Journal Entry #32
Clear and Present Danger.
NORFOLK, CONN., MAY 2—I am not alone in lauding the historic summit last week in Korea and seeing in the Kim–Moon encounter at the 38th parallel a genuine chance to achieve a durable peace in Northeast Asia after 65 years of unrelenting hostility. Nor am I the only one to consider the weeks until the Kim–Trump summit, tentatively scheduled for the end of this month or early June, to be very perilous. The possibility of sabotage resides solely in Washington and is very real.
How real? Good of you to ask.
A friend whose knowledge and judgment I greatly value and admire comes to “pretty real,” in so many words. He and I sometimes talk in terms of an imaginary scientific instrument. “What does the Merkelometer read these days?” I might ask him. Or: “Where’s the Macronometer?” He will then assign a 1–to–100 figure as if he were reading a bar of mercury encased in glass.
The other day I asked him about the chances of a successful Kim–Trump encounter. He gave a reading of 18 percent.
“Wow. Pretty pessimistic,” I replied. I was indeed surprised.
“Well, 18 percent means it’s still possible. It is. But there are a lot of obstacles. I’m simply saying it’s unlikely Trump will be able to overcome them.”
My Koreanometer reads higher on the scale at the moment: I am up around 50 percent, maybe higher. But I recognize as well as my friend (and many others) that there are forces lining up to scuttle any quest for peace, denuclearization, unification, and a new order in Northeast Asia.
Strangely enough, at this early moment it is easier to envision what success will look like if the Trump–Kim summit goes well than it is to imagine a sour encounter and failure following it.
MOON JAE-IN’S AGREMENT with Kim Jong-un to sue for peace fundamentally changes the context in which Trump travels to Asia. This is almost certainly by design—and almost certainly Moon’s. Trump will be talking to Kim after a reconciliation process has been set in motion. It is one thing to find no ground for agreement with the North Korean leader when none has been established and Pyongyang remains the isolated pariah; it is quite another to repudiate what South and North are already beginning to get done.
This is the context in which those resistant to resolution on the Korean peninsula will work, as I am certain they will, over the next few weeks. What are the constituent parts of this resistance? How will it play out between the president and those who stand with determination against him? What follows is not a complete list—only a brief account of those one should watch most closely.
There are the predictable neoconservative warmongers. I suggested an exemplar, Nicholas Eberstadt of the American Enterprise Institute, in the column published this past Sunday. It is here. A day after I filed to Salon, Bret Stephens published this on the same opinion page where the Eberstadt piece appeared. I still consider this latter the single worst p.o.s. the Times ever put on the page, but what do you know, Stephens gives Eberstadt a run for his money in the very next edition. In its sheer groundlessness, embarrassing ignorance, and misrepresentations of the history, we must call it 1A to Eberstadt’s No. 1. I do not know Stephens. He consistently betrays a lack of genuine knowledge and has not done enough traveling to merit space on an opinion page, although standards at the Times have plainly (col)lapsed, I give you. He strikes me in column after column as a poseur, a mosquito skimming across ponds.
Think about the above paragraph. Where are the warmongering rightists, nostalgic for precisely what is now nominated to pass into the past, appearing? We come to a second constituency among the peace-resisters. The press coverage of the Moon–Kim breakthrough—and I count it one, of course—has been faithfully, impeccably unbalanced in favor of those who simply do not want a settlement in Northeast Asia. At the bottom of it is a simple assumption: The North cannot be trusted under any circumstance now imaginable. The gutless punks covering this question, in print and broadcast alike, seem to have no idea they subscribe to no more or less than a 21st century variant of the yellow peril Hearst put out a century and some ago. It did not look like racism then, either, friends. I imagine they are more aware of two other things: They are preparing the ground for an American sabotage job and their paychecks will arrive on time at the end of the month.
Here I draw your attention to an excellent piece of work published Monday by Gareth Porter, the longtime Washington journalist, who follows the Korea question as closely as anyone and a lot more closely than anyone in the liberal press. “Did John Bolton leak intelligence to sabotage a Trump–Kim deal?” Porter asks. The piece his here and not to be missed. As I wrote to Porter (whom I first met back in the early–1970s, a galaxy or three away from what is now supposed to pass as a responsible press) when he sent me the link, “This is doggedly, superbly granular.” Bolton, the hyperhawk on Korea, appears to be at it again, although Porter, being a practiced professional, acknowledges his evidence is circumstantial, if strongly so.
But note: If Trump’s national security adviser is now leaking to the press in pursuit of another mission to spoil a settlement in Korea—this will not be his first—the press is in full cooperation with him, opening wide and swallowing. Bolton, you will want to note, was with A.E.I., Eberstadt’s employer, until he jumped to the administration a few weeks ago. When it comes to foreign policy, how little distinction there now is between the liberal press, and by easy extension liberals, and the conservatives supposedly at the other end of the garden.
Liberal democrats: Another constituency one must watch for what it does in the weeks before Trump meets the North Korean president. Marked progress toward an enduring settlement will bring them to Truth Time in the foreign policy sphere.
I CONCLUDE WITH an observation and a question.
President Trump persists in his open enthusiasm concerning the summit with Kim and the prospects for peace. He is not letting go of this one, as he may finally be letting go of his idea for better relations with Russia. This tells us we may be in for some revelatory moments. If those opposed to a Korean settlement determine to play the spoiler role once again, the confrontation with Trump and his inner circle will be ferocious and more easily visible than his confinement on foreign questions over the past year. We stand to learn something, in such a case, about power and the prospects for change in the American posture abroad. Watch, pray if you like.
My question is this. Have you ever once heard anyone in Washington—in or out of government, of any political stripe—consider out loud or in print what might be constructively done to bring peace to the Korean peninsula? Moon Jae-in, as often noted in the columns, has developed extensive plans to bring the North Korean economy into a regional order. He has worked with Russia, especially, on this point. Has the U.S. ever given any indication that it, too, thinks imaginatively about how to advance the cause? Any kind of blueprint for post-conflict integration and the incentives that can induce the North into it?
I know your answer. Think about why that is the answer.
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