Is Trump Having a Beckett Moment?

North Korean Leader Kim Jung-Un and his Warriors

Giving Diplomacy A Chance?

After months of hurling insults and threats at Kim Jung Un, the leader of North Korea, calling him “Little Rocket Man” and posturing over who’s got the biggest balls and nukes, and who would blink first in a nuclear confrontation, Donald Trump, with his vain eyes on the Nobel Peace Prize, has now adopted the posture of peacemaker. And it should surprise no one to discover that a chance to bask in Norwegian limelight accepting the Nobel, more than saving a million innocent souls from the slaughter house of modern war, is Dastardly Donald’s true motivation.

Recently Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – who had just resigned as head of the CIA to accept the yet unconfirmed nomination – returned from a secret mission to North Korea where he conducted negotiations to prepare the way for a Summit Meeting between Trump and Un. An unexpected and unprecedented development in American foreign relations.

The stated reason for the Summit is to negotiate a historic deal for lasting peace between the US and North Korea, two nations that have been at war ever since the Armistice of 1953, which stopped the shooting but never formally ended the war with a peace treaty.   Hence, under international law we have been in a state of war with Korea for over 60 years!

During all this time the two nations have been at a stand-off, with US troops stationed only a few miles from the border of North Korea, a burlesque of a nation created out of the division of the Korean peninsula along the 38th Parallel in an attempt to create order out of the chaos of war by splitting the Korean people into two hostile nations reflecting the Communist and Capitalist power blocs that defined the post war world.  If Trump can successfully negotiate a treaty finally ending hostilities with North Korea it would insure him a unique place among American presidents in our diplomatic history.  It would stand him alongside Richard Nixon in his “China Opening;” which poses a supreme irony because as things now stand Trump is headed for another Nixonian moment: impeachment or resignation.

Although the available evidence suggests that “The Donald” is not a thoughtful man given to meditating on history, he has been formally diagnosed by a multitude of psychiatrist and psychologist as suffering from “Malignant Narcissism.” A poignant example of this is the recent revelation that Devious Donnie dictated his own initial medical assessment, which declared him “the healthiest president in history!” The assessment also said he weighed 230 pounds, although he looks like he has worked at a carnival engaging in pie eating contests over the last ten years!  These facts lead many skeptical critics – this writer first among them – to suspect that as usual Trump’s diplomatic overture to North Korea is driven by egotism rather than altruism.  Alas, the accidental president is more concerned with proving he is master at “the art of the deal” than playing peacemaker.

In any case, like Thomas Beckett after the King appointed him the Archbishop of Canterbury, Trump seems to have suddenly become aware of the gravitas of his office and wants to leave a legacy that lives up to his high station which, like Beckett, he arrived at by accident and is totally unprepared for.  And thus, he has peeped at the man in the mirror and wondered what his legacy will be…where will he stand in the pantheon of presidents?  Will his grandchildren beam with pride when his name is mentioned in their history classes…or seek to hide under their desks?

Whatever his motivation, Trump’s move toward diplomacy rather than nuclear war comes as glad tidings to an astonished world that has looked on in horror from the sidelines as relations between leaders of the US and North Korea – two nuclear armed nations – rapidly deteriorated amid the clamor of saber rattling and name calling. Although relations between these two countries have been troubled for nearly three quarters of a century, they have grown dramatically worse during the short presidency of Donald J. Trump, who sought to impose his will on them by military action.

Since the possibility of a successful land invasion is an obvious fantasy, Dangerous Donnie openly threatened to destroy North Korea with nuclear weapons: “Raining fire and fury upon them such as the world has never seen!” And North Korea promised to retaliate by destroying American allies and assets in Asia, and even drop a nuke or two on the US homeland.

After Trump issued that threat we have witnessed an increase of ballistic missile tests, as the North Koreans race to develop a missile that can serve as a credible deterrent to American aggression. The latest ballistic missile test by North Korea – which introduced an ICBM they claim is capable of hitting the White House – offers compelling evidence that “The Donald’s” public proclamations and actions went over like a lead balloon with the so-called “hermit nation,” which has been bracing for an American attack since the middle of the 20th century.  It began to look like war was inevitable.

In a dramatic turnabout we now have Trump reaching out to Kim Jung Un for a Summit Meeting. Kim in return has decided to suspend ballistic missile tests, and the leaders of the two Koreas, Un and Moon, have met and talked, each stepping across the 38th parallel setting foot on the other’s soil for the first time since the peninsula was divided over half a century ago.  The question is: What are the chances of success? If one faces the hard facts objectively, free of fantasy, Kim and Donnie could well be like the couple sleeping in the same bed but dreaming different dreams.

Trump is not simply demanding that North Korea stop its missile testing and halt its production of nuclear weapons but give up their nuclear arsenal altogether…to “denuclearize.”  Yet finding foreign policy experts who believe the North Koreans will accede to such a demand may prove harder than finding needles in haystacks.  For instance, the former Governor of New Mexico Bill Richardson, who once served as Ambassador to South Korea and is one of America’s foremost experts on the region says: “It will never happen!  The North Koreans will never give up their nuclear weapons.”

Dr. James Stavridis, a former Four-Star Admiral in the US Navy, who is Dean of the distinguished Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, echoes Governor Richardson’s belief that the North Koreans will not agree to scrap their nuclear arsenal and says that if he was advising Kim Jung Un he would not tell him to do so.  Richard Haas, longtime president of the prestigious Council on Foreign Relations and author of A World in Disarray also believes there is no chance that Trump’s upcoming talks with Kim Jung Un will result in the North Koreans agreeing to give up their Nukes.

In fact, Haas believes there is a danger in entering these negotiations with such unrealistic expectations. Given his volatile temperament alas, who knows what will happen when Trump doesn’t get what he wants; his response is unpredictable and could prove catastrophic.  And now that Trump has selected John Bolton, that old neo-con warmonger from the Project for a New American Century – the think tank that gave us the Iraq War* – as his National Security Advisor anything can happen!


Playthell G. Benlamin

Harlem, New York

May, 1 2018

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