Vladimir Putin may be the expert on interfering in U.S. elections, but this past weekend Donald Trump gave North Korean ruler Kim Jong-un the power to tilt the 2020 election decidedly in favor of whoever his Democrat opponent ends up being.
The president on Friday evening tweeted: “I will be leaving Japan for South Korea (with President Moon). While there, if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!”
Assuming the tweet didn’t disguise previous secret arrangements, it was a shortest-of-short-notice cold invitations. Press reports say it was entirely spontaneous, the president’s own idea, and at variance to the advice of national security aides. Had Kim rebuffed him, it would have been arguably the greatest embarrassment of Trump’s presidency and would have dominated the coverage of the establishment media for days, and provided fodder for heavy attacks from the Democrats running for president.
Instead, Kim came a running to the infamous Demilitarized Zone at the South Korean border. Trump’s tweet, from Japan, was at 6:51 p.m. Eastern time on Friday; he and Kim met just before 2 a.m. Eastern on Saturday. To get a notorious dictator to show up at a place of your choosing in seven hours is a dazzling rarity, if not a first, in the annals of diplomacy.
After shaking hands at the line dividing north and south, Kim invited Trump, and we saw the dramatic spectacle of the first sitting president of the United States setting foot on North Korean soil. Their encounter went on for an hour, much longer than expected, and in its practical effect it clearly erased the stalemate in Hanoi; they agreed to arrange for officials to meet and discuss the differences left unresolved at that second summit in Vietnam in February.
Where will it lead? Possibly to the same dead end previous presidents of both parties ended up. Critics warn that as impressive as the visual was, the meeting will make enforcing sanctions against the regime more difficult. But it is also possible there will be a breakthrough, in contrast to all the previous frustrations over the past decades in dealing with the communist wasteland.
The best case scenario is widely regarded as a fantasy: Kim gains enough prestige within the North Korea power structure that he could set the woefully impoverished collectivist state on a confirmed path toward economic freedom without inciting a military-backed coup plot. It is far from outlandish to imagine Kim’s ego being seduced by the prospect of being the Gorbachev or Yeltsin of North Korea in the eyes of the world and in the judgment of history.
Short of expecting the moon, though, Kim might be convinced to shutter, or at least freeze, North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, or some aspects of them. In exchange, we would almost certainly have to guarantee the extended survival of his abusive regime. And sanctions would cease.
Any such happy conclusion would amount to an extraordinary feat many observers had concluded to be impossible. At this point it can’t be known whether any progress, modest or massive, will come. But it’s worth imagining the ecstasy and superlatives of CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times and Washington Post had it been Barack Obama who snapped his fingers and made Kim Jong-un materialize at the DMZ.
— Written by Thomas McArdle
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