- - Sunday, June 10, 2018


No politician owns the exclusive rights to “hope and change.” As a campaign slogan, it worked well for a moment for Barack Obama, but in hindsight it was little more than an attractive but empty phrase. He wowed the world by signing the Iran Nuclear Deal, but left the terror-friendly regime in Tehran on course to complete a doomsday arsenal. President Trump, girding himself for a nuclear summit with North Korea, promises to deal only in the hard currency of reality.

There’s the wide expectation that the president will show up at the bargaining table in Singapore with his eyes wide open. All signs point to the on-again, off-again session opening on time Tuesday (Monday night in Washington) in the tropical Asian city-state that was once a symbol of the British Empire. Mr. Trump and Kim Jong-un will, if all goes as planned, negotiate a long-sought denuclearization of the Korea peninsula.

The president’s expectations have alternated between optimism and a sober analysis of the likelihood for a post-summit deal. Ground-laying negotiations “have been very positive,” he says, but “it doesn’t mean it gets all done at one meeting. Maybe you have to have a second or a third. And maybe we’ll have none.” The ability to keep hope for success from blossoming into premature euphoria is the key to successful bargaining.

Mr. Trump has assumed the role of commander in chief at the dreaded moment in history when the communist regime in Pyongyang is on the verge of achieving its long-sought goal of producing nuclear ballistic missiles capable of destroying U.S. cities. Kim Jong-un has threatened to do exactly that. It’s a vulnerability the president says he won’t abide and wants the Rocket Man to make good on earlier promises by his family predecessors to abandon such doomsday ambitions.

In return, Mr. Trump has offered to lift his “maximum pressure campaign” with promises to discontinue calling North Korea a state sponsor of terrorism, the suspension of economic sanctions on nations and companies conducting business with the North, and discontinue flexing U.S. military muscle off its coast. Pyongyang would get access to what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calls “American know-how,” and enable American entrepreneurs and risk-takers to work with the North Korean people to create a robust economy.

There will always be skeptics who see a dark lining in every silver cloud, and sometimes that’s not a bad thing. Several Senate Democrats sent the president a letter on June 4 describing concessions he must extract to achieve summit success: The North’s removal of all nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction; termination of nuclear enrichment and destruction of testing facilities; dismantling its ballistic missile program; enabling rigorous verification inspections, and agreement that any deal signed be permanent.

“Now that the meeting will proceed as planned, [we] want to make sure the president’s desire for a deal with North Korea doesn’t leave the United States, Japan and South Korea with a bad deal,” says Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer. If only these champions of U.S. national security had been so thorough when Mr. Obama was promoting “hope and change” and leaving the United States and the West with “a bad deal.”

There are transformative moments in the affairs of nations. The Soviet Union collapsed in breathtaking fashion on the verge of its 70th anniversary in 1991. Once communism was scraped away, the deep cultural roots of Poles, Hungarians, Orthodox Russians and other ethnic peoples of the Soviet empire flourished again.

In a nice coincidence, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, as the North calls itself, will put 70 candles on a birthday cake in September. There’s a flame in the human spirit that yearns for liberty, and cannot easily be snuffed out even by oppression spanning generations. Underlying the unique brand of communism built on the Kim philosophy of self-sufficiency, a family-centered cultural identity shaped by Confucian, Buddhist and, more recently, Christian values, lies deep in the Korean DNA. Though dormant in the North, such values have propelled the South over the past half-century to build from the rubble of war one of the world’s strongest and largest economies.

Kim Jong-un is the offspring of a medieval dynasty, but he is not his father, nor his father’s father. Despite the best efforts of parents to shape their children’s destiny, offspring frequently spring into a direction of their own. President Trump has the task of reading his summit counterpart and gauging whether the third-generation autocrat is serious about forsaking the nuclear ambitions of his progenitors, and enabling his “hermit kingdom” to finally join the community of nations.

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