Let’s give President Trump the praise he deserves.
Not that long ago, he seemed on the verge of starting a nuclear conflict on the Korean peninsula, one that certainly would claim millions of victims and destabilize that part of the world with ripples extending pretty much everywhere for a long, long time.
Now, his supporters and the president of South Korea are saying that Trump deserves — or will deserve if events play out the way they appear to be advancing now — the Nobel Peace Prize.
How did we get here?
It seems obvious that Kim Jong Un, the dictator of North Korea, has made a calculated decision that he has pushed the threats from his missiles and nuclear bombs about as far as they can go. The nuclear program always had two goals. First, it was a genuine deterrent for a small country. Second, and actually more important, it was a measure of the country’s importance and, by extension, the importance of the ruling party and family.
By taking that threat seriously, by elevating it to the single most important challenge to international peace, Trump both played into the hands of the dictator and gave him an opening to back off.
Now, Kim can honestly tell his people that the whole world, including the United States, is so awed by North Korea that it is willing to negotiate an end to the threats that have been in place ever since the armistice stalled but did not officially end the Korean conflict.
It is important to note that we have been here before. President Clinton was on the verge of a similar diplomatic victory but could not clinch the deal. His successor, George W. Bush, instead included North Korea along with Iran and Iraq as the three anchors in an axis of evil, nations exporting terrorism and creating and selling weapons of mass destruction.
Before anybody fills out that Nobel nomination, we first need to see how this latest effort ends. An official end to the Korean conflict seems likely. Promises to reduce or end the nuclear program will be more difficult as will the kind of verification that would ensure a lasting peace.
Verification brings up its own dilemma. If the president and his supporters cannot believe that the treaty dealing with the Iranian nuclear program does or ever could provide certainty, how will they come up with a process that provides the same thing in Korea?
That is a diplomatic challenge, one that does not advance in an atmosphere of threats and counter-threats.
Finally, if this is truly the beginning of a lasting peace in Korea, will Trump and his supporters actually welcome consideration for the Nobel? In the past that prize has been the subject of ridicule because it was awarded to Barack Obama — who did nothing to earn it Trump supporters say — and former Vice President Al Gore — who did less in their opinion.
So give the president his due. He threatened a dictator and that dictator has backed down. But give him the Nobel prize? Only if he and his supporters first agree that it is a prize worth receiving.