A Trump Nixon-to-China moment in North Korea
Korea is the land of lousy options and the Trump team has lurched from one preferred course of action to another. First there were threats of military action, followed by hints of financial sanctions against Chinese and North Korean entities, and then more recently, (misplaced) hope by the President himself that China would step in and solve the North Korea problem for Washington.
Why it matters: The early confidence of the Trump team has gradually receded as it becomes clear the complex and unyielding dynamic of the Korean peninsula is impervious to quick and easy fixes. Nothing could have made this point more poignantly than the tragic return and subsequent death of Otto Warmbier, the U.S. student wrongly imprisoned and mistreated by North Korean authorities.
- However, President Trump's curious Twitter response to Warmbier's death — blaming the previous U.S. administration and expressing disappointment with China's inability to deliver a tamed North Korea — gives us a clue to what he can do.
Bottom line: Trump's tendency to go easy and even praise the brutal Kim Jong Un reveals his own hope for a future summit with the leader of the hermit kingdom. The Deal-Maker-in-Chief is looking for his own Nixon-to-China moment, where one defiant, authoritarian, cult of personality leader meets another.
- Jim Walsh, Senior Research Associate at MIT's Security Studies Program: Negotiate or else
- James Poulos, foreign policy author, contributing editor at American Affairs: Wage cyberwar on North Korea's infrastructure
- Van Jackson, former Defense Department adviser focused on the Asia-Pacific: Escalation could lead to nuclear war
- Wendy R. Sherman, former undersecretary of State for political affairs: Full-court diplomacy (even secret talks with North Korea)