Kim Jong Un and the North Koreans are apparently coming to the negotiating table with President Donald Trump, which marks the first time that a North Korean leader has met with a sitting U.S. president. It’s clear, given the events of the past year or so and the administration’s harder line on Pyongyang, that the end of the Obama strategy of “strategic patience” played some role in getting the Kim regime to the table without preconditions.
If you were a reporter, how would you characterize this? A major for the Trump administration? A diplomatic coup? The biggest breakthrough in North Korea-U.S. relations in decades? Unfortunate?
Fans of “Sesame Street” might be thinking that I’m playing some version of that age-old game, “One of these things is not like the other.” And for most of us, that’s the case. Fortunately, most of us don’t work for or appear on MSNBC. Unfortunately, some of us do, and apparently they get to go on TV and tell the world that it’s “unfortunate” the president’s “bluster” caused Kim Jong Un to back off of what could have become a serious nuclear stalemate.
The remark in question came from a former Obama official (of course it did), former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense Evelyn Farkas. Farkas made an appearance on the non-stop bellowing-fest otherwise known as Chris Matthews’ “Hardball” to discuss the historic agreement.
The appearance came Thursday, just after South Korean National Security Advisor Chung Eui Yong announced outside the White House that the president “would meet Kim Jong Un by May to achieve permanent denuclearization.”
Chung also praised the administration’s policy of “maximum pressure” on Pyongyang, which kind of becomes important later.
“I would caution everyone not to get overly enthusiastic,” Farkas told Matthews.
“I think we are excited now because again, in the contrast between this negotiating and fire and fury, you know, military action, which is what we were hearing out of the White House is scary and so we’re happy that we have engagement. But if you remember what Vice President Pence said coming back from the Olympics, he said we’re going to look at engagement and maximum pressure.”
Farkas also brought up prior negotiations with the North Koreans which ended badly.
“The North Koreans pocketed what we gave them, the assistance and various other things and they left the negotiating table,” Farkas said.
“So I really believe while we should absolutely go forward and we should pocket the concessions we can get from them, and we should negotiate in good faith but we need to keep the pressure on. We can’t agree right now that we’re going to take the pressure off.”
Matthews, to his faint credit, actually responded with a question that was, excuse the pun, a hardball.
“This time we’re not giving them coal like the last time. We’re not giving them stuff like previous presidents have,” Matthews said. “What do we got to lose by talking at this point?”
“Nothing,” Farkas responded. “We absolutely have to talk and I agree with Joe that you know, we buy time. We buy time. And if what they really will be satisfied with is respect and normalization, great, we can give that to them. But we have to maintain the pressure. Because remember what got them to the table, the sanctions and, unfortunately, probably some of the bluster coming out of the White House.”
Now, I want to crystalize what was actually said here, because I think it’s important that we realize the actual premises behind the argument and the fact that I’m not putting words in the mouth of an Obama administration official. Farkas admits that the harder line the Trump administration has taken with the Kim regime — “bluster” — got them to the table. Given the situation (North Korea has miniaturized nukes, ICBMS, and a penchant for threatening to use them), this is an extraordinarily good thing. It’s also something the administration Farkas worked for was unable to do, but more on that later.
Now, there are no preconditions for this meeting. If North Korea walks away, America doesn’t lose face; the Kim regime is widely acknowledged as being profoundly unstable. This is what Stephen Covey might have described as a “win-win situation.”
However, because Trump’s “bluster” brought them to the table, Farkas believes this is “unfortunate.” In other words, unless this was a momentary slip of the tongue, she would rather have nuclear brinksmanship than a summit that originated in the Trump administration’s “blustery” harder line.
If one wants to follow that line of thinking to its logical conclusion, that means Ms. Farkas actually thinks it’s a shame North Korea has been forced into the ignominy of negotiations over nuclear and ballistic weapons programs that are patently illegal under every possible interpretation of international law all because she finds our current president indecorous.
Our former president — Farkas’ former employer — was nothing if not decorous when it came to Pyongyang. Alas, it did not land him a meeting with Kim Jong Un or Kim Jong Il. What it did get him was a regime that ignored every finger-wag and tut-tut, using America’s “strategic patience” to continue building more advanced weaponry.
I don’t claim knowledge as to whether or not Matthews knew what Farkas was going to say in advance of her appearance. However, if this is the kind of thing that passes as analysis on MSNBC, they’re certainly giving Brian Stelter and CNN a run for their money.
Please like and share this story on Facebook and Twitter if you agree this is absolutely uncalled for.
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