SHARE
Pres­i­dents Donald Trump and Moon Jae In at a press con­ference (photo: Wiki­media Commons)

Pres­ident Donald Trump has an oppor­tunity to make an unprece­dented deal and create a legacy. That oppor­tunity is North Korea.

Last week, the White House announced a stunning event: Trump will meet with Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong Un. No sitting pres­ident has ever met with the North Korean state. This bold step will open the door for the pos­si­bility of peace on the Korean Peninsula. Nothing is guar­anteed, but these talks could lead to a denu­clearized North Korea.

For most of his term, Trump pursued a hardline policy against North Korea, mem­o­rably dubbing Kim Jong Un “Little Rocket Man.” Trump threatened “fire and fury” against the nation if it con­tinued its nuclear threats, and pursued his aggressive stance through the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.

But now the land­scape has shifted. South Korean Pres­ident Moon Jae In has been working behind the scenes for months to orches­trate détente between North Korea and South Korea. And in an unprece­dented move, Trump sud­denly agreed to par­tic­ipate in talks. Trump feels that his months of threats against Kim Jong Un has forced them to con­sider denu­clearizing. If he’s right and his self-pro­claimed nego­ti­ation skills hold up, this could be the greatest achievement in American rela­tions with East Asia since Richard Nixon’s visit to China.

A denu­clearized North Korea is perhaps the administration’s top foreign policy pri­ority. After all, no other nation poses a real nuclear threat to the U.S. mainland. And no other leader besides Kim Jong Un would be self-destructive enough to follow through on such a threat. An agreement with North Korea would take both South Korea and the U.S. out of the shadow of the bomb. Achieve­ments like that are what create pres­i­dential legacies.

So why the sudden shift in tactics? Nixon himself may provide the answer. The pres­ident famously sub­scribed to the so-called “madman theory.” He aimed to give off the impression that if he were pushed too far, he could snap and unleash nuclear war. The aim was to scare foreign powers into doing whatever it took to keep the sup­posed “madman” happy. The Machi­avellian tactic, com­bined with the strategy of brinkmanship, kept the Rus­sians and Viet­namese on their toes, fearing an unpre­dictable U.S. response.

While Trump may not have explicitly pursued the appearance of a “madman,” he is at least employing his much-touted nego­ti­a­tions skills. To get some­thing from a foreign power they have to believe that the alter­native is far worse. Think of this as the classic “bad-cop” routine. North Koreans have repeatedly vio­lated past agree­ments, knowing that they would be safe inside their Hermit Kingdom. But if they know that the pun­ishment for faith­lessness is “fire and fury” — or nuclear war — then they may be more willing to follow the agreement.

Sure, there is a risk of ending up with a bad deal. But that’s the case with any nego­ti­ation. There’s little risk in simply coming to the table, while the upside could provide peace to the region. Some media outlets have claimed this will give Kim Jong Un what he wants by legit­imizing his regime. Yet, many of the same outlets decried Trump’s threats last year.

They have to face the facts: North Korea is a true threat, and the United States must protect itself and pursue peace, which means Trump must use threats and brinkmanship when needed and diplomacy else­where.

If Trump under­stands one thing, it’s nego­ti­ation. He knows how to use harsh rhetoric to get what he wants, and he knows how to com­promise when nec­essary. Time will tell if the North Korea talks will end in peace. But by opening up the avenue for diplomacy, the admin­is­tration showed its will­ingness to take unprece­dented steps toward peace and sta­bility.

And that’s what legacies are made of.

Noah Weinrich is a senior studying pol­itics.

  • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

    I have been to South Korea several times on business, never been to North Korea. It would truly be a blessing to bring peace to that peninsula, the cost of main­taining a con­tinual state of con­flict is ter­rible for both nations-but much more so for the north. People are lit­erally starving up there and you have a small intel­li­gentsia living like the French Nobility just before the Rev­o­lution while average people are starving. That’s the problem, the elites don’t want to give up their perks or power-that’s going to be the chal­lenge.