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Friday, April 27, 2018

Trump's Seoul Train

Just a quick post as I get ready to go out the door to get a flight to California. Be back in a week.

A most remarkable diplomatic development is occurring right in front of our eyes. The Korean War is about to end, or at least, there's a great probability that it will. The press reporting here in the USA on this incredible development is rather low-key, muted, and often buried below stories about Stormy Daniels, Michael Cohen, Royal baby photos, and, of course, the never-ending Jim Comey book tour and interview extravaganza.

The Korean War, often referred to as the "Forgotten War," proved a bitter, horrible conflict that few if any saw coming or were prepared to handle. The war, which began June 25, 1950 with a Stalin-encouraged invasion of the South, "ended" with an armistice on July 27, 1953. It cost somewhere above 2.5 million lives, perhaps as many as three million--including some one million Chinese "volunteers." (Personal note: In 1979, I talked to a Chinese diplomat who had been a "volunteer." He said he had never seen firepower like the one that US forces could bring to bear on the battlefield-- "brutal," he called it.)

That old armistice has been an on-and-off affair with lots of violent and deadly incidents since then. The two Koreas remain divided by one of the most heavily militarized borders in the world, and that division has been a potential WWIII flashpoint since 1953. The end of the Cold War did not see an end to the tense situation along that divide, and, in fact, saw an increase in tensions as North Korea went on a drive to develop a deliverable nuclear weapon. The dictatorship in Pyongyang has been one of if not the most reprehensible regime in the world. The people of North Korea live not only with the constant threat of war thanks to their leaders, but exist under horrific daily conditions. North Korea has to be the most miserable country on earth, and one of the few that regularly threatens global destruction.

We are now seeing the leaders of the two Koreas meeting, vowing to formalize the end of the war and to seek a way to denuclearize the peninsula. Huh? What happened? It must have been some tweet from Hillary or Obama, or some wise statement by Pelosi or Corbyn that did it. Gotta be. Or that Kim Jung-un, he's really just a pussy cat who loves his people and peace. Can't possibly be the man in the White House, because we all just KNOW that he's a clown and a loudmouth who doesn't know what he's doing, and thank God, that at least Putin controls him, or who knows what would happen, eh?

Sorry, scoffers. Trump gets the credit.

President Trump played Kim like Perlman plays a violin. Trump quickly got the measure of the dictator and checked him at every move, despite the pearl-clutching and couch-fainting in the West. Kim launched rockets; Trump labelled him "Rocket man" and ridiculed his pretensions. Kim bragged about his nuclear button, Trump fired back that his was much bigger and, unlike Kim's, it was guaranteed to work. SecDef Mattis, in his low-key USMC way, reminded the world that, if need be, we have a military solution to the Korean problem. The US Navy closed in on the peninsula and the USAF deployed bombers. US-ROK military exercises went ahead. Trump went to the Chinese and drove home their responsibility for keeping Kim under control and, not so subtly, asked the Chinese whether their relations with the US were less important than their relations with Kim. Kim got the message; met with the CIA Director; has agreed to a one-on-one with Trump. We have now the first real opportunity since 1953 to turn the page on the Korean War. Things can, of course, go wrong, but they seem to be going quite right.

Trump gets the credit.

48 comments:

  1. As far as I can remember, no CIA chief has ever met a NK leader AND then told it publicly afterwards? If anyone knows otherwise I need correcting.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Don't forget that Trump also masterfullyh stroked the rockets man's ego. "obviously he is a smart guy to hang onto power in NK" (could be viewed as subtle threat, i suppose). IF trump pulls this off... well ... i will bow before him.. very very deferentially.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Nah, President Trump had nothing to do with it at all!

    He's just "a clown and a loudmouth who doesn't know what he's doing," which is why the "news" reporters and other urinalists aren't mentioning him.

    Trump's the new "Invisible Man," he makes things happen without anyone seeing him do it!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Credit where due. But a concern (not original with me). Or, if it isn't a concern, why, Mr. Diplomad 2.0, is it not a concern?

    Simplified version of my concern:
    1. NK & SK declare peace & "denuclearization."
    2. "Bring troops home" movement starts in US & "send them back" in SK.
    3. POTUS (this or next) pulls troops, declares victory
    4. NK invades SK.
    5. NK says, we'll use nukes if you meddle

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. If the ROK people ask for the US to go home, the ROK government can take that into consideration. I expect that will happen on a very long time scale. The government really doesn't want us gone. The people, most of them, really don't want us gone. if they really want us gone, OK, bye. We'll still be friends.

      Delete
    2. Maybe it will happen on a very long time scale. Maybe not. Maybe the majority of the people really do want us gone. Whole peoples are sometimes very foolish. See, ee.gg., Moon Jae-in, election of; Hugo Chavez, election of; Aldolf Hitler, election of.

      The question asked wasn't whether we'd still be friends. The question asked, and is still unanswered, Doctor, was: what happens if NK invades SK and threatens nukes to any intervenor?

      Delete
  5. Huh... does this suggest the threat of a full trade war with China loosened their grip on NK? I still can't be convinced by this. NK, at every opportunity, has played the west for fools and gotten away with it... again, at every opportunity.
    I'm pretty sure they're hoping this will be one of those opportunities.
    It seems different, but I'm very wary.
    The first thing that happened when Jong Un was rousted into talks, was Beijing summoned him, and I'm certain they gave him very clear marching orders. As much as he might be afraid of the US, he's got ever more reason to be fearful of his big neighbor. Maybe they've figured something out... I don't know.... I don't see the reason for the transition in the available-to-the-public-if-you-look-for-it story.

    skeptical still

    - reader #1482

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Very reasonable questions. I suspect China has been getting fed up with its erratic satellite North Korea. It used to be fun when the Kim dynasty taunted the USA, but in today’s world NK’s antics have little upside and lots of downside — like very bad relations with Japan and South Korea. Enter the Donald with his very realistic threat of tariffs. Just how high those tariffs are going to be just might depend on how China handles Its wayward puppet North Korea.

      This last point must be too obvious for news media to mention or something.

      Delete
    2. Well, as the saying goes, if you owe the bank a million dollars, you're in deep kimchee. If you owe the bank a billion dollars, they're in deep kimchee. Chinese internal stability owes a great deal on continued high-volume trade. I think Trump has figured out that the leadership of China depends more on us than our leadership depends on them.

      Delete
    3. Larry, I think that's a Trump saying. I remember hearing that years ago from a guy who read his book.

      Delete
  6. I heard the suggestion today that after the latest disaster at Li'l Kim's nuclear test range, the Chinese Premier may have suggested rther strongly that Kim get his S**T straightened out or he(Chinese) would see that it was straightened out. Apparently the last underground explosion caused a massive collapse of the mountain the site is under and may be threatening to cause problems at a large active volcano on the Korean-Chinese border

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Not to mention the collapsed mountain close to the Chinese border may release radioactive contamination that the wind can carry into China. A direct environmental and economic threat that China does not need.
      And don't forget that little incident when the Chinese Premier was being hosted in Florida when an aide told him of Trumps strike in Syria. The "innocent" Cheshire Cat smile on Trump's face likely spoke all the diplomacy the Chinese needed...You are not dealing with Bush or Obama or Clinton. Tread softly.
      I'm still half expecting Kim to be playing games...but a part of me feels something is different. Can't put a thought on it...a feeling like I had watching The Wall come down.

      Delete
    2. Sorry, another tidbit...When the UN agreed on sanctions and a Chinese ship was caught doing a mid ocean transfer of oil to a NorK ship I suspect some conversation like "you're busted and its on the front page around the world...and if you try to claim the ship is not yours but must be a rogue, then I have a submarine ready to put it on the bottom.
      Kind of like how the Russians in Syria attacked a US force so Mattis asked Russia if they were Russian troops. Russia played it off as "mercenaries not under Russia control." So Mattis had the US military annihilate that Russian Merc force.
      A clear message to the world...if you try to play the game that military unit XXX is not yours but must be pirates, we will destroy that unit and leave you holding the bag.

      Delete
    3. IMINT confirms the tunnel collapse at Punggye-ri. The volcano (of concern) last erupted abit more than 1000 years ago.

      https://www.38north.org/2018/04/punggye042418/

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paektu_Mountain

      In my humble opinion I consider Mr. Amselem's analysis is mostly the correct one. I would only add that, my gut tells me China would have a big problem on its hands were another [land] test to occur nearly guaranteeing widespread fallout over the mainland.

      That and ... President Trump.

      (Total denuclearization isn't likely as all indications tend to show the ROK reactor tech is the most readily available should Saudi Arabia "get cleared" for its wishlist nuclear power capability.)

      JK

      Delete
    4. I suppose it's *possible* that Jong Un was hauled to Beijing for a reprimand... but the timing of the accepted talks with potus is not coincidental. It's like China wanted to say: "Yeah, you can talk to them, but NK is still ours, and we're showing it by forcing them to come grovel before us, in our court, at our summons.. there is no equality in this relationship, North Korea does our bidding.."

      But I mean.. who knows.. maybe Trump made him a better offer?

      - reader #1482

      Delete
    5. If there was a reliable indication that Pompeo's visit caught China by surprise.. that would certainly indicate the cat is out of the bag at this point.

      - reader #1482

      Delete
  7. Kim and Moon can do or say today what they want about an "end" to the Korean War but that agreement means as much as the armistice of 1953. Moon will eventually be replaced and maybe Kim too (maybe with another Kim of his choosing?) but it will ultimately be China's call as to what any enduring peace will look like.

    I suspect Kim has a few guarantees of continued support from the PRC right now and is using this moment to undermine ROK-USA-JPN relations after all, what did the end of the Cold War do to NATO? (Hint: ask Putin)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Moon will be replaced because the ROK has learned the peaceful transition/constitutional method. Part of the calculus is that Pyongyang probably knows that there are a lot of South Koreans who see Moon as a sellout, and the next ROK President could be more hardline.

      Delete
  8. My grandson is in SoKo at the DMZ area with the US Army, so this is good news for the short term.
    If one of the NoKo border guards, I believe some of the most trusted and rewarded military personnel, escaped and the physical condition he was in tells us anything, it is their military is in worse shape than generally, publicly known.

    ReplyDelete
  9. The 1871 Korean Expedition was the first US involvement on the peninsula. The Navy won all the battles, the first overseas Medals of Honor were awarded, but the Hermit Kingdom refused to negotiate, even in defeat. They even refused to take back their POW's. It took until 1882 for the matter to be settled diplomatically. I tend to view the North Korean regime as a continuation of their traditional isolationism.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That expedition with the destruction of the Gen. Sherman that provoked it has been part of the lore the North Korean government uses for their paranoia about the US.

      Delete
  10. I can't help but wonder that had we used tactical nukes of China's invading hoards back in 1952 that China might have behaved more like Japan in the ensuing years. Chana didn't have the bomb for 6 more years ... and Russia might have well blinked.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We couldn't take the risk of atomic war with the USSR. That was always the problem... the USSR showed us ( as did China) they were willing to lose millions in battle.. and once the USSR had nukes, it was stalemate.

      Delete
    2. We didn't really have tactical nukes in 52. Just city busters. Mind you, we flew nuke profile missions over North Korea during the war to "warn" them, dropping conventional ordnance. Use of nukes in koKor then would very likely have led to rapid escalation.

      Delete
    3. too late to know... maybe... maybe not... shouldacouldawouldadidn't.
      only the "didn't" matters.

      Delete
  11. I dunno, but I have supported trump for quite some time now. Yes, NK could be playing us but in the past he played us by sabre rattling. Not going to the table and pulling things back.

    It also could be said for the last 36 years we have had a series of fools running this country.

    I think trump is doing a better job of getting the brakes off that reagan did. I just hope the wreckage we have from the last 36 years does not do us in before we can get the thing straighten ed back out.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I think Trump has orchestrated things well. Unseen in the obvious is that I believe he's arranged with China and South Korea to overcome the fact Obama and Hillary demonstrated in Libya as well as the UK, France and the UN. That is that the US cannot be trusted by oppressive dictators. If they accede to denuclearize, they'll likely be set upon by the next Democrat in the Presidency for some rationale which will morph into murder.

    This will freak out the loser foreign policy wonks in DC, but then no one under 85 has ever had any success in dealing with North Korea.

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  13. SK has a much more powerful military force than the NK, so invasion is not much of a threat. WMD’s are a wild card - chemical, biological, and nuclear.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Don't forget huge number of artillery pieces NK has placed in range of Seoul.

      Delete
    2. Yep. It's the threat of, "You might beat me, but can I hurt you badly enough that it's not worth your while," gambit.

      Delete
  14. You forgot to mention Trump's tariffs on Chinese steel with the promise of more to come. The Korea problem has always had China big in the loop. So finally real sanctions from both the US and China took hold and Kim was "invited" to go speak to the Chinese leadership.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Mr. Amselem?

    Last week I'd noticed on your sidebar an item which was, pretty good but the only thing about my reading that was, it diverted my attention which resulted in my not calling attention to it when its appearance might've been most propitious.

    Anyway I note Mr. Dan Greenfield mirrors (after his own fashion) your thoughts regarding Trump's diplomatic - apologies Mr. Shakespeare - "sea change."

    http://sultanknish.blogspot.com/2018/04/trumps-international-art-of-deal.html

    JK

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    Replies
    1. An acquaintance texts me having noted my above "apologies Mr. Shakespeare" and wonders at my typing that - I replied to him that it would be easier (difficult to type on my phone's keypad: arthritic fingers) were I simply allowed to explain using my desktop's keypad.

      *KM? My apology to Mr. Shakespeare comes to me from a memory of an Uncle's manner of telling me to strike while the iron is hot. Comes from the play, Julius Caesar:

      "There is a tide in the affairs of men.
      Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
      Omitted, all the voyage of their life
      Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
      On such a full sea are we now afloat,
      And we must take the current when it serves,
      Or lose our ventures."

      Hope that's sufficient.

      JK

      Delete
  16. Here's how it went. Once NK bragged they had a missle that could hit the US the gloves came off. Did they have a missle? Of course not but it didn't matter. Trump and Mad Dog had their excuse. China was notified that their marionette was going to disappear. If they got in the way so were they. South Korea was given the bad news. Kim was immediately called to China and given his last rites. Trade with the US was more important than his antics. If the talks fail, bye, bye, Kim.

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    Replies
    1. Yeah... China's sponging off the US economy is the only thing I think possibly could have had any affect on this calculus. If that sponging stops, China, right now, faces an existential crisis. It makes sense that China might trade NK for time to bolster demand 'anywhere but the US'. But it also seems unlikely to be legit.. so...

      - reader #1482

      Delete
  17. It's also significant that Trump has told State it can ease up on restrictions about meeting Taiwan's officials. That's overdue, too.

    But I am also greatly impressed that Trump has a real shot at ending the Korean War--with Pyongyang crying "Uncle!"

    ReplyDelete
  18. i first visited rok in 1983 and enjoyed a special visit to panmunjom before it was on the tourist trail, and served there 2001-2005. a number of former fso colleagues worked the korean problem over the years, including some who were rewarded for doing nothing by a lame duck obama. im happily hoping that trump: a. leads the koreas to peace under capitalism; b. flings a razzbery to the vast majority of foggy bottom swampsters who deride him.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I read elsewhere on another thread that a lot of older South Koreans think Moon is selling them out (with help from Trump?). When you were in the RoK,what was the feeling on the street? Are you in touch with anyone else who might know something about what's going on over there?

      I've always been interested in the Far East. My short and inglorious diplomatic career included stints in Thailand and China, and some excursions to Viet Nam and Laos. I taught in Taiwan for years. Chinese is my best second language. However, I never made it to Korea, even though the place interests me.

      Delete
  19. Some liberals are taking a very skeptical approach:

    Max Boot at the Washington Post

    Frankly, if a Democrat were President right now, probably most of you would be also.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Downright skeptical here... and I don't think there's any lack of skepticism.
      What's wrong with the liberal side here though? I mean, Trump blusters and demands a sit-down with Jong Un, then North and South Korea commit to and end to the korean war after 70 years, and liberals *aren't* foaming at the mouth to bestow a Nobel Peace Prize on Trump?
      What's the difference? The difference *seems* to be words. If you say the right things, you can burn the middle east to the ground and keep your Nobel Peace Prize and the acclaim of the left. If you bring a 70-year conflict to an end (theoretical at this point), you aren't even on the radar because you didn't use the words of placating the progressives. All hat, no cattle.

      I can say this... Trump has gotten more from North Korea *prior* to starting negotiations than Obama/Kerry got as a *result* of negotiations with Iran. Admittedly, that's only "better than nothing", because all Obama/Kerry did was accept the unilateral terms Iran had previously offered to GWB and Bill Clinton... namely a refusal to end domestic enrichment (which was a non-starter for GWB and Bill Clinton). Obama, GWB, and Clinton did *not* receive even the slightest offer to from NK to end the korean war.

      - reader #1482

      Delete
    2. There has previously been a lot of *speculation* and foreign hopes of ending the Korean war... every time the two countries meet, but there's never been a public declaration of anything like this.
      That doesn't make it legit... it only makes it unprecedented... there's a huge gap between 'unprecedented progress' and 'legitimate progress'.
      Trump's best bet here is to keep the tradewar with China escalating. Both of our economies could take a nosedive with that policy, but the US government would survive (for better or worse), and the chinese government likely wouldn't.

      - reader #1482

      Delete
    3. While I'm not sure what Iran has to do with this conversation, it's untrue that we got nothing in the Iran deal. We got a limit on enrichment levels and the ability to verify. What's the improvement you seek, and how do we convince Iran to go along?

      It's possible that NK is serous about peace this time, and this public declaration is perhaps a little further toward peace than previous ones. It could be real, or it could be part of the game: you have to offer something better to keep the marks coming back tot eh table after the last loss. Time will tell. One thing that won't happen is Kim giving up his nuclear arsenal.

      Delete
    4. My point was that we got nothing *from the negotiations*.
      Iran was *always* willing to accept just about any deal that allowed them to continue enriching uranium (presumably because it's very difficult to distinguish compliance, whereas if there was *no* enrichment allowed, a violation would be quite clear).
      Clinton and Bush both rejected any negotiations that didn't include a complete ban on domestic enrichment (reasonable because the mullahs were caught red-handed cheating on their obligations).

      My point was that we got 'nothing from the negotiations'. Basically, Obama just accepted what prior presidents from both sides of the aisle rejected as non-starters.

      If you start your negotiations by accepting your opponents very first offer, you have received nothing from your negotiations. Certainly you *can* get a good deal in this fashion, if your opponent is egregiously stupid. But typically, if your opponent knows that you will accept any offer, they don't give up anything via negotiations.

      IMO, Trump was right to lambaste the kerry/obama approach of committing to making a deal before terms were spelled out by an opponent. It certainly *seems* magnanimous, but it's strategically bunk.

      - reader #1482

      Delete
  20. One Brow,

    [If] a Democrat were President right now, probably most of you would be also.

    There is that parallel universe possibility however; as we've never witnessed accomplishing anything remotely similar: Borrowing from Hillary Clinton "At this point what difference does it make?"

    You'll recall One Brow the Nobel Committee's issuing its press release "The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons" which, signified precisely what?

    Obama's "vision"?

    (Meanwhile both a nuclear - as opposed to the atomic variety of the GW Bush era - got accomplished as well as, an ICBM possibility/capability under your hypothetical "If" which doesn't amount to much even for the sake of arguing 'cause, it didn't happen.)

    https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2009/press.html

    Still One Brow, keep up your entertaining.

    You are funny - whether you'll get a Mark Twain I dunno only because you've stiff competition from that "lady" featured at the Correspondent's Dinner.

    JK

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    Replies
    1. JK,

      As Boot points out, we saw similar things less than 20 years ago from NK, it was a ploy to get more aid from SK.

      I'm not sure what Obama's undeserved Peace Prize has to do with this, or why you think I would care. It's not like I voted for Obama.

      Still, JK, I can't even hope to be as entertaining as you.

      Delete
    2. Hope springs eternal One Brow.

      JK

      Delete
    3. No, we saw a meeting with *no* results, *no* commitment, yet tons of US punditry yammering on about how "this *could* mean the end of the Korean War".
      It was none other than our dear Jimmy Carter (one of the nicest guys who's ever been President, surely), who bailed out North Korea's nuclear program to live another day after the country was beset by famine and internal strife.

      This could all be a tactic. Jong Un could be trying to play Trump and Xi off against each other. It sounds like Xi has an agenda that he wants for Jong Un, as he just sent his FM to go dictate terms, I think. We'll see. Trump's outrageous enough, that I wouldn't want to make him look foolish on CNN. Cabinet members get away with that with only a firing, but I'd guess a personal thing like that could start a war.

      - reader #1482

      Delete
  21. My only question is whether the U.S.S.Pueblo will be respectfully returned to the U.S. Navy.

    ReplyDelete