Everybody, Especially Congressional Democrats, Take a Deep Breath and Follow the President’s Lead (President Moon’s, Not Trump’s)

 In Congress, Korea, North Korea, Nuclear Weapons, South Korea

This article was originally published on Common Dreams.

So it turns out U.S. President Donald Trump is inept at international diplomacy. Who knew? Well, pretty much everybody knew, or at least suspected. But he’s not always wrong about everything (more on that in a bit).

The ridiculous video, overblown self-aggrandizement, off-the-cuff declarations of policy that apparently surprised many, and declaration upon his return there is no more nuclear threat from North Korea (um, did Trump make the North’s nukes go poof somehow?) are par for the Trumpian course.

But taking a step back, even the harshest Trump bashers (and normally I’m one) would admit jaw jaw is better than war war, as Churchill said, even if Trump himself stoked fears of war, perhaps even nuclear war, with his “fire and fury” folderol and threat to “totally destroy” North Korea (made from the podium at the United Nations!). So this week’s Singapore summit, while thin on specifics, puts us in a better place than we were just a few months ago.

One would never know it from the mainstream US media, but the president who matters most in this process is not Trump, it’s South Korea’s Moon Jae-in. He has been brilliant in pursuing peace and diplomacy with both Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in just over a year in office. Moon capitalized on the peace- and goodwill-building opportunity of hosting the Winter Olympics beyond anyone’s most hopeful expectations, and he is wildly popular in South Korea for his efforts, deservedly so. His Democratic Party of Korea just won a resounding, landslide victory in local elections.

Moon is happy with the outcome of the Singapore summit, so that’s good enough for me, and should be for western pundits and Members of the U.S. Congress. Why in the world, other than loathing of Trump, would seven Democratic Senators (Schumer, Menendez, Cardin, Feinstein, Brown, Durbin and Leahy) write Trump the week before the summit with a maximalist, unrealistic, deal-breaking list of demands that North Korea, or any other sovereign nation, would surely chuck into the circular file? Trump probably didn’t even read the letter, and they must know their influence with him is next to nil. Evidently, their paramount interest is not international peace, or what Koreans want, or the possibility of making Americans safer by eliminating nuclear missiles that could be aimed at them, but rather denying Trump a public relations victory at all costs.

Fortunately, U.S. Rep Ro Khanna (D-CA) penned a pro-diplomacy letter, signed by 14 colleagues in the House, in response to the Seven Deadly Dems’ letter.

Democratic Senators Tammy Duckworth and Chris Murphy, upon Trump’s mere musing about the possibility of removing U.S. troops from South Korea if there is a peace deal, introduced an absurdly over-reactive amendment to the Defense Authorization bill to bar said removal. Trump had dared utter the truth on this issue, that U.S./South Korea “war games” (the largest military exercises on Earth, usually staged twice annually) are “provocative” to North Korea, and cost a lot of money, and that bringing home over 30,000 U.S. troops someday, not now, would be desirable. They are, and they do, and it would! He’s not always wrong about everything! Who knew?

There is much media speculation that Trump curveballed Moon on the suspension of the military exercises, which is certainly possible, but Moon has been mum on this issue so far, so why should others harumph so loudly? Are Duckworth, Murphy and others opposed to peace breaking out? It certainly appears they value the presence of U.S. bases and troops in South Korea more than the possibility, heaven forbid, that they might, sometime in the future, not be needed there.

Democratic Trump-bashers should call President Moon for some advice on how they can support his diplomacy, or just read this eye-opening article on the difference between South Koreans’ (who, unsurprisingly, were positive about the summit, because, believe it or not, they want peace on their peninsula) and Western reactions to the summit (here’s the kicker – folks in other countries know not everything is always about Trump! Who knew?).

Of course, Trump inspires little confidence in his ability to engage in real, sustained, perhaps difficult at times diplomacy. Others can and should do the heavy lifting on this, and Moon likely will, unless Trump undercuts him. Then there is the fear some in the administration, especially devout Iran hawk and National Security Adviser John Bolton, want a quick deal with North Korea in order to focus on war with Iran. It should make anyone shudder to even contemplate such a disaster. Figuring out how to block that would be well worth the Dems’ time.

But for now, U.S. politicians and pundits should chill, take a few days off even, and see how the next steps, probably led by Moon, play out. Couldn’t we all use a bit of a break, actually? Diplomacy and engagement allow that, war doesn’t.

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