Trump's North Korea Summit Reveals Democratic Party Fault Lines
President Donald Trump wrapped up his historic Singapore summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, weathering a barrage of criticism for giving away too much to his adversary and gaining nothing. “So much for the art of the deal,” Connecticut Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy told one news outlet, referencing Trump’s 1987 co-authored book touting his business acumen. Many of Trump’s Democratic critics, eager to denounce whatever he does (which he so often deserves), sound more bellicose than hawkish neoconservatives. But a growing number of progressive Democrats are willing to support his diplomatic efforts, hoping to avoid war. “Imagine if it weren’t Donald Trump there, but Barack Obama having that kind of breakthrough,” Democratic Congressmember Ro Khanna of California said on the “Democracy Now!” news hour. “There would be a reaction from almost every progressive Democrat cheering that on.”
Who wouldn’t cheer avoiding nuclear war? It was only last September when Trump tweeted: “Just heard Foreign Minister of North Korea speak at U.N. If he echoes thoughts of Little Rocket Man, they won’t be around much longer!” In response to threatening comments exchanged between Trump and “Little Rocket Man” Kim, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists advanced their Doomsday Clock to two minutes before midnight, their assessment of the relative danger of nuclear war. Started in 1947, the Doomsday Clock has only been at two minutes to midnight once before: in 1953, the year the Soviet Union first detonated a hydrogen bomb, escalating the arms race with the U.S.
Hawks like Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham have long encouraged a military assault on North Korea. “If diplomacy fails, as a last result, Democrats and Republicans need to put the military option on the table,” Graham said last Sunday as Trump was en route to Singapore. More concerning is newly appointed national security adviser John Bolton, who wrote last February, “It is perfectly legitimate for the United States to respond to the current ‘necessity’ posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons by striking first.” Bolton was invoking the doctrine of “necessity” of pre-emptive attack in self-defense, just as he did before the 2003 invasion of Iraq on the false pretense that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.
“There isn’t any military solution on the Korean Peninsula,” University of Chicago history professor Bruce Cumings, one of the world’s leading Korea scholars, said on “Democracy Now!” “For the first time in a long time, there’s a thaw between Pyongyang and Washington, and to talk about going to war if this thaw doesn’t work is just reprehensible.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote a letter to the president, co-signed by six other senators, demanding that Trump maintain negotiating positions that most experts agree are simply unachievable. These include the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization (CVID) of North Korea, without comparable concessions from the U.S. to diminish its military presence on the Korean Peninsula.
“Senator Schumer in that letter is basically parroting the talking points of John Bolton,” Rep. Khanna said, “that we should not engage in any diplomacy or make any concessions without complete denuclearization. That’s just not realistic.” Khanna also sent the president a letter co-signed by 14 Democratic members of Congress, rebutting his Senate colleagues. “A far more realistic framework,” he said on “Democracy Now!,” “is an incremental approach … where we need to ask for the cessation of testing, and make concessions on an incremental basis. That’s what I think has begun with this process.”
Christine Ahn is the founder of Women Cross DMZ (the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea), a global movement of women mobilizing to end the Korean War. She has organized women-led marches across the DMZ, most recently two weeks ago. On the eve of that march, she said on “Democracy Now!”: “The people of North and South Korea want very much [for] peace to prevail on the Korean Peninsula. I think that’s our role as the international community, especially from the United States, to support them in this critical hour.” On Tuesday, just after the Singapore summit, she added, “Peace is in the air, and we have a lot of work to do, especially as a peace movement in this country.”
People have been organizing since long before Trump to end the 70-year state of war on the Korean Peninsula. The importance of the election of South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, cannot be overstated. A mass movement drove his predecessor from office and carried Moon, who openly advocated for peace with North Korea, into power. Famously mercurial, President Trump canceled the US-North Korea summit once, only to reinstate it soon after. He could easily derail the peace process again. In the United States, Democrats and Republicans should unite behind the peace movements that are driving this diplomatic opening.