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Maybe we should just let Trump take credit for Korea

by Eric Ferguson on April 28, 2018 · 1 comment

Screen grab from the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) shows Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in shaking hands at  Panmunjom.

Screen grab from the Korean Broadcasting System (KBS) shows Kim Jong Un and Moon Jae-in shaking hands at Panmunjom.

Sure, it’s annoying when Trump claims credit for something he didn’t do, much like when Trump incoherently claimed credit for the Pyeongchang Olympics, and, it should be predictable if you’re paying any attention, Trump now wants to claim credit for North and South Korea talking peace.


Sure, here in the reality-based community, it’s hard to forget it was just last Winter that the offer by the North to talk peace with the South was supposed to be just an attempt to “drive a wedge” between South Korea and the US. If this is what driving a wedge looks like, drive away! Korea has been one of places World War III is most likely to break out ever since the country was divided after World War II. If they’re going to talk about formally ending the war and demilitarizing the border, the best thing we could hope for is Trump shuts up and gets out of the way.

Obviously that won’t happen. I’m equally realistic about North Korea. They didn’t suddenly turn into good guys. Both Koreas have talked of desiring unification, but both states want to survive. North Korea is surely wary of becoming the next East Germany. For those responding to that reference with “huh?”, the unification of Germany at the end of the Cold War was no merger of equals. One German state was more populous, wealthier, and stable. It would be entirely fair to describe the merger as the West absorbing the East. The North is surely aware of which Korea is analogous to which Germany. The most plausible unification of Korea involves the government of the North collapsing, and the South absorbing it, which makes me very skeptical the North will be enthusiastic about opening more to the outside world.

Trump and the trumpers will want to believe, and will surely say, the Koreas are talking because Trump talked tough and threatened to make some sort of attack. Far more plausible is that the rapid progress North Korea made in bomb and missile technology during the Trump administration — that requires stressing, during the Trump administration — means they think they have a much stronger negotiating position: which they do. Pardon my surprise should anyone on the right acknowledge that.

In terms of our domestic politics, it seems bizarre to let Trump claim a foreign policy success he didn’t earn. Not that Trump getting things he didn’t earn isn’t his norm, like a strong economy and his personal fortune, but politically, it doesn’t generally make sense to just let him claim unearned success.

So why would I consider letting him claim credit here? While he’s claiming credit for advances in making peace, he creates a stake for himself in peace holding. He has a personal and political reason to oppose advisors who want some sort of “bloody nose” attack, let alone an attempt to take out the North’s nuclear facilities.

Yes I know, that sounds like a thought process that might be ascribed to someone stable, not to unstable Trump. Even though he’s a narcissist, if he was a stable narcissist, letting him think a good thing is his idea would be a great way to make him stick to it. So to contradict the argument I made in just the previous paragraph, we can’t count on him to stick to the peace process when he hears some warmonger on Fox News talking about how terrible this is and we need to attack, or maybe the presidents of the Koreas will fail to praise Trump enough and he’ll decide to blow up (maybe literally) the peace process out of personal pique.

Then even yet more again, maybe if Democrats refuse to give him credit for whatever progress the Koreas make, reverse psychology will kick in and he’ll need even more to claim credit. Of course, if we were really doing reverse psychology, we would say the peace process is horrible, and then Trump would be sure to love it. But anyone willing to lie and say peace is bad?
Bloody truth and nuance — the liberal’s curses.
From Dan Burns: Some years ago I read a good book, published in 2009, called ‘Nothing To Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea.’ It got somewhat into the issue of Korean reunification, and mentioned that many South Koreans, though for it in principle, balked at the potential cost.

I don’t remember what that book noted as a likely potential cost, but a search this morning had numbers all over the place, with perhaps US $1T or more seeming plausible. Also, from Wikipedia:

Support for reunification in South Korea has been falling, especially among the younger generations. In the 1990s, the percent of people in government polls who regarded reunification as essential was over 80%. By 2011 that number had dropped to 56%.
According to a December 2017 survey released by the Korea Institute for National Unification, 72.1% of South Koreans in their 20s believe reunification is unnecessary, with younger South Koreans saying they are more worried about issues related to economy, employment, and living costs.
Polls show a majority of South Koreans, even those in age groups traditionally seen as being more eager to reunify the peninsula, are not willing to see their living condition suffer in order to accommodate the North. Moreover, about 50% of men in their 20s see North Korea as an outright enemy that they want nothing to do with.

Based on this South Korean men in their twenties do not have, and have not had, wonderful lives, and bitter suspicion is understandable.

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