- - Wednesday, May 9, 2018

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Donald Trump diplomacy, which so offends delicate sensibilities in the United States and in the ministries of the West, nevertheless continues to pay rewards. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo comes home from North Korea on Thursday with three political prisoners released as a propaganda sweetener in advance of the president’s talks with Kim Jong-un about suspending his nuclear weapons program.

This was good news for the families of the three Americans, and we all share their joy, relief and gratitude. Three lives are likely saved by their release. A long sentence to a North Korean prison is likely to be a death sentence, as the family of Otto Warmbier, the University of Virginia student who was brutally beaten and tortured for taking a propaganda poster in Pyongyang and sent home in a coma to die, learned to their profound sorrow.

The three Americans released from harsh imprisonment had done little or nothing to offend the government of North Korea, and indeed were probably, like young Mr. Warmbier, arrested only to make a political point and collect trading chips. Kim Hak-song, an evangelical Christian, had gone to North Korea to teach at Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, founded by American Christians and now teachers of, among others, the North Korean elite.

Kim Sang-duk had been in Pyongyang for a month, teaching a course in international finance at the university (and volunteering at an orphanage), when he was arrested at the Pyongyang airport waiting for a flight to begin his journey home. Kim Dong-chul was a businessman, accused of taking a USB drive with nuclear secrets on it from a former North Korean soldier. In the unlikely event this actually happened, it proves only that North Korean nuclear scientists should not pass around such flash drives with such abandon.

The gratitude for the good fortune of three Americans is tempered for some in the chattering class by frustration and disgust that Trump diplomacy can work, and how the president has, in an account in The Washington Post, “become increasingly confident in his gut-driven, out-of-the-box approach to international relations and dismissive of the warnings from establishment critics who told him he should stay in the Iran nuclear deal, keep the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv and tone down his bellicose language with North Korea.”

Mr. Trump has accomplished things that his predecessors, steeped in the traditions of diplomatic tea-sipping and crippled by an instinct to lead from behind, did not, and that is the most irritating of all. The president rubs it in. “The United States no longer makes empty threats,” he says. “When I make promises, I keep them.”

The president rubbed it in a little deeper, in fact, when he said he would go to Andrews Air Force Base to welcome the released prisoners home at 2 o’clock in the morning. “I will be there to greet them,” he said Tuesday. “Very exciting!” He’s entitled, like the rest of us, to his exclamation point.


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