- - Tuesday, March 13, 2018


The diplomatic world has been shaken by President Donald Trump’s stunning announcement that he will meet with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, to begin the process of denuclearization of the Hermit Kingdom.

Mr. Trump, like his White House predecessors, knows that a North Korea with nuclear weapons and a missile delivery capability is an unacceptable proposition. However, unlike his predecessors, he is demonstrating bold leadership in addressing the problem in a fashion one would expect from a clear-eyed leader of the free world.

Predictably, the president’s most avowed critics, particularly in the liberal press, have mocked his willingness to meet with the North Korean dictator as reckless, premature, and lacking the consultations and groundwork that accompany traditional diplomacy. What escapes them is that the doctrinaire diplomatic efforts of the past 30 years dealing with a recalcitrant North Korea have yielded nothing.

Indeed, North Korea has been largely undeterred in developing its nuclear and missile technologies, the combination of which now threatens world peace, potentially involving an unthinkable nuclear exchange. In short, those that lament the president’s abrupt announcement to meet with Kim Jong-un are blind to his sagacity.

Donald Trump is not the rhetorician Winston Churchill was, but he shares Churchill’s gut instincts and raw common sense. During World War II, Churchill had a keen understanding of what he termed “the profound significance of human choice, and the sublime responsibility of men.” Churchill understood that Britain faced an existential threat from Nazi Germany. He ignored the pacifist political majority in Great Britain to make the case that managing evil — as opposed to confronting it — was both unrealistic and suicidal.

So too, Mr. Trump grasps that he must act with resolve to confront the North Korean nuclear threat. In embracing the opportunity to engage Kim Jong-un directly on nuclear disarmament, he has seized the initiative in classic military style. In doing so, he now is in firm control of events. If North Korea has indeed decided that the status quo is not in its long-term interest, the president’s boldness will be rewarded. If North Korea continues its bait-and-switch habits of suggesting peace but then walking away, Mr. Trump will be seen as having made a serious effort to avoid war, should that result in the future.

To be sure, the president’s strategy includes unmistakable risk. But it embodies what leaders must do: Make difficult choices on a grand scale to secure the vital interests of the nation. The reckless behavior of Kim Jong-un demands this action. Further delay is futile and dangerous as North Korea enters the final stages of developing a delivery system capable of waging intercontinental ballistic warfare, a condition enabled by the feckless efforts of three previous U.S. administrations that lacked the will to make profound choices.

The Trump administration would be wise to make clear to Kim Jong-un that Mr. Trump is not making himself available for direct talks to have tea and crumpets. Mr. Kim must be clear that the U.S. insists that North Korea agree to verifiable nuclear and ballistic missile disarmament and that once it does, a pathway is possible for its inclusion in a peaceful world. Otherwise the sanctions in place will grow tougher over time. If that results in armed conflict, so be it.

Sophisticated diplomatic dillydallying will not be efficacious; indeed, it will only serve to buy more time for North Korea to complete is pestilential designs. Moreover, the president should move quickly to have this meeting. A neutral location would be in order, out of the public glare so that the president can be unequivocally clear to North Korea’s enfant terrible that Donald Trump does not suffer fools lightly.

If Mr. Kim thinks otherwise, he possibly will have a very rude awakening, as he slumbers in his beautiful Land of the Morning Calm. Additionally, the White House should make clear that this meeting is not a negotiation over an eventual agreement to denuclearize; rather it is a meeting to plan the steps North Korea will take immediately to disarm its nuclear arsenal. Once done, other issues like reducing the potential for armed conflict on the Korean peninsula will be addressed.

If Donald Trump has shown us anything over the past year of his presidency, it is audacity. Recall that during his first dinner with President Xi Jinping of China in April 2017, Mr. Trump casually informed the Chinese leader over dessert that the U.S. was in the process — that hour — of bombing Syria for its use of chemical weapons.

That was not lost on Xi Jinping, nor should it be on Kim Jong-un. In any event, let us hope that in the words of Churchill, “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

L. Scott Lingamfelter, a retired U.S. Army colonel, served in the Virginia General Assembly.

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