From “fire and fury” to a “terrific relationship” in less than a year sound like a happy turn in the Trump-Kim dance around nukes and North Korea. Better news coming is implied in the Singapore summit: an end of the North-South Korean War after 70 years, on what could be a nuke-free peninsula. A win for de-proliferation, an end of US war-games in South Korea, developing games for the North instead, all in a deal that great neighbor China like a lot.
Question: why do so many in our opinion class not like it at all: a dictator’s victory, goes the liberal line, a bust for the US. Is that because Trump did it? Or is there a deeper dread out there that as China rises, the American century in the Pacific is coming to an end.
If there were a simple sports score—who won, who lost?—between Mr. Trump and Mr. Kim, we wouldn’t believe the scorekeepers anyway. Imagine: If it were Barack Obama going face-to-face with Kim Jong-un for a de-nuclearized Korea, would Rachel Maddow not be swooning? The Fox guys would surely be saying: Barack got “snookered.” But then, if Donald Trump had negotiated the no-nukes-for-Iran nuclear deal, wouldn’t Sean Hannity still be crowing at the sheer mastery of it. When politics gets so personal and so poisonous, the staging so obvious, the words so mechanical and indefinite. It’s Year 72 of the Nuclear Age, in Asia where the first furious mushroom clouds announced a surreal new era. Where are we really?
Our guides this hour are historians of different sorts: the diplomat Chas Freeman lived it, as translator between Richard Nixon and Chairman Mao in the breakthrough talks in 1972. Jeanne Guilleman—in her Pulitzer-nominated history Hidden Atrocities—has written the germ-warfare horror story from the 1930s which East Asia doesn’t forget. The novelist James Carroll is reimagining our American bomb dilemma since the forties. And Richard Rhodes won all the big prizes for his 3-volume nuclear history.