Trump’s visit to North Korea is promising


Nathan Polk, Staff Columnist

Kim Jong Un is dangerous. The North Korean leader continually leverages the cult of personality built around previous dictators in order to profit off of oppression and misinformation. Short-range missile tests, reported nuclear capability, millions of starving citizens, a tense posture toward the west and suspected culpability in his half-brother’s assassination all suggest a cautioned approach is best when forging a diplomatic relationship with Kim.

The United States is not normally in the business of publicly and warmly negotiating with evil men; however, I think President Donald Trump is right in visiting North Korea and bringing Kim Jong Un to the negotiating table.

On June 30, Trump became the first sitting American president to step foot in North Korea. This demonstration of good faith is, for those in Trump’s corner, an early step in an unorthodox strategy seeking peace and denuclearization of North Korea. For others, it’s a naïve diplomatic blunder from an egotistical president.

The first thing that came to my mind when I read about Trump’s visit was the fall of the Soviet Union. The United States’ top competitors in the last half of the 20th century were the Soviets. Virtually everything from nuclear weaponry to athletics was driven by competition between these two nations. One central figure in this conflict was the last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Gorbachev was different in his approach to governance and diplomacy in comparison to his predecessors. One important difference was the way he interacted with American leaders. Presidents Reagan and Bush both saw Gorbachev’s willingness to work toward mutually agreeable solutions and gladly engaged with him. The Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, and thus the Cold War ended with an American victory. One cannot help but attribute some of the progress made toward that victory to the personal relationships between opposing leaders. 

Without supplying any qualification, it would be heretical for me to place Gorbachev and Kim in the same category. Gorbachev is a complex figure, but he is objectively more peaceful and progressive than Kim. He even won a Nobel Peace Prize. He implemented policies that increased freedom of expression. He seemed to want the good of his people. 

Gorbachev was still an enemy of the United States because he was the leader of the Soviet Union, progressive or not.

For this reason, I see these situations in a similar light. Both leaders represented or represent the most influential position in nations driven by ideologies antithetical to America’s. Both leaders represent a legacy of evil because of the work of leaders before them. Both leaders should be enemies.

Yet, both leaders expressed to American presidents a willingness to pursue progress. Both leaders made personal efforts to build professional relationships. Both leaders wanted something different.

This comparison tells me two things. First, there is potential in the relationship between Kim and Trump because America saw a similar situation end positively 28 years ago. Second, the criticism of Trump over his North Korean visit is unwarranted. It’s true Kim wouldn’t compromise at the February summit in Vietnam. Going forward, there needs to be action behind Kim’s words. If this visit was simply an easily orchestrated publicity stunt, another president would’ve succeeded in eliciting the same responsiveness from North Korea’s leaders.

We should be pleased that a nation as volatile and unpredictable as North Korea is willing to discuss change. Trump’s efforts could be the fresh wind we needed in this conflict, and this visit is a step in the right direction.