In today’s good martini, it sure sounds like North Korea is eager for a deal, but can this regime be trusted? Jim Geraghty of National Review is joined by CNN Political Commentator Ben Ferguson who is filling in for Greg Corombos of Radio America. Joy Reid makes an appearance in the bad martini. Can she be believed? Jim and Ben share their personal experiences with the MSNBC host. And what has become of the White House Correspondents’ Dinner? In the final segment Jim and Ben reflect on how this event has changed for the worse in recent years.
It’s all good martinis to close out the work week. Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America are still plenty skeptical of North Korea, but they cautiously welcome the possibility of stability in the region – especially if it’s true that North Korea may have accidentally destroyed its main nuclear facility. They also applaud Bret Baier of Fox News for a thorough, substantive, and fair interview of former FBI Director James Comey, but are thoroughly puzzled by several bizarre answers from Comey. And they react to deputies in Broward County overwhelmingly demonstrating “no confidence” in Sheriff Scott Israel in the wake of the Parkland high school shooting.
South Korea’s president says North Korea is ready to scrap its nuclear weapons program with virtually no conditions, but a leading expert on North Korea says President Trump must keep the heat on Kim Jong Un and China to get a deal worth signing.
Gordon Chang, author of “Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World,” also says the South Korean president might be a bigger stumbling block to an acceptable deal than Kim is.
Optimism is on the upswing for the upcoming summit between Trump and Kim after South Korean President Moon Jae-in publicly indicated that North Korea is prepared to give up its nuclear program.
“I don’t think denuclearization has different meanings for South and North Korea. The North is expressing a will for a complete denuclearization,” Moon said Thursday, according to Reuters.
“They have not attached any conditions that the U.S. cannot accept, such as the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea. All they are talking about is the end of hostile policies against North Korea, followed by a guarantee of security,” added Moon.
Kim has said very little publicly, but Chang still sees an opportunity for something significant to happen in the Trump-Kim talks.
“We should be cautiously optimistic that President Trump, if he wants to exert American power, can perhaps bring a very good outcome to the Korean Peninsula,” said Chang.
“This provides the opportunity for a breakthrough. I’m sure Kim Jong Un doesn’t want to give up his most destructive weapons and won’t do it unless there’s severe pressure, but President Trump is in a position to apply that pressure,” said Chang.
According to Chang, Kim is rattled by Trump’s policies and personnel choices, and that may mean he’s ready to make major concessions.
“He doesn’t want the the U.S. to strike his nuclear or his missile facilities. You now have John Bolton as national security adviser, who made some very hawkish statements when he was a Fox News contributor. I’m sure that’s unnerving Kim and probably the Chinese as well,” said Chang, who believes the pain of sanctions is a factor here as well.
“I do think that our sanctions campaign has been working. There were reports, for instance, from South Korea that North Korea could run out of foreign exchange reserves by October. That’s maybe a little bit optimistic but, nonetheless, we do know they’re running out of money.
“And we’re also hearing from the Chinese that Office #39, which is the Kim family slush fund, is low on cash. There’s a lot of information that corroborates the view that Kim actually needs sanctions relief,” said Chang.
Chang believes Trump should meet with Kim but should crank up the pressure even more. He also hopes Trump allies pressure on China.
“In the last month, Beijing has done some things which are really disturbing, in violating the UN sanctions openly. So we need to put some pressure on the Chinese right now to make sure that Kim understands that President Trump is willing to go not only against him but also against China,” said Chang.
Even more encouraging for Chang than North Korea’s reported willingness to give up its nukes is the mindset President Trump says he is taking into the meeting with Kim.
“President Trump said something significant on Wednesday at his joint press conference with Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister. He said he’s willing to walk away, and that’s absolutely critical. If you’re willing to walk away, you can get a good deal,” said Chang.
He says the biggest mistake the Obama administration made in negotiating the Iran nuclear deal was to make it clear the U.S. was eager for a deal.
However, the biggest stumbling block to forcing Kim’s hand may be South Korea. Moon is desperate to achieve unity on the Korean peninsula, and that may play to Kim’s favor.
“We’ve got to be more concerned about Moon Jae-in than we do about Kim Jong Un. We know that Kim is an out-and-out villain. I think we need to view Moon in a very suspicious light, especially because of the things he has done to undermine the United States and also because of what he wants to do,” said Chang.
North Korea’s overarching objective is to conquer South Korea and Chang says Moon and his sympathetic allies in Seoul are doing some of Kim’s work for him.
“He’s got a willing partner in Moon Jae-in, who is trying to amend the South Korean constitution to make it more compatible with North Korea. Moon has a lot of senior advisers who, in their college days, were openly pro-North Korean and today they won’t disavow those earlier positions,” said Chang.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America are glad to see South Korea’s president say North Korea is ready to give up nukes with no conditions, but wonder whether this is yet another ruse from Pyongyang. They also wonder why 175,000 Starbucks employees need racial sensitivity training because of a high-profile controversy at one franchise. And Jim has the perfect charity in mind for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio after tax returns show the mayor and his wife donated just $350 to charity in 2017.
President Trump fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson Tuesday, in a decision that ends months of speculation about Tillerson’s future, and former Pentagon official Jed Babbin believes it also ends a disappointing tenure for the nation’s top diplomat.
Babbin also urges President Trump to make concrete demands before going forward with face-to-face meetings with North Korea.
News of Tillerson’s firing came from Trump’s Twitter account Tuesday morning.
“Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA, will become our new Secretary of State. He will do a fantastic job! Thank you to Rex Tillerson for his service! Gina Haspel will become the new Director of the CIA, and the first woman so chosen. Congratulations to all!” tweeted Trump.
News reports later indicated Tillerson learned of his firing from the tweet, but reports had circulated for months that Trump and Tillerson might go their separate ways and that Pompeo was the leading candidate to replace him.
Babbin says it was time for a change.
“I hate to say it, but I think he pretty well failed,” said Babbin, who served as deputy undersecretary of defense in the George H.W. Bush administration and is now a contributing editor at the American Spectator.
Babbin says Tillerson was ineffective because he mishandled some of the biggest national security issues facing the U.S.
“In December, he basically begged the North Koreans to come to the negotiation table. He said, ‘We’ll talk about the weather. We’ll talk about the shape of the table. We’ll talk about anything you want without preconditions.’ That was precisely the wrong thing to do,” said Babbin.
“He has been opposing the president on getting rid of the Iran deal that Obama made. I think that’s the prescient reason why Mr. Trump fired him,” said Babbin.
And Babbin believes Iran policy might be a key reason Pompeo is Trump’s choice to replace Tillerson
“I think he’s going to be much more on President Trump’s wavelength. He certainly has the president’s confidence, which Tillerson did not, and I think that speaks well for his relationship with the outside world. After all, he’s going to be our top diplomat and someone in that position has to be on the president’s wavelength and Tillerson certainly wasn’t,” said Babbin.
Pompeo is likely to win Senate confirmation without much trouble. The same cannot be said for Gina Haspel, the deputy CIA director whom Trump is tapping to replace Pompeo.
“She going to have a very rough time getting confirmed and she may not be confirmed. The Democrats are going to go completely ape about the fact that she supervised the enhanced interrogation program. She was heavily involved in the extraordinary renditions business. She’s not going to get a warm reception on Capitol Hill by any means,” said Babbin.
Babbin says the early reviews on Haspel are mixed.
“She’s been head of the clandestine service. She’s gotten a lot of top awards at the CIA. She’s a CIA career professional. It seems like she could work out. On the other hand, I’m hearing from a lot of my sources in that community that she pretty much is a Brennan clone and that’s not a good thing,” said Babbin, referring to controversial Obama-era CIA Director John Brennan.
“I think that Mr. Trump would not have selected her if he was not confident that she would support him on things like getting out of the Iran deal,” said Babbin.
The White House has explained that the Tillerson-Pompeo switch is happening now so that the new diplomatic team can be running at full steam heading into the talks with North Korea in May.
Babbin says regardless of who is on the negotiating team, President Trump needs to insist upon some preconditions before ever meeting with Kim Jong-Un.
“There has to be preconditions to any such negotiation. There almost always are. Any major summit is set up with the other side meeting some preconditions that we establish. The fact that the president jumped into this without setting preconditions is something that’s a really big mistake,” said Babbin.
However, Babbin believes Trump can correct that mistake with very specific demands.
“The only real precondition, the only thing that means anything, would be for them to verifiably mothball their nuclear testing and their missile testing. That means we would have to have inspectors in North Korea, which frankly I think they’ll never allow,” said Babbin.
While hopes rise for some sort of easing of nuclear sanctions as a result of the upcoming talks, Babbin is pouring the cold water of reality over the event. He says every North Korean leader has reneged on their promises.
“They have broken every single agreement that they have ever entered into. They renounced the nuclear non-proliferation treaty. Heck, they’ve even renounced the armistice agreement that ended the Korean War in 1953. So you can’t trust these guts in any way unless you have immediate, intrusive, and at-will inspections of everything in North Korea there’s not going to be a basis for any agreement,” said Babbin.
And that’s just fine with him. He says no deal is probably the best outcome from the summit.
“I think there’s no room for agreement here. There is room for our sanctions to continue to work and President Trump needs to have considerable praise and credit for that. That’s the only reason they’re coming to the negotiation table right now and we need to keep [the sanctions] up indefinitely,” said Babbin.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America look at the possible pros and cons of President Trump meeting face-to-face with Kim Jong-Un, hoping there’s a shot at progress but realizing the North Koreans have no track record of honesty. They also fume as radio chatter from the Florida high school shooting confirms Deputy Scot Peterson knew right away that shots were being fired inside the building, a direct contradiction of his earlier explanation that he did not enter the building because he thought the shots were coming from outside. And they celebrate a robust jobs report, with over 300,000 new jobs added in February.
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton says North Korea has no intention of scrapping its nuclear program, is trying to sucker the United States into relaxing sanctions, and is now just months away from being able to deploy nuclear weapons capable of reaching any point in the United States.
Earlier this week, South Korea trumpeted the news that North Korea is allegedly willing to suspend nuclear testing in exchange for direct talks with the United States and may even be open to ending its nuclear program altogether.
Bolton doesn’t believe a word of it.
“The North Koreans have been conducting an absolutely masterful propaganda campaign, beginning with their participation in the Winter Olympics,” said Bolton.
But he says the true objective is clear.
“The only thing they’re trying to do is get us to abandon the pressure that we’re putting on them and hopefully foreswear the possible use of military force, which nobody wants but nobody wants North Korea with nuclear weapons either. That’s what this is about,” said Bolton.
Bolton says the North Koreans are on the verge of posing a very real danger to every part of the United States.
“They are very close to achieving their long-sought objective of deliverable nuclear weapons. CIA Director Mike Pompeo said recently that the North was within a “handful” of months – his phrase, a handful of months – of being able to land a thermonuclear weapon on any target in the United States they want,” said Bolton.
However, Bolton says this is not merely a distraction to buy time. He believes the big stick approach from the Trump administration is working.
“I think the North, finally figuring out that Barack Obama is no longer president, is worried about what Donald Trump might do. So their response is to throw up a lot of smoke and dust in the air and hope to divert our attention, first with the Olympics and now with this supposed offer to sit down,” said Bolton.
Bolton is adamant that North Korea has zero interest in actually making nice with the U.S. or South Korea and says the proof can be seen in our recent history.
“They’ve made commitments four separate times in international agreements to give up their nuclear weapons program.
“Four times they’ve lied about it. Does history ever mean anything? If you’ve negotiated with somebody for 25 years and failed to get agreement, what possible reason is there to think they’d agree in year 26,” said Bolton.
So what will deter North Korea? Bolton says we’re facing a series of difficult options. He outright rejects former National Security Adviser Susan Rice’s recommendation for the world simply to accept North Korea as a nuclear power, but hopes the solutions can come through engagement with China.
“There’s really only one diplomatic play left here and that’s trying to convince China either to do what they uniquely have the capability of doing, overthrowing the regime in North Korea and putting in something that’s at least vaguely more reasonable, or working with us for the reunification of the Korean peninsula,” said Bolton.
And while he hopes to avoid it, Bolton says the military option must be considered.
“The other things we have to look at is the potential to use military force against the regime’s program to make sure that they don’t endanger us and our allies in South Korea and Japan. Neither of these options is very attractive, but that’s where we are after 25 years of failure,” said Bolton.
But one of those allies is also contributing to the problem. South Korean President Moon Jae-in is a strong advocate of reunification with North Korea and Bolton says Moon is actually strengthening the regime that wants to conquer him.
“There’s a compassionate, humanitarian argument here. Many South Koreans have family in the North. But the fact is the North is a 25 million-person prison camp. It’s not going to treat its people humanely. It’s going to take the subsidies and use them for its own purposes,” said Bolton.
He says South Korea’s generosity was fully exploited by North Korea at the Winter Olympics.
“South Korea actually paid for the North to participate, one more series of subsidies to keep the Kim Jong-Un regime in power, unfortunately by our allies in Seoul,” said Bolton.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America very warily approach the reports of North Korea supposedly being willing to scrap its nuclear program in exchange for security guarantees. While fully aware that Kim Jong-Un may only be looking to bait us or stall for time, they are hopeful that the tougher approach from the Trump administration is starting to pay off. They also wince as Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri emerges in a new video urging jihadists to stop fighting with each other and focus on a common enemy. And they react with bemusement and concern as former Trump campaign official Sam Nunberg appears on several cable news shows to announce he is defying the subpoena from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, only to later admit he will probably cooperate.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America look at a bunch of new polling that shows America sharply divided on banning “assault weapons,” in large agreement on mental illness needing to be addressed, and a majority now liking the tax cuts. They also rip the Pennsylvania Supreme Court for redrawing the congressional map of the state, ignoring the will of the people through their elected representatives and making the map much more favorable to their Democratic friends. And they shudder as fears grow that North Korea may punish their Olympic athletes for failing to medal at the Winter Olympics.
North Korea expert Gordon Chang is not surprised the western media swooned over Kim Jong-un’s sister at the start of the Olympics in Pyongcheong but he says this “political warfare” won’t change the big picture very much, unless the South Korean president acts on his desire to undermine U.S. policy.
Over the weekend, media outlets from CNN and Reuters to the Washington Post and the New York Times lavished praise on Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, for her performance in South Korea. CNN said she was stealing the show. The Washington Post compared her to Ivanka Trump. Reuters and the New York Times said her wordless smiles outflanked Vice President Mike Pence in diplomatic effectiveness.
While the coverage appalled Americans and others familiar with the gulags and murderous repression of the Kim regime, Chang was not surprised Kim got such positive coverage.
“North Koreans may rank last in almost in almost every metric when it comes to their miserable state, but they are number one in one category and that is political warfare. They are masters at getting good publicity, so we shouldn’t be surprised that they were able to do it this time,” said Chang.
He says the United States needs to catch up in the messaging department.
“The United States has a great message, but we are not good at political warfare, especially since the end of the Cold War. What we need to do is to get our message out. North Koreans are very good at getting their message out,” said Chang.
Chang says North Korea has two objectives with this diplomatic charm offensive. The long term goal of conquering South Korea remains unchanged, but he says the Trump administration approach to the regime is creating some major, more immediate problems.
“I think [North Korea] has looked at the sanctions regime that has been put together by the Trump administration. You have UN sanctions. You have U.S. sanctions. Basically North Korea needs relief. There’s anecdotal evidence suggesting that the regime is starting to have real problems because of the lack of money. So Kim is saying to South Korea, ‘Give me some cash,'” said Chang.
But for all the headlines about Kim outflanking Pence in South Korea, Chang says Pence did a very good job of showing the South Korean people that he stood with North Korean defectors. He also visited a memorial for South Korean sailors murdered by North Korea in 2010.
Also, according to the Washington Post, Pence struck a deal with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, with the U.S. agreeing to hold talks with North Korea without preconditions and South Korea agreeing not to send aid to North Korea.
While the latter part of the agreement seems obvious in the U.S., Chang says it’s a major concession for Moon, who is quite possibly the most far left president in South Korean history.
“Moon Jae-in is a Korean nationalist. He believes in one Korea. So President Moon is going to try to do all those things to knit the two Koreas together,” said Chang.
The good news for the U.S. is that a growing number of South Koreans do not share Moon’s approach and are not impressed with the North Korean charm campaign.
“It’s not working among the conservatives who just abhor North Korea. But it’s also not working among a critical group, and that is voters in their twenties. Voters in their twenties have by and large become South Korean nationalists, who believe their society is separate and apart from North Korea,” said Chang.
Moon’s desire to “knit the two Koreas together” was on full display during the opening ceremonies on Friday. Some Americans were frustrated that no mention was made of the sacrifice made by Americans and others in the Korean War, which set the stage for South Korea being free and prosperous, while their North Korean neighbors are impoverished and enslaved.
“In a country led by Moon Jae-in, who does want to see one Korea, who believes in a Korea separate and apart from everybody else, that’s not too much of a surprise. It does look like we were isolated but that’s the way that Moon views the world and we’ve got to get used to it.
“That means the United States has to talk to a critical audience. and that is South Korean voters, to make sure they hem in Moon Jae-in,” added Chang.
He says Moon is a “daily struggle” for the Trump administration’s effort to rein in North Korea.
“Moon Jae-in, if left to his own devices, would do things to undermine the alliance with the United States,” said Chang.
“I think that he would be willing to adopt a sunshine policy, in other words indefinite, unconditional aid to the North Koreans. Certainly that would undermine the maximum pressure campaign of President Trump at the United Nations Security Council,” said Chang.
However, Chang says Pence and other U.S. officials have done a good job of preventing Moon from providing money to North Korea. He says the best case, and likely, scenario is that all this political warfare will accomplish very little.
“I’m going to be an optimist and say they’re pretty much going to be the same way they were before the Olympics. The reason I’m saying optimist is because I don’t think there will be the conditions under which Moon can reach out to the North. I think the North will engage the South Koreans, but they’ll also commit provocations that’ll make it very difficult for Moon to have all these reconciliation moves.
“I think we’ll be pretty much where we were before and that is South Korea, reluctantly but nonetheless, standing with us against North Korea,” said Chang.