Winston Churchill is credited with saying that jaw-jaw is better than war-war. At the time he supposedly said that, behind closed doors at the White House in 1954, he surely was tired of war-war.
By that time he'd participated in two world wars already and watched a friend and ally fight to a bloody stalemate in Korea. He may have given the Germans what-fer a couple of times, but by 1954 he had no desire to start another conflict, this time with nuclear-armed Russians.
You'd be forgiven, Gentle Reader, if you were tired of war-war, too. Since 2001, American military might has been used in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Syria, Pakistan, and that's just the places we know of. Do we have people in Niger and Jordan? Oman and Algeria? Hush, y'all. Some of us don't want to know.
We do know that thousands of Americans in uniform sit near the 38th Parallel North in South Korea. They do so to keep the world from plunging into World War III. They are a deterrent. For a few miles north of them is a nuclear power not nearly as stable as the old USSR.
We come today not to criticize President Donald Trump for walking away from the negotiations with North Korea, but to praise him. In any negotiation--whether a college administrator or the owner of a tractor company--you must be willing to walk away from a bad deal. Otherwise, you have the weak hand.
We haven't seen transcripts of the negotiations yet, and may never be able to, but all indications are that the North Koreans wanted too much for giving not much. All the president's men are saying Kim Jong Un & Deadly Co. wanted all sanctions against Pyongyang lifted. And, in exchange, they'd promise something other than full denuclearization.
Which is the modus operandi for the North Koreans: Get something substantial for something promised. Then renege on the promise. For examples, see the Bush I, Clinton, Bush II and Obama administrations.
The current president was offered a bad deal. And he walked away. Good.
Some other things may be at play here: First, this is the second time the two leaders have met face to face. The first time was in Singapore, one of the original Four Asian Tigers. But in recent years, Singapore has left behind even Hong Kong and Taiwan in terms of its GDP. We can imagine what Kim Jong Un (and his entourage) saw at Singapore: A country with one-fifth the population of North Korea but with the third-highest per capita GDP in the entire world.
The second summit was held in Vietnam, which is experiencing an economic boom like it has never seen. Yes, it's a communist country, but it is going through a capitalist rejuvenation. We know somebody who recently took a biking trip through the country. Some precincts near Ho Chi Ming City could pass for Atlanta or Dallas. You wouldn't believe the construction. If this contradiction between what is (in North Korea) and what could be (at the places hosting these summits) is lost on Lil' Kim, then maybe it won't be lost on the people who surround him.
But if these summits don't lead to denuclearization of the peninsula, if these summits don't improve the lot of North Koreans, if these summits don't encourage reforms out of Pyongyang, at least these summits might improve the prospects of peace, however temporarily. Even during this last unsuccessful summit, the leaders of both countries were smiling and shaking hands. That beats angry tweets and frightening threats.
In the very least, these meetings can be considered a step back from war-war. And for that, they can't be considered a failure.
Editorial on 03/02/2019
Print Headline: Walk this way