Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America applaud the Trump administration for rolling back the burdensome EPA clean power plant regulations and giving the states more flexibility in how they deal with emissions. They also unload on CNN and other media outlets for reporting on tearful reunions among family members living in North and South Korea after nearly 70 years, blaming the separation on the Korean War rather than a brutally repressive communist regime in North Korea. And they shake their heads as President Trump takes to Twitter and muses about pulling security clearances based on what former national security officials say about him on cable television.
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.
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.
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.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America welcome the news that North Korea and South Korea are talking and that North Korea will participate in the Winter Olympics next month in South Korea, making it far less likely Kim Jong-Un will look to cause mischief during the games. They also shake their heads as former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio launches a bid for U.S. Senate in Arizona, since Arpaio is now 85 years old and lost badly in his most recent campaign. And they roll their eyes as liberals cannot stop drooling over the (unlikely) prospect of an Oprah Winfrey presidential bid, with Van Jones even calling her the most beloved carbon-based life form on earth.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America serve up all crazy martinis today. First, they wonder why no Senate Democrats demanded Al Franken’s resignation after six allegations of misconduct but 33 suddenly decided that a seventh accuser was the last straw. They also get a kick out of Democrats who have long called for the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital but are now outraged that President Trump actually did it. And they scratch their heads as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley says it is an “open question” as to whether the United States will participate in the Winter Olympics in South Korea next year due to security concerns.