Alex Is Wrong About Peace With North Korea

Anyone who still looks to Hillary Clinton for guidance when it comes to foreign policy - or any policy - should be ignored but I will make an exception for my colleague Alex Knepper. While running for president, the former Secretary of State listed as her foreign policy achievements a speech she gave twenty years earlier in Beijing declaring that "Women's rights are human rights" - which resulted in no discernible changes in policy in China or anywhere else on the planet - and traveling to 112 countries. On the negative side of her accomplishment ledger, Hillary was among the advisers who convinced Barack Obama to topple Muammar Qaddafi - a decision that has led to the migrant crisis currently roiling Southern Europe - and advocating for the removal of Bashar Assad - a policy that has resulted in a bloody civil war and the migrant crisis roiling Eastern Europe.  

Despite Hillary's long record of meager achievements and catastrophic failures, Alex contends that Trump should have heeded her advice and refuse to meet with Kim Jong-un unless he met some unspecified pre-conditions. In other words, Kim should basically give up his nuclear program for the simple honor of meeting the president of the United States. Not only is this completely unrealistic on the part of Alex but it would ensure that a meeting would never take place (maybe that is his real objective). It also betrays Alex's hardcore commitment to the status quo. His foreign policy approach would prevent any progress towards peace in the Korean peninsula and, tragically, it is the very approach that has ensured America entering one war after another for the last 70 years while all along claiming that a Pax Americana was reigning around the globe.

In addition to guaranteeing perpetual war, Alex's approach to foreign policy resembles high school politics where the clique of self-declared "cool kids" decide who is good enough to join their privileged club. In his view, America is the sole arbiter of who can be considered a "legitimate" leader – on what basis it should occupy such status is unclear. That is at the heart of his critique of Donald Trump's decision to meet Kim. Never mind, the approach advocated by his foreign policy idol Hillary has not yielded any results except North Korea perfecting their nuclear weapons and delivery systems. Never mind that even if Trump had chosen to follow the example of his predecessors Kim would still have legitimacy for the simple reason that he's in power. Perhaps China, the sponsor of the North Korean leader, is the only country that can decide whether Kim has legitimacy - certainly not the United States.

Unlike Alex, I am very optimistic about a possible peace agreement being reached. I would give it a 95% confidence level, to use a little CIA-speak.  I have reached my conclusion based on the fact that for the first time all the key players - Trump, Kim Jong-un, China and South Korea - have an interest in finally bringing to an end the decades old standoff.

Let's begin with Trump. South Korean president Moon genius move to give Trump all the credit for his diplomatic work, now has the president completely invested in a successful outcome. Previous presidents were too beholden to the Washington foreign policy establishment and donor class that helped them get elected to ever be in a position to break from the status quo. Trump is a free agent. He owes his presidency to his voters, not donors or the establishment. He's only beholden to his brand of being a "winner" and is now focused on receiving a Nobel Peace Prize.

Kim Jong-un as taken his "madman" act as far as he can. For decades North Korea has been able to extract concessions from the United States and its allies until Trump came along. The president's over-the-top rhetoric that caused the foreign policy experts in Washington to recoil in horror and predict impending doom communicated to Rocket Man that the old games were not going to succeed. The days of "strategic patience" and appeasing extortion were over. Time for a new act.

As mentioned, China is the only country that exerts influence on Kim - a fact that it has used as leverage against the United States when it comes to trade. If North Korea cannot be used as tool against the United States, the next best option for China is to settle the old conflict and have the American military leave the peninsula. I don't believe China has yet completely given up on the using North Korea as leverage and that is why I give a 5% chance that the peace negotiations will fail. Every time Kim reverts to the anti-American rhetoric, I view it as China testing whether the old tactics still work.

South Korea is among the first American allies to realize that it can no longer rely on the United States continuing to shoulder the cost of its defense and tolerating chronic trade deficits. In this respect,  president Moon is ahead of the Washington ruling class that is still deluding itself that Trump is a one-time event and everything will go back to normal after he leaves office. Moreover, South Korea exports more to and has a larger trade surplus with China than the United States- its economic future lies with a growing Chinese consumer market. Faced with the prospect of having to pay for American military presence and no longer being able to run trade deficits with the United States, president Moon has decided to pursue the next best option: peace.

While the key players have an interest in finding peace, there are those who would rather see the negotiations fail. Individuals like Alex who are absolutely convinced that Trump is an incompetent fool. Oh sure, Alex is careful to say " I pray I am wrong. I would be very happy to be wrong."  But Trump succeeding would be a devastating emotional blow for him and his Resistance comrades. The foreign policy establishment wants, at all costs, to avoid the embarrassment of having an amateur like Trump succeed where they failed.  Ideologues like John Bolton, who was advocating regime change in North Korea before he joined the White House, will be tempted to sabotage Trump's efforts. The military-industrial complex profits from the military exercises and developing new military hardware to combat a nuclear North Korea. Finally, the intelligence community always benefits from heightening threats. It provides them additional funds and power. For those who are financially, ideologically and emotionally invested in the status quo peace in the Korean peninsula is something to fear.