The Atlantic

Trump Could Transform the U.S.–North Korea Relationship

In pursuing peace with North Korea, the U.S. president has the chance to do what Ronald Reagan tried to do with the Soviet Union.
Source: Bob Daugherty / AP

Donald Trump is an ignorant, egotistical man. And in his summit on Tuesday with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, those character defects may be America—and the world’s—best hope.

The conventional Washington debate about North Korea’s nuclear-weapons program goes something like this. On one side sit centrist foreign-policy experts who acknowledge that it’s unlikely Pyongyang will give up its nukes but urge a policy of sustained economic and diplomatic isolation in hopes of gradually wearing the North down. The Obama administration called this policy “strategic patience.” On the other sit hawks like National Security Adviser John Bolton who say America can’t afford to wait. They consider North Korea’s progress toward building a nuclear weapon able to reach the United States so dangerous that they are willing to apply “maximum pressure”—including threats of war—in hopes of forcing the regime to surrender its nukes.

Last year, Trump appeared to be pursuing path number two. But in recent months, he’s veered onto a course that looks nonsensical from both perspectives. He’s not showing any patience at all: He’s granting Kim a summit that North Korean leaders have long craved without getting much in return ahead of time. And, in so doing, he’s easing Kim’s diplomatic and economic isolation, thus undermining the “maximum pressure” campaign he once boasted about. Which explains why members of worry that he’s being duped.

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