit and Liberal Delusions

by Dr. Christopher Zambakari

On June 12, 2018, President Donald J. Trump of the United States of America and Chairman Kim Jong Un of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea held a historic summit in Singapore which resulted in two broad opinions. On one side are liberal interventionists including leaders of the Democratic Party and on the other side are Trump supporters, China, South Korea, Russia, and a few discerning intellectuals. 

The Economist and Washington Post claimed that “Mr. Trump made big concessions for no return,” and the editorial board of the Washington Post warned, “No More Concessions.” A Washington Post-ABC News poll showed that 56 percent supported the summit meeting between Trump and Kim. What explains this near unanimous verdict on the summit by media analysts, and the divergence between what a significant portions of Americans think about U.S. foreign affairs? And what are the lapses between what the polls show and what popular media reports? This margin is rooted in a failure of analysis that is grounded in history and the uncritical embrace of “facts” disseminated through popular media. In this article, I will argue that by setting up an unrealistic expectations that cannot be fulfilled diplomatically, the failure to force North Korean to surrender leaves only a military confrontation. 

Foreign Affairs, a leading liberal magazine, published several articles concluding that “Kim Jong Un May Have Outwitted Trump at the Summit.” In one of these articles, the author lamented “How China Ended Up Getting the Best Deal.” On MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow Show, the host also lamented the president’s call to end war games as “an absolute jackpot offered to the North Korean dictator for free by Washington.” The New York Times’ expressed anxiety over the break in war games with Nicholas Kristof stating a widely accepted myth in the West that U.S. suspension of military exercises with South Korea was a terrible “concession” with “astonishingly little” return. Apparently, the U.S. got robbed and everyone else was a victor in Singapore.

Nevertheless, analysis by Gallup poll in February 2018 indicated that 45 percent of Americans were satisfied with the position of the United States in the world. The poll showed that 52 percent approve of the president’s approach in handling the nation’s policy toward North Korea. Almost 75 percent of American voters approve of President Trump’s planned summit with North Korea according to a new Quinnipiac University poll. Chung-in Moon, Special Advisor for Unification, Diplomacy and National Security Affairs for President Moon Jae-in noted correctly that there “were no losers” at the summit. He notes that a new survey of South Koreans before the summit showed that 81 percent of South Koreans expressed an “optimistic attitude toward the summit and its prospects.” Another Gallup poll two days after the summit still showed 66 percent of respondents approved of the outcome of the summit.

To American liberal elites, the Singapore summit was alarming because the U.S. conceded too much to North Korea, thereby reducing the threat of nuclear war. One example is the letter that Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and his colleagues sent to the president, which demanded that North Korea dismantle their nuclear arsenal, as well as their chemical and biological weapons, end uranium enrichment, and suspend ballistic missile tests. 

Most analyses in the U.S. regarding the summit fails to historicize the crisis in the Korean peninsula and understand the key stakeholders in the conflict, the legacy of the war on Koreans, and how conflicts end. The Kempton Park Agreement, the most famous settlement in Africa that paved the way for South Africa’s transition, began by decriminalizing political adversaries before the settlement was reached. Moreover, the political negotiation and settlement that ended Mozambique’s civil war began when the Mozambican National Resistance, a militant organization and political movement, was first decriminalized and allowed to participate in negotiations as a political adversary. 

Most analysts have forgotten that Richard Nixon embraced Communist China in the early 1970sby lifting trade and travel bans, which solidified the relationship between China and the U.S. in 1972. This move diffused long-held tension between the two countries since 1949. Conflict has never been resolved by first advancing unrealistic expectations on a political adversary unless an adversary is militarily defeated on the battlefield. Given that most pundits forget or omit key examples from history and have no knowledge of how conflicts end, it is better to draw lessons from another contemporary example. Mearsheimer observes that maneuvers by the West on Russian borders provoked violence from Russia leading to the annexation of the Crimean peninsula. He writes, “Imagine the outrage if China built an impressive military alliance and tried to include Canada and Mexico in it.” It never dawns on popular media and its ever-warmongering pundits to realize how North Korea and South Korea feel about war games in their backyard. How would Americans feel if China joined North Korea and Mexico to organize military maneuvers near the U.S. southern border, simulating nuclear bomber attacks?

These same analysts have also failed to realize the lesson learnedfrom the fate suffered by Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi regarding nuclear deterrence. The hard lesson that Korean leaders learned from watching what happened in Iraq and Libya was simple: “If you had nukes, never give them up. If you don’t have them, get them.” In early 2011, the Korean foreign minister echoed the lesson, stating that “The Libyan crisis is teaching the international community a grave lesson.” The deal to persuade Libya to end its nuclear ambition was a ploy for “an invasion tactic to disarm the country.”

Pundits and political elites have also ignored the cost of war. War advocates have failed to consider the terrible cost that war imposes on combatants, civilians, and society. For example a  Pew survey in early 2008 showed that most Americans believed the U.S. made the wrong decision in using military force in Iraq, while 38% believed it was the right decision. Fifteen years after the Iraq invasion, nearly half of Americans (48%) said the decision to use military force was wrong, compared with slightly fewer (43%) who said it was the right decision. Still on the case of Iraq, in 2002, Lawrence Lindsey, President Bush's chief economic adviser estimated that the costs of war against Iraq would be $100 to $200 billion. So far in 2018, the estimated costs of war total more than $5.6 trillion. The mass media decided to ignore historical lessons, and the political elites have substituted moral certainty for knowledge. The cost ($5.6 trillion) of failure of analysis has been exorbitant for Americans and far worse for societies abroad because Western elites feel virtuous even when history shows that such actions produce undesirable outcomes. 

By setting an unrealistic expectation that cannot be fulfilled diplomatically, the failure to force the North Koreans to surrender leaves military conflict as the only option. Given that Libya unilaterally surrendered its chemical and nuclear weapons programs and Saddam Hussein gave up his nuclear ambition only to be met by violent overthrow and death, it will be a master act to disarm North Korea. Niccolò Machiavelli reminded those seeking power that “all armed prophets have been victorious, and all unarmed prophets have been destroyed.” Karl Marx warned that history repeats itself: "first as tragedy, then as farce." Liberal analysts and mass media pundits suffer from historical amnesia, but for North Korea, Iraq and Libya, farce is a tragedy compounded.

About the Author


Christopher Zambakari is a Doctor of Law and Policy, the Chief Executive Officer of The Zambakari Advisory, L.L.C, Hartley B. and Ruth B. Barker Endowed Rotary Peace Fellow, the Assistant Editor of The Bulletin of The Sudan Studies Association.

His area of research and expertise is international law and security, political reform and economic development, governance and democracy, conflict management and prevention, nation and state-building processes in Africa and in the Middle East. His work has been published in law, economic, and public policy journals.

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