Fifteen House Democrats, led by Rep. Ro Khanna (Calif.), released a letter urging President Donald Trump not to make what they consider to be "unreasonable" demands on North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un during Tuesday's highly anticipated summit between the two leaders.
Specifically, the Democrats allege that any insistence on "full and immediate denuclearization" would be "unrealistic" and "unconstructive."
What's the background?
The White House — led by President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo — have hinted that Trump will take a hard line on North Korea's nuclear program. Trump has stated that he will know "probably within the first minute" whether Kim is serious about reaching a deal, and his initial attitude toward denuclearization is likely to figure heavily in that calculus.
The White House has previously expressed belief that North Korea had already agreed to denuclearization, but it soon became clear that North Korea did not interpret "denuclearization" to include the immediate dismantling of its nuclear weapons program, which is what Trump is widely expected to insist upon as a condition to any deal that would involve easing economic sanctions on the Hermit Kingdom.
Moreover, Senate Democrats sent a letter to President Trump last week demanding that Trump insist on "full denuclearization" before agreeing to any deal with North Korea. Many assumed the letter was in response to a developing mainstream media narrative that Trump was so anxious for any sort of diplomatic victory with North Korea that he would agree to any deal that Kim Jong Un proposed.
What does this new letter say?
Khanna's letter, which was co-signed by 14 other House Democrats, claimed:
[P]arties and inside and outside of your administration ... seek to scuttle progress by attempting to limit the parameters of the talks, including by insisting on full and immediate denuclearization or other unrealistic commitments by North Korea at an early date. The comments made by National Security Advisor John Bolton, and echoed at times by both yourself and the Vice President, regarding the Libya model — referencing the complete dismantlement of Libya’s fledgling nuclear program — was an especially unconstructive approach given the subsequent NATO intervention and overthrow of the Qaddafi regime in 2011. Requiring unreasonable concessions before talking, or early in the negotiations process, is precisely why this conflict remains unresolved.
While Khanna's letter called out President Trump, Vice President Pence, and Ambassador Bolton for their "unconstructive" approach, he neglected to mention that Senate leadership of his own party insisted on the exact same approach less than a week ago.
Instead, Khanna urged Trump to be willing to immediately commit to several concessions, including "pledges or agreements to formally end the 68-year war, ending the practice of US-ROK 'decapitation' military exercises, and support for important cooperative efforts such as vital humanitarian assistance, parliamentarian dialogue and exchanges, reunions between Koreans and Korean American families, and the repatriation of US servicemember remains."
Khanna's letter did not indicate that Trump should demand anything at all from North Korea in exchange for these concessions, but instead expressed hope that North Korea will respond with unspecified "commensurate actions."
The letter also claimed that the dismantling of North Korea's nuclear arsenal cannot be feasibly accomplished except over the course of "ten or more years."
Although no one has seriously suggested that an unproductive summit would lead to immediate war with North Korea, Khanna's letter somewhat dramatically treated such a possibility as very real, stating:
We once again must remind you that in the unfortunate event of a setback or collapse in talks, you do not have the authority under the U.S. Constitution or U.S. law to strike North Korea. With the sole exception of instances requiring a response to a sudden attack, our founding fathers clearly granted the power to declare war to the Congress under Article I, Section 8, Clause 11.
This writer's perspective
As an initial matter, Democrats have set themselves up to criticize Trump essentially no matter how the summit goes. If Trump offers any concessions, Senate Democrats will criticize him for not being tough enough. If Trump insists on full denuclearization and walks away, House Democrats will criticize him for being "unreasonable." It is a transparent "heads I win, tails you lose" scenario.
More importantly, however, the Khanna letter shows why it is difficult for many voters to trust any Democrat with America's national security. In closing his letter, Khanna states (emphasis added):
Accordingly, we stand ready to provide support for potentially historic progress made through diplomacy, but will continue to stand with our ally South Korea in vehemently opposing any return to threats of illegal and unacceptable military action.
I do not know whether military action against North Korea would at any point be a good idea. What I do know, however, is that North Korea has to believe that it's an option the United States would consider, otherwise they will continue to walk all over us and developing their nuclear missile capability.
Whether or not the United States would actually invade North Korea, or Iran, or any other belligerent country, it is vital that the United States not take the threat of such action off the table. Doing so immediately weakens our bargaining position and further invites both aggression and future violations of any deal that might actually be worked out.
It isn't difficult for foreign dictators like Kim Jong Un to take advantage of almost any Democrat on earth because it is clear that they are not only terrified of using military power, they are terrified of even talking about it.
No responsible leader wants to put the awesome destructive power of the United States military to use. But any leader who is serious about America's security has at least present the clear impression that he is prepared to do so without hesitation if America's security calls for it.
Failure to adhere to this principle is exactly what led to North Korea having nuclear weapons in the first place, and failure to realize that fact disqualifies Khanna and the other Democrats who signed his letter from foreign policy leadership that protects America's interests.