To say President Trump is one of the more polarizing figures to inhabit the White House might well be the understatement of the decade. He has a core group of ardent followers who seem to believe he can walk on water, while there is an equally fervent contingent who might be accurately called the Anyone But Trump fraternity.
But we believe no matter where one stands on the president, his actions with North Korea and its leader Kim Jong-un should give us all a measure of hope, and should earn the president praise for delving into the issue of a nuclear-armed North Korea that has stymied everyone else who has held the office of president.
There are pundits on both sides of this issue, many questioning whether Trump has set up America to give away far more than it may get in the negotiations. That’s a legitimate concern, because concessions we offer North Korea have far-reaching effects, particularly if they serve to strengthen China’s military and political influence in the region by reducing our presence there.
The truth is most of us in the public really don’t know what Trump has offered, what he yet may be holding as additional enticements to North Korea to give up its nuclear arsenal. So any criticisms of what the president may have done, or may yet do, is based largely on conjecture.
What we do know as absolute fact is that the two Koreas have been in a state of war for nearly 70 years, with the United States largely supporting the South with troop deployments there, along with other aid. The armistice signed on July 27, 1953, ended the open warfare, but did not end the war. While military action has largely been avoided since then, there have been occasional flare-ups among the two Koreas as well as with their neighbors — China, Russia and nearby Japan.
Of graver concern is North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and the poverty in which so many of the nation’s inhabitants still live.
A dozen different men have sat in the Oval Office since the armistice was signed — Republicans, Democrats, military men, those who never wore the uniform. One, George W. Bush, famously and accurately named North Korea as one of the three nations he called the “axis of evil.”
Yet none of these presidents have made any meaningful progress toward ending that conflict and restoring peace to the Korean Peninsula.
This may all come to nothing. Kim Jong-un may back out. He may agree to all sorts of concessions, only to change his mind later. His asking price for eliminating the nukes ultimately may be too great.
But today, for the first time since the Korean War, the idea of a permanent peace on the peninsula is a legitimate hope. The notion that North Korea could give up his nuclear weapons program is a reality. The ambition of seeing North Korea eventually join the rest of the world community, of putting its resources into building a sustaining, vibrant economy, that its people could one day live in a prosperous economy, may not be just a pipe dream.
We’re under no illusions here. As long as Kim Jong-un remains in power, his people will never truly be free. He has shown himself to be a brutal dictator, capable of inflicting a multitude of horrors on his people. The idea of accepting North Korea into the world community, as an open partner, with him still at the head of the state and getting a pass on his crimes is unsettling. But the raw truth is the United States has gotten into bed with state leaders who were just as bad before this, and we suspect our government will do so again.
We certainly do not mean to overlook those atrocities, or excuse them. But at this moment, the larger picture is to bring stability and peace to that region of the world — and by extension to all of the world that could be pulled into any sort of armed conflict that might flare in the region.
President Trump has brought plenty of legitimate criticism on himself during his time in office, building a legacy that is, at best, questionable.
But meeting with Kim Jong-un, opening the door on a peace process, is a significant, historic achievement, and will most assuredly add a deserved bit of luster to whatever legacy he leaves from his time in office.