So, soon after boasting that Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize, reports from Japan indicated that US President Donald Trump was, if not outright lying, being very disingenuous. Washington – if these reports are to be believed – had actually asked Tokyo to make the nomination.
If true, this is both ridiculous and vulgar.
For all its faults, and for all its legions of critics, the Nobel Peace Prize is still freighted with prestige: It is, arguably, the greatest prize on Earth. The nomination process is kept under wraps: Discretion is central. To ask – and one wonders how such a solicitation was phrased and/or delivered – a fellow world leader to nominate one stinks of self-indulgence.
Damnably, it is very easy to believe that Trump did, indeed, make such a blatantly Donald-centric request. It is difficult to recall any recent US president so sensitive to personal slights, so driven by personal egotism.
So gargantuan is the Trumpian ego that one would have to be myopic to miss it. Naturally, other leaders in the global politisphere have made playing to it an element of policy.
Case in point: Last year, at an open forum on North Korea, one of South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s advisers openly admitted how the penny had dropped. At an early meeting between Moon and Trump, the adviser recalled how quickly Trump’s attention had wandered when Moon had attempted to explain North Korean policy. But Moon and his advisers were not stumped for long: They soon realized that the way to get and keep Trump on-side was simple – flatter him.
This explains (at least partly) the many kind words that Moon and members of his government – a left-leaning administration that is far from being in lock-step with Trump’s right-wing, commerce-centric White House – have lavished upon the US president. It is also highly suggestive of why Moon decided, on a recent trip to the United States, to offer an exclusive interview to Trump’s favored media channel, Fox News. And of course, it explains why Moon reportedly suggested (long before Abe) that Trump should be considered for a Nobel.
And yet … however vulgar, boorish, ill-informed, self-centric and buffoonish Trump the man may appear, it is difficult to argue with Trump the president’s maneuvers on the Korean front.
North Korea has long been a black hole of failure in US foreign policy. In his contrarian way, Trump has set out to rectify this
North Korea has long been a black hole of failure in US foreign policy. In his contrarian way, Trump has set out to rectify this. And he is consistent. It should be clear by now that he is no warrior president: He wants to bring troops home, not start wars, as was obvious with his pinprick strike in Syria. And long before he became president, Trump was arguing for top-level negotiations with North Korea.
His bold initiative – talk to a Kim! – puts him light-years ahead of America’s foreign-policy and academic establishments. Both appear to have run out of ideas on North Korea – assuming, that is, they had any in the first place.
Bill Clinton’s administration reached out to North Korea – but only at the very end of its term. The George W Bush administration wavered on North Korea, shifting from one extreme to the other. The Barack Obama administration apparently gave up on any breakthrough and let the situation fester for two terms.
So it is refreshing to see a president make North Korea central to his foreign policy and create the conditions for a real breakthrough.
It is a massive political risk – the chances of a successful outcome (given all that has gone before) are slim. It is refreshing to see a president sit down with a North Korean leader – a historic landmark that could yet prove to be a historic mistake (no other US president has offered a Kim such credibility).
Trump’s apparent chumminess with Kim III – perhaps the world’s most totalitarian leader – is distasteful to anyone with an ounce of humanitarianism. But who can say that his approach is wrong?
For the first time in decades, there are serious grounds for optimism on North Korea-US relations. If they improve, cross-DMZ relations can be fully enabled. If – admittedly, a big “if” – South Korea applies the full force of its capital and commercial muscle to aiding and enriching North Korea, while also linking the two Koreas more tightly together, the regime in Pyongyang may ditch some of its paranoia and gingerly ease out of its isolation and into the international community.
Few experts believe Pyongyang will fully denuclearize; atomic arms are the only assets that grant North Korea global relevance. The country’s governance, economy, judicial system, commercial entities and technologies offer nothing to the world. About the only positives North Korea generates are fodder for comedy (centered around its bizarre leader) and a beer brand (the justly famed Daedonggang lager).
So “total denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” looks more aspirational than realistic. But even if Trump and Kim Jong Un could reach a halfway house – say, an ongoing test moratorium; a halt in the production of fissile materials; an end-of-war declaration; the opening of bilateral relations – this would still be a massive win.
If Trump manages that, his thirst for honors should be slaked.
Nobels have been handed out for far less.