Serious American foreign policy analysts and veterans—who all wish that we had a president who understood the value of alliances, diplomacy, a coordinated decisionmaking process, coherent public explanations of policy, and history—need to accept the reality that Trump will be our president for the next several years. We need to understand that decisions will continue to be made as if the White House were producing a reality TV show, with upcoming blockbusters like the Kim Jong-un Bonanza unrolled with little serious preparation. We can bemoan this, we can be embarrassed by it, we can launch our own broadsides at it. Many will be right, and most of it richly deserved. But to what end?
Jeffrey A. Bader
Senior Fellow – Foreign Policy, John L. Thornton China Center
How should responsible critics of President Trump react to the seriously flawed initiative for the U.S. president to meet face-to-face with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un? I would offer nine specific suggestions for how to make it work passably and how to minimize the risks:
1Even though Trump has made clear that he thinks every U.S. president before him has been a catastrophic failure on North Korea, there is actually a lot to be learned from previous North Korea negotiations. He should meet with former officials with extensive experience in negotiating directly with North Korea, including Robert Gallucci, Christopher Hill, Glyn Davies, Danny Russel, and Wendy Sherman.
2Similarly, he should meet with the senior-most officials in previous administrations who wrestled with the North Korean nuclear issue, namely Bill Perry, Bob Gates, Robert Zoellick, Steve Hadley, and Leon Panetta. Additionally, he should meet with America’s senior foreign policy statesmen who did not deal with the North Korean nuclear issue, because it arose after their time, but who bring lifetimes of experience confronting war and peace issues, namely Henry Kissinger, George Shultz, and Brent Scowcroft. (A normal president would also see the enormous value in meeting with the former presidents and secretaries of state who have overseen the North Korean issue over the last 30 years, but given this president’s disdain for all of them, this is probably a bridge too far.) Such meetings should be occasions for genuine contributions by these statesmen, not televised reality shows or photo ops.
3Trump needs to understand the realities of North Korea’s nuclear capabilities and ambitions, and he can best learn these from scientists who have seen the program. He should meet with Siegfried Hecker, who has visited North Korean facilities more often than any foreigner (and is former head of Los Alamos laboratory), David Albright, and the director of the International Atomic Energy Agency.
4There cannot be a productive meeting unless it is advanced by a competent and trusted administration official. It is hard to imagine who that might be, with the North Korea negotiator (Joe Yun) having resigned, with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seemingly out of the loop, and with National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster’s future uncertain. But Trump cannot simply show up at a meeting with Kim without extensive preparations, which means having a trusted official travel to and from Pyongyang and meet with Kim before the May meeting. It would probably need to be someone of the stature of General John Kelly, or some new temporary prestigious hire.