Trump just made Kim's job a lot easier

Article Image

President Trump steps into North Korea and shakes hands with Kim Jong Un.

Posted: Jun 30, 2019 1:40 PM
Updated: Jun 30, 2019 1:40 PM

Making history isn't always a good thing, especially when it involves crossing into an authoritarian regime's territory. And yet, President Donald Trump did just that, taking 20 steps into North Korea on Sunday -- the first sitting American leader to do so.

But whether those were 20 steps toward long-lasting peace initiatives, or 20 steps toward empowering and legitimizing the hermit kingdom, remains to be seen. The history of nonproliferation attempts with North Korea is marked by numerous attempts at denuclearization -- and just as many failures.

And while Trump and Kim Jong Un reportedly informed their teams that it was time to resume talks once again after meeting, something else is also clear: Kim just gained invaluable insight into Trump's bar for success.

Trump: satisfied with the status quo

While the Trump administration itself defined its long-term goal for negotiations with North Korea as denuclearization, Trump's foray onto North Korean soil signaled to Kim that the status quo -- which he repeatedly said was better than the war he argued President Barack Obama was on the brink of starting -- is good enough. Laying aside his own escalatory rhetoric on North Korea, Trump repeatedly said that the current security situation on the Korean Peninsula and in the region is better than it's been before -- in large part due to a lull in North Korean long-range missile tests and nuclear tests.

Less missile testing is certainly important for near-term security, but it was not the administration's original goal. The President has moved the very goal posts he set -- yet again. This signals to Kim that Trump may talk a big game, but he will settle for a lot less.

In short, Trump's steps in North Korea may be viewed by Kim as a step backward for Trump's own previously stated nonproliferation agenda.

Out of sight, but not out of mind

Since Kim has reason to think that denuclearization is not a prerequisite to peace, it is likely that he will continue building his nuclear arsenal, along with other conventional and nonconventional capabilities -- especially if the North Korean dictator can keep these activities out of Trump's line of vision.

However, while they may be out of sight, they should not be out of mind for the many American officials engaged in US national security matters. North Korea's illicit activities will likely continue to affect countries beyond the Korean Peninsula, including our own.

On Sunday, Trump engaged in a "handshake for peace" with Kim, but North Korea is still allegedly attacking us -- particularly in cyberspace, where the Department of Homeland Security and FBI reported a likely North Korean malware attack just last month. And yet Trump didn't mention these attacks publicly.

Of course, we don't know whether they were raised in the closed door meeting he had with Kim after they shook hands, but it seems unlikely. And the truth is we don't even know if he was prepped for that meeting on North Korea's latest cyber efforts. If the meeting was spontaneous, as Trump's tweet would have us believe, prep time for his bilateral meeting with Kim was likely sparse at best.

All that said, if the status quo -- replete with alleged cyberattacks -- was enough to get Trump to step into North Korea, then Kim has little reason to stop his attacks on American soil.

On the conventional military front, Trump pointed to the lack of weapons at the Korean Demilitarized Zone as another symbol of peace on the peninsula. But North Korea still maintains one of the largest conventional armies in the world, with over 1 million members in its armed forces. So, while Kim's military might may not have been on display at the DMZ, North Korea's conventional military capabilities remain significant.

And North Korea's military capabilities affect countries with which Trump is personally engaged in a war of words -- and potentially direct military confrontation in the not so distant future. Experts have assessed that Iran was able to grow its ballistic missile arsenal by purchasing missiles, components and technology from North Korea and China, and the UN is investigating North Korean arms dealers in Iran.

North Korea has also long been suspected of providing conventional military support to Syria, and despite Trump's warm words about his achievements with Kim, we should expect Kim to continue his illicit arms activities in theaters that directly impact US interests.

The dangers remain

While President Trump said that the dangers posed by Kim have now gone away, significant dangers remain. And whether the security situation that Trump says he's created actually holds up -- one in which long-range missiles aren't flying and nuclear tests aren't happening -- is really up to Kim. The North Korean leader has given the administration an end of year deadline for giving him what he wants -- namely sanctions relief. If we don't play ball, it is probable that North Korea will break their freeze on tests.

With Trump's newly defined characterization of success -- one which hinges on these tests not happening -- it is possible that phased sanctions relief, something which he's said he won't do, may in fact be on the table. And with Trump's Sunday foray into his country, Kim probably thinks he's closer to getting what he wanted all along: a normalized, nuclear North Korea that has access to cash, countries and credibility.

California Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 516851

Reported Deaths: 9441
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Los Angeles1938774702
Orange37813651
Riverside37011695
San Bernardino33432418
San Diego29883565
Kern20651144
Fresno15083138
San Joaquin11885180
Alameda11524189
Santa Clara10794191
Sacramento10122145
Tulare9745189
Imperial9448222
Stanislaus9221112
Contra Costa8033127
Ventura734476
San Francisco691661
Santa Barbara616760
San Mateo5683119
Marin509270
Monterey492430
Kings445356
Merced428550
Solano361137
Sonoma311339
Madera194330
Placer192516
San Luis Obispo190216
Yolo157242
Santa Cruz11524
Butte9417
Napa8888
Sutter7976
San Benito6474
El Dorado6371
Lassen6260
Yuba5024
Shasta3909
Glenn3321
Colusa3314
Mendocino3229
Nevada2991
Tehama2341
Humboldt2334
Lake2081
Mono1451
Tuolumne1412
Amador1260
Calaveras1251
Del Norte880
Siskiyou730
Inyo611
Mariposa572
Plumas330
Trinity50
Alpine20
Modoc20
Sierra20
Unassigned00
Chico
Clear
86° wxIcon
Hi: 98° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 86°
Oroville
Clear
87° wxIcon
Hi: 99° Lo: 62°
Feels Like: 87°
Paradise
Clear
86° wxIcon
Hi: 91° Lo: 61°
Feels Like: 86°
Chester
Clear
77° wxIcon
Hi: 83° Lo: 56°
Feels Like: 77°
Red Bluff
Clear
87° wxIcon
Hi: 99° Lo: 65°
Feels Like: 88°
Willows
Clear
86° wxIcon
Hi: 101° Lo: 60°
Feels Like: 86°
It was a slightly cooler day for northern California today, but a more significant cooling is arriving tomorrow, along with a slight chance for showers and thunderstorms over the mountains of northwest California.
KHSL Severe
KHSL Radar
KHSL Temperatures

Community Events