Winging It

The on-again, off-again, on-again summit meeting with North Korea is set to occur next Tuesday in Singapore.  Yesterday, President Trump confirmed reports that he’s not exactly cramming and burning the midnight oil to prepare for the meeting.

5e6mikironhllmggtkqbd54s4i“I don’t think I have to prepare very much. It’s about attitude,” he said. “I think I’ve been prepared for this summit for a long time, as has the other side.”  President Trump, who says the meeting won’t just be a “photo op” and may be the first of several meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, added:  “I think I’m very well prepared.”

The President believes that his tough language about North Korea and Kim has been a key factor in bringing North Korea to the table.  He uses the phrase “maximum pressure” to describe his approach to the country that has long been an international pariah, and said: “If you hear me using the term ‘maximum pressure,’ you’ll know the negotiations didn’t go very well.”  Nevertheless, President Trump predicts that the summit meeting will be a “great success.”

A year and a half into the Trump presidency, we’ve long since realized that President Trump isn’t like most people, who would never dream of going into an important meeting with an isolated, notoriously unpredictable country that feels like an international outcast and has been working to develop a nuclear weapons program to attract attention, put its neighbors on edge, and give it a louder voice in the world.  But President Trump is matching, and maybe even exceeding, North Korea in the unpredictability department, having first abruptly cancelled the summit, then determined that it is back on again.

So, is President Trump just supremely self-confident about everything he does, including meeting foreign dictators who have virtually no relations with other countries?  Or, does the President think that saying he hasn’t been spending much time hitting the briefing books helps to set the framework for the negotiations and gives him an advantage of sorts?  Is the statement that the summit is about “attitude” supposed to convey that the United States doesn’t think there’s much to discuss at this point beyond getting North Korea to end its nuclear program?  Or is it to communicate to North Korea that it isn’t really important enough to demand a big chunk of the President’s time?  Or is the plan to make Kim feel overconfident that he’ll be able to pull a fast one on a negotiator who admittedly hasn’t tried to master the details?  Or, is there some other, deep, Art of the Deal-type negotiation game afoot?

With President Trump, you never know.  But hey — what could go wrong?

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Bracing For The Weirdest Summit Ever

According to news reports and a tweet from President Trump, there will be a summit meeting in the next two months between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un.  The agreement to set up a meeting was brokered by the South Korean government, and the place and time of the summit is currently being determined.  In the meantime, North Korea has agreed that it will not engage in any more missile testing until after the summit occurs.

Whenever and wherever it happens — if it happens at all — the meeting promises to be the weirdest, most closely watched, most unpredictable summit in history.

donald-trump-kim-jong-un-ap-mt-171101_16x9_992Viewed solely from the standpoint of normal diplomacy, this meeting will be highly unusual.  North Korea and the United States have no diplomatic relations of any kind, and no American President has ever met a North Korean leader.  In fact, the United States and North Korea technically remain in a state of war, because the Korean War ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.   Even President Nixon’s famous trip to China, which reopened relations between America and China, was built upon a prior period of thawing relations and more diplomatic prep work than would occur before this summit.

Add to that the fact that President Trump and Kim Jong-Un have been trading venomous barbs about each other and engaging in lots of saber-rattling talk until now, and are two of the most unpredictable leaders in the world besides, and you have to wonder what the talks between the two of them will be like.  The diplomats and underlings who will be present, from both sides, will no doubt be desperately hoping that Kim Jong-Un and President Trump follow whatever scripts their respective sides have prepared — all the while knowing that history teaches that they probably won’t.  And the media, which carefully analyzed a handshake between President Trump and Russian leader Vladimir Putin when they first met, will have a field day examining and breathlessly reporting on every wink, nod, and offhand comment.

North Korea has long been a problem that has been ignored by world leaders, hoping it would just go away — but the provocative, destabilizing conduct of North Korea has gotten more and more dangerous as it has worked to develop nuclear weapons and tested long-range missiles.  Something needs to be done to get North Korea off the path of confrontation and into more normalized relations with the United States and the rest of the world.  Will The Weirdest Summit Ever be able to achieve that?  The world will be watching the weirdness, and holding its breath.

Way Down In The Hole

The issue of the World vs. North Korea continues to spin out of control.

The North Koreans insist on conducting repeated missile tests for no apparent reason, strategic or otherwise, other than to just try to get the world to pay attention to them.  The world responds by condemning North Korea’s activities and, most recently, by the UN Security Council unanimously imposing additional sanctions on that country.  North Korea tries to up the ante by issuing bizarre threats.  President Trump responds by saying that threats to the U.S. will be met with “fire and fury” — perhaps unwittingly, perhaps not, recalling the lyrics about the devil in Way Down in the Hole — and now North Korea has announced that it is “carefully examining” plans for a missile strike against Guam in order to “contain” the U.S. military base there.

4057dec000000578-4509784-image-a-27_1494928848360Oh . . . and the North Koreans also say that America is considering a “preventive war” against North Korea, and warn that any attempt to do so would be met with an “all-out war wiping out all the strongholds of enemies, including the U.S. mainland.”

What is the world supposed to do with North Korea?  We keep expecting, or hoping, that Kim Jong Un and his cadre will react rationally to standard diplomatic practices, like being admonished by its principal apparent ally, China, or being subjected to sanctions unanimously imposed by a world body that almost never acts because its members typically disagree about just about every issue.  And secretly, no doubt, every other country wishes that the starving, deprived, long-suffering people of North Korea would rise up and overthrow the Leader with the Bad Haircut and his military minions — who are always pictured yukking it up, as if planning nuclear strikes against peaceful countries is completely hilarious fun.  But nothing happens, and the North Korean threats continue, and countries that might be the target of a rogue missile launch become increasingly jittery, and the world hopes that we can somehow avoid a stupid, utterly unnecessary military confrontation.

So, what do you do with a North Korea that is run by somebody who is evidently unbalanced, is armed with nuclear missiles, and is intent on doing whatever it takes to attract attention to itself?  How do you deal with a country that is so irrational and is apparently guided exclusively by the whim of an unpredictable, outlandish leader?  And even if you somehow avoided an armed confrontation in this particular instance, how secure would you feel knowing that the unpredictable leader remains in place, ready to escalate things at any time in the future?  We’ve asked these same questions before, but the problem keeps getting worse and worse, with no resolution in sight.

We’ve got some difficult issues to deal with in the world, but a nuclear North Korea is perhaps the most perplexing, and the most dangerous.

Getting The Dear Leader’s Haircut

There are conflicting reports from North Korea about whether men have been ordered to get a haircut that matches the styling of the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-Un. Some websites are reporting the story as the truth; others are saying it’s a hoax.

Either way, the story is getting a lot of play — primarily because the Dear Leader’s haircut is so distinctive. The hair on the sides of the head, around and above the ears, is shaved down to the bare scalp. Then, some kind of industrial lubricant is liberally applied to the hairs on top of the head to give them a deep sheen and allow them to be combed straight back and parted in the middle. The awkward result looks something like a wet plastic mat covering part of a cue ball. It’s a look you’d expect to see in a prison or a mental institution.

The “required haircut” story has legs because it’s plausible — North Korea’s conduct is so unpredictable that people will believe just about any news story emanating from that country — and because it’s outlandish even by North Korean standards. Could Kim Jong-Un actually be so besotted with the state-created cult of personality about him that he thinks his haircut looks good? Would a country that starves and enslaves its people go so far as to dictate an item of personal choice like a haircut, and force its unfortunate citizens to get an unflattering one at that?

We’re lucky we live in a free country where our leaders don’t insist that we adopt their hairstyles. I’ve now lived through the terms of 11 different Presidents, which would mean a lot of hairstyle changes — especially since I’ve stuck to pretty much the same style for the past 30 years or so. And some of our presidential coiffures weren’t exactly trend-setting, either. I wouldn’t have wanted to adopt the Ronald Reagan Brylcreem pompadour or the Richard Nixon straight comb back — although either of those would be preferable to Kim Jong-Un’s institutional trim job.

Dennis And The Dictator — Continued

Dennis Rodman returned from his ill-advised trip to North Korea and promptly checked himself into a rehab facility, saying that his behavior was due, in part, to excessive consumption of alcohol while in the land of Kim Jong-Un.

Normally I wouldn’t comment on someone’s decision to seek treatment; that is their business. In this case, though, when Rodman went into rehab his agent issued this statement: “Dennis Rodman came back from North Korea in pretty rough shape emotionally. The pressure that was put on him to be a combination ‘super human’ political figure and ‘fixer’ got the better of him.”

I’ve got news for Rodman’s agent — no one put any pressure on Dennis Rodman but Rodman himself. No one asked him to go to North Korea and pal around with a dictator. No one — and I mean no one — would ever expect that the dysfunctional Dennis Rodman would be “combination ‘super human’ political figure and ‘fixer.'” Indeed, we’re not even sure he’s capable of being a regular human, much less a super human. All we ask is that, if American citizens go to a foreign country that regularly issues anti-American statements and engages in repressive conduct, they at least keep their mouths shut and not make statements and engage in conduct that feeds the propaganda machine of that regime. Rodman couldn’t even meet that very basic standard.

If Rodman in fact has an alcohol problem, I hope he addresses it, sobers up, and becomes healthy. And then I hope we never hear of Dennis Rodman again.

Dennis And The Dictator

Former NBA player and walking tattoo billboard Dennis Rodman is back in North Korea. This time Rodman is leading a group of former NBA players who will play a basketball game today, apparently to celebrate the birthday of North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong-un.

Rodman says the dictator is a great friend and that he is on a “basketball diplomacy” mission, similar to the trip of the U.S. table tennis team to China that helped to thaw relations between those two countries during the Nixon Administration. (The U.S. says Rodman isn’t representing this country, in case you’re wondering.)

For somebody who professes such aspirations, Rodman is a pretty crappy diplomat. During an interview, he made comments about Kenneth Bae, an American who worked as a tour operator in North Korea, was arrested on charges of attempting to overthrow the government, was sentenced to 15 years in a labor camp, and apparently has suffered significant health problems since then. Rodman was asked whether he would speak to Kim Jong-un about Bae, reacted with anger, and asked the interviewer if he knew why Bae was imprisoned and what he had done in North Korea — comments that Bae’s family and others have interpreted as suggesting that Bae did something wrong and deserves his treatment.

It’s not surprising that Rodman would go back to North Korea. During his NBA days he grew accustomed to celebrity status, after his retirement he went through the mill of professional wrestling and bad reality TV shows, and he continues to crave the spotlight. Now, the only way anyone pays attention to him is when he goes to visit brutal dictators who lead a destitute and starving nation — and he’s apparently willing to pay that price. I wonder, however, why any other self-respecting former NBA players would participate in Rodman’s folly. After all, Kim Jong-un is regarded as so unbalanced that some news media found plausible an apparently satirical claim that he had his uncle torn apart by a pack of 120 dogs. Why would anyone voluntarily travel to a benighted land and put themselves under the complete control of an absolute dictator who clearly does not feel constrained by principles of international law or human decency?

First Dennis Rodman, And Now This

North Korea has got to be the most bizarre country in the world.

Cut off from interaction with the rest of the world for decades, run by the military and a ’50s-era communist dictatorial regime, North Korea and its leaders seem to have a hopelessly distorted view of the world.  It releases laughable claims about its leaders and their prowess, it issues remarkably aggressive declarations about fighting with South Korea, the United States, and other purported enemies — and then its young leader will put on a big show about watching a basketball game with Dennis Rodman.  North Korea is so isolated from reality that it apparently doesn’t realize that Dennis Rodman has long since become a comical figure and punch line for his own peculiar behavior.  Entertaining an oddball, fringe figure like Rodman does nothing except leave outside observers scratching their heads.

It would all be laughable — except that North Korea has an enormous military, missile and (apparently) nuclear capabilities, and a starving population, and within days of Rodman’s visit, North Korea announces that it is withdrawing from its non-aggression agreements with South Korea and that it has the right to issue a pre-emptive nuclear strike.  Although North Korea hasn’t followed through on all of its prior threats, the provocative statements of an unbalanced regime have to be taken seriously.

It sounds weird to say it, but the reality is that any country so delusional that it thinks hosting Dennis Rodman is a way to show it is a friendly, functioning member of the world community is capable of just about anything.