To no one’s surprise, Cory Gardner is semi-alarmed by the news that Donald Trump has accepted an invitation for direct talks with North Korea’s Little Rocket Man. Bashing the eminently-bashable North Korea dictator is among Gardner’s favorite pastimes.
And so, Gardner has sent the president a letter. He has fired off a tweetstorm. In an appearance on “CBS This Morning,” Gardner noted that he was skeptical of the value of talks, saying. “Certainly it’s positive but we have to take this sign, this gesture to talk, not only with a grain of salt but with perhaps an entire salt block.”
On MSNBC’s “Morning Joe,” Gardner goes further, warning that if there’s a meeting that fails to bring home a nuclear deal, it would mean a “new red line” had been crossed and, with that, a greater chance for war.
“If the result of this meeting is not verifiable concrete steps to denuclearization, than it will be a failure, and then the president is going to be under tremendous pressure because that new red line has been set to act,” Gardner said. “Because if the meeting with the president of the United States doesn’t achieve this result, what is left of diplomacy?”
And while I agree that a meeting wouldn’t accomplish anything solid — if there’s anything we’ve learned during the Trump era, it’s that his reputation as deal-maker is his biggest lie yet — and that the danger is great, with or without a meeting, I have an idea the meeting possibly could turn out to be productive, salt block or no.
I know I’m in the minority here. It seems that most foreign-policy experts are, well, concerned by the prospect, while others warn that such a meeting without any groundwork in place would be counterproductive (read: idiotic). Dennis Rodman, on the other hand, thinks it’s a great idea, so there’s that.
The basic question is this: Why give an entirely unreliable serial human-rights abuser like Kim Jong-Un what he most desires — the international stature that would come with this meeting — without some real assurance that North Korea, which has a long habit of breaking all agreements with the United States, is actually prepared to make an honest deal? (Update: Sarah Sanders says there will be no meeting unless concrete steps are taken. She said this after, of course, Trump had accepted the meeting with, as far as we know, no preconditions.)
Trump’s own Secretary of State (so far) Rex Tillerson, who apparently knew nothing of Trump’s decision, describes the would-be meeting as “talks” as opposed to “negotiations,” meaning, presumably, that instead of negotiating, say, nuclear weapons, you talk about common interests, like, say, military parades.
Trump himself has routinely mocked the idea of talking with Kim, but, of course, it is always easy to find earlier Trump tweets that contradict anything he tweets in the meantime.
And the dangers? If North Korea is willing to meet while foregoing nuclear testing and missile testing, that could mean they don’t need to test any more. As Max Boot writes in The Washington Post, the moratorium could mean they’re busily working on how to fit a nuclear warhead on an ICBM while preliminary negotiations for chatting are ongoing. And then there’s the concern that Trump, who doesn’t even have a Korea foreign-policy team in place, could accept a deal — good, bad or otherwise — if he thinks it makes him look better than his predecessors who couldn’t resolve the Korea situation.
But here’s why I think the meeting is a good idea. We know of Trump’s affection for dictators. In just the latest example, Trump praised China premier Xi Jinping’s bid to make himself leader for life. As he said at a Mar-a-Lago fundraiser, “He’s now president for life. President for life. And he’s great … Maybe we’ll give that a shot someday.”
Presumably Trump was kidding about the last part, but when the leader of the free world praises the ideal of dictatorship, it should give one pause. But it’s for that very reason I think the Kim-Trump talks could come off well.
If you think the very worst thing that could happen in the ongoing North Korea crisis is that we get involved in a fire-and-fury war — with tens of thousands or tens of millions estimated to die — it’s more than possible that Trump walks away from a meeting saying that he and Kim are friends, better friends than anyone can know, and that no one has ever been treated better than Kim has treated Trump.
Obviously, the meeting could be a disaster. Obviously, Trump, who has no idea what he’s doing, could get played or he could get mad or, if history is any guide, could do anything. I doubt there would be a real deal, but, in the best case, there’s some small chance for an understanding. I mean, it’s conceivable that after a face-to-face, Trump could agree to start calling Kim Big Rocket Man, and who knows where negotiations could go from there.