North Korea: Is The Deal Already Done?


This could be an exceptionally painful situation for the political and foreign policy establishment. It appears that President Trump was right all along on how to handle North Korea and their BFF China.

The President is, of course, correct to consistently warn that “we’ll see.”

The President has been, to today’s appearances, right about how to handle the NoKo situation: engaging China, threatening language, trash talking Kim, convincing Kim that military force was a viable option; “my button is bigger than your button, and mine works.” All along this Trumpian path the establishment has warned that Trump was mishandling the situation. That he should continue to “follow the rules” that led to 25 years of failure by the geniuses in the foreign policy establishment. Perhaps it’s time for the likes of Ben Rhodes, Susan Rice, Hillary, John Kerry, James Clapper and John Brennan to, in the event of a successful negotiation, immediately reserve their place on the ash heap of history.

Instead of a policy of hope and appeasement in the face of demonstrable nuclear proliferation, Trump confronted the issue and refused to cave in to criticism. Trump and his team were able to get additional sanctions and convinced Russia and China to abandon their prior practice of Security Council vetoes regarding NoKo, continual diplomatic pressure, a clear demand for China to, at least, straddle the NoKo issue in favor of a diplomatic resolution and clear messages sent to all that military action was on the table. There really was a new sheriff in town and Trump convinced everyone that he was in fact committed to a solution one way or another.

In the course of 15 months we’ve gone from nuclear and ballistic missile testing to a meeting at the 38th parallel by the leaders of north and south. Many smiles, aggressive approach to the critical handshake, propaganda loud speakers turned off and signals that de-nuclearization is a real possibility. To Kim, apparently, the time has come to take NoKo down a different path.

Kissinger went to China for Nixon. Pompeo went to NoKo for Trump. China, Iran and Russia are watching.

But, the President is, of course, correct to consistently warn that “we’ll see.”

Kim gets to put an internal happy face on recent developments in the event of a verifiable deal. No doubt his propaganda machine is in full preparation mode and he has a potential story to tell: I gave up the nukes for the ‘people’ for ‘prosperity’ for a place on the world stage.

Kim buys China some time and space regarding trade as the likely tradeoff for China playing their part in the process and ultimately in whatever deal is reached.

So what might the deal look like? It will likely revolve around four issues: Kim stays in power, verifiable dismantling of the nuclear and missile programs, withdrawal from the border and a massive infusion of economic aid and incentives. We can expect that billions in aid will be put on the table to make this deal work. The U.S., China, South Korea and Japan will all likely be involved in providing the economic incentives necessary to make this work including an immediate flow of aid related to food, medical supplies and basic needs support for the North Korean people.

Reunification will not be part of this deal, maybe 20 or 30 years down the road but not now.

There are ripple effects here as well. Be assured Russia, China and Iran are recalculating and all are paying attention to not only what results but the process in place, a new process that cares not about failed expertise. These folks will be looking at everything from phrasing to body language, rhetorical penetration and whether or not the color of Trump’s tie means anything.

We have for decades had reasons to be seriously concerned about North Korea, now we have some reasons to be optimistic. Trump, as he should, cautions us repeatedly; “We’ll see what happens.” But based on what has come before North Korea should be convinced that if there is nothing deeper than a game to be played Trump will walk away. North Korea has every reason to believe that what he says is what he’ll do.

Want a better deal? Walk away with your money but leave your pit bulls on the firing line. They nearly always call you back.

Should these negotiations fail Trump, hopefully, has the next step in the scheme to pressure North Korea ready to roll. It could be additional sanctions it could be as aggressive as a blockade. No one should want to go there, least of all Kim. If we get to blockade status Kim loses, but so do we. It’s hard to wear the white hat when the blockade results in yet more North Koreans starving to death; hence the complexity and the search for where the proper balance point is.

Based on nothing more than instinct, I maintain the strong suspicion that a deal is already essentially done. It would explain the North Korea charm offensive and the associated signals of late. It would also explain the frequent assertion by the President that it “could be something big.” It is also the right way to prepare for a critical summit. In public it’s a knife fight, in private the wounds are salved.

But, as the President says; “We’ll see.”