op-ed

Change At State Promises Trump A More Harmonious Outcome

State Department Shutterstock/Sorbis

Alan Keyes Former Assistant Secretary of State
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Since news broke of Kim Jong Un’s “eagerness” to meet with President Donald Trump, some have hailed the prospective meeting as a triumph for Trump’s boisterous policy of maximum pressure against the North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. Others caution that Kim’s offer may be a shrewdly calculated ploy. They surmise that, whether the meeting takes place or not, Kim aims to confirm his status as a leader on equal terms with the president of the United States.

The latter suspicion is worth pondering. Kim himself has not yet publicly affirmed the interest a South Korean official conveyed to President Trump. His silence, contrasted with president Trump’s immediate acceptance, makes President Trump look like the eager one. Since the United States is evidently a nation of much greater stature, this look may seem unbecoming, particularly in a region where “loss of face” matters. Without moving a muscle, Kim Jong Un has successfully positioned himself as President Trump’s equal. He has also maneuvered the United States, at least momentarily, into the position of supplicant, rather than an honored guest.

Now comes the report that Kim has “restarted production of plutonium, apparently for nuclear bombs.” Except for context of his “eagerness” to meet with President Trump (which may yet be put down to a misunderstanding on South Korea’s part), it makes sense to construe this as a gesture of defiance. At best it is a false start, likely to be retracted down the road in a counterfeit gesture of good faith.

Be that as it may, the whole demarche distracts attention from the elephant (or would ‘dragon’ be the better metaphor?) in the room. As I have argued before, the real adversary (or competitor, if you like) is China. Kim’s reported promise of “denuclearization,” in exchange for what amounts to U.S. withdrawal from its historic role in the region, would encompass the principal aim of China’s foreign policy. If any aspect of it is negotiated with China’s N. Korean catspaw, the U.S. ends up being paid in the falsely inflated currency of North Korean concessions. Meanwhile, China gets off Scot free, since it appears to have no skin in the game.

Was President Trump’s recent decision to squelch Singapore-based Broadcom’s hostile takeover bid for U.S.-based Qualcomm, a way of signaling that, in fact, it does. If so, the strategically indirect character of the move says a lot about President Trump’s skill as a negotiator. More than euphoric blather about a “historic breakthrough” in relations, with a dismal failure of a socialist state, North Korea can’t stand comparison with its neighbor to the South, much less a world-historic power like the United States.

All the “reality TV” chatter presently characteristic of America’s governmental and political scene helps to mask the critically important concrete steps President Trump is taking to repair the fatal damage President Barack Obama aimed to inflict on our nation’s global strategic posture. For all its faults, the congressional budget process is providing resources for an urgently needed revitalization of our forces (including our nuclear deterrent, and possibly our strategic defense capability). President Trump’s moves to replace multilateral trade agreements with bilateral treaties must also be viewed in the strategic context. His recent imposition of tariffs created diplomatic currency in economic form, currency severely diluted in value by the multilateral approach.

If his move against Broadcom’s takeover bid is indeed at least partly meant to impress the Chinese, President Trump is displaying a sophisticated sense of the multidimensional nature of the great game of global diplomacy. That’s consistent with highly creative, if not necessarily stable, genius. His decision finally to cut way the drag chute incongruously deployed when he appointed Rex Tillerson to head the state department should allow greater scope for diplomacy consistent with this spatially aware sense of where things stand, and how they interact. People who care about this nation’s security should be praying that Mike Pompeo infuses the State Department with a sense of purpose more consistent with President Trump’s strategic reflexes. It’s reassuring to know that, once he is confirmed, incoming Secretary Pompeo is quite likely to be praying right along with us.

Reportedly, demoralization among career foreign service officers at the State Department is running high. Though for many it has long since lost this significance, the word “demoralize” connotes the excision of moral purpose and confidence. When I read that then-Secretary Tillerson aimed to de-emphasize America’s commitment to promoting human rights insofar as we can, that connotation came to mind. It may be trendy these days to believe that survival is motivation enough for any nation. But our nation was not built by people for whom that sufficed.

It was built by people who put survival on the line for the sake of truths, goals, and institutions that make life worth living — like family and friends and work that nourishes individual and communal material life. But also, like justice, liberty and the constitution of mind and spirit that reaches out even to those we will not know. Just as a nation needs secure borders to secure its goodwill at home, so it needs to nurture its good faith and conscientious principles as it extends that goodwill beyond those borders — looking to find and work with people who share it, wherever they find themselves.

A sense of this could be the basis for a re-moralization of America’s governmental institutions, beginning with the State Department. But it could reach beyond them, to the institutions that reflect what our best character has already helped to build among like-minded nations of the world. Many learned to look to us for leadership and co-operation. They still do. That has been the bloom on America’ genius for some time now. With a supporting cast at the State Department, President Trump may well see that it bears good fruit.

Alan Keyes is a political activist, a prolific writer and a former diplomat.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.