If you haven’t been paying attention to North Korea, the latest news from Pyongyang might have you wondering if all that talk about handshakes and compromise, denuclearization and peace, was just an illusion.
On Sunday, the state-controlled newspaper accused the United States of “double dealing” and “hatching a criminal plot” against North Korea, of holding drills in Japan in preparation for an invasion “which deserves merciless divine punishment.”
The immediate inspiration for the report was the decision by President Donald Trump to cancel a planned trip by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, a visit that had different goals depending on which side you consult.
For the United States, Pompeo was going to continue talks about ways to get North Korea to end its nuclear weapons program as a step toward normalization of relations. For North Korea, such a demand is enough to unleash the kind of rhetoric for which the regime has been famous.
Trump brought China into the discussion, saying that any talks with North Korea had to be delayed until we resolve our trade disputes with the leaders in Beijing. China quickly responded with “serious concern” about that notion and called it “irresponsible.” North Korea, in a report in the Pyongyang Times, agreed.
“It is needless to talk about it again as who is to blame is so clear that it does not need any further discussion.”
So how did we get here? The short answer is that we’ve always been here in one way. North Korea has been under the brutal control of a totalitarian family regime ever since it emerged as a separate country after World War II. Those leaders have murdered and starved the nation’s people while pursuing a clever campaign to get the attention of the rest of the world. The chosen method to get that attention has been a nuclear program that at one time masqueraded as a way to produce power but that has dropped any pretense of peaceful pursuits.
Anybody who has studied North Korea for the past decades understands that the quest to have nuclear weapons and missiles to deliver them is at the heart of the regime now headed by Kim Jung-un, following the examples set by his father and grandfather. Until Trump became president, the United States pursued a consistent strategy. We gave unconditional support to South Korea and refused to treat North Korea as anything but a rogue state until it agreed to give up nuclear weapons in return for an end to sanctions and other enticements.
Trump threw that away. He abandoned the longtime support for South Korea, not only unilaterally deciding to end joint military exercises without consulting with leaders in Seoul or his own generals but also using language that Russia and North Korea had long employed. He met with the North Korean leader, a move others had rejected because it would provide the regime with a priceless propaganda victory at no cost.
Or at least no cost in Pyongyang. We are paying the price.
Relations are where they have been for decades except that we have given up our advantage for nothing in return.