Commentary: With His Concerns About Kim’s Health Allayed, Trump Presses on with Denuclearization Diplomacy

US President Donald Trump (left) and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un (right). A benchmark of progress in the diplomatic process on denuclearization was the highly impressive meeting between Trump and Kim at the Demilitarized Zone at Panmunjom on June 30, 2019. The day after, Trump posted a message on Twitter about the meeting, curiously offering an assessment of Kim’s health. Proposed as part of a denuclearization agreement is the robust US investment in North Korea to support its rapid economic development. Trump must consider what it will take from start to finish to achieve success. Kim’s continual leadership of North Korea is critical to that success, making his health of great importance to Trump.

Using the bond of a newly formed friendship once essentially considered forbidden between a sitting US President and a Chairman of North Korea as a conduit, US President Donald Trump and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea  (North Korea) Chairman Kim Jong-un have embarked on an energetic diplomatic process to create a sustainable, mutually beneficial peace between the US and North Korea. Such a quantum leap through diplomacy would have the attendant impact of creating peace, security, and stability in Northeast Asia. The highly impressive extempore meeting between Trump and Kim at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) at Panmunjom on June 30, 2019 was a benchmark of the significant progress being made in building relations between the two leaders and the two countries. A day after that historic meeting on July 1, 2019, Trump posted an intriguing message on Twitter. Noteworthy was his mention of the condition of Kim’s health. Trump stated: @realDonaldTrump “It was great being with Chairman Kim Jong-un Union of North Korea this weekend. We had a great meeting, he looked really well and very healthy – I look forward to seeing him again soon . . . .”

Trump’s assessment of Kim’s health was not some throw away line provided with some banal intent to jostle the curiosity of spectators in the US news media and among his political opponents. It was a public expression that manifested his concern about a matter critical to the long-term success of Trump’s diplomatic process on denuclearization: Kim’s uninterrupted leadership of North Korea. As mentioned in a July 23, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “Commentary: Trump and Kim at the DMZ: Is a Virtual “Maximum Defusion Campaign” Helping Trump Prompt Denuclearization?”, the fulcrum of the whole diplomatic initiative has become a commitment between to leaders. Much of what Trump has been doing relies heavily on Kim’s continued leadership in Pyongyang. To similar degree, Kim is doubtlessly concerned whether the terminus of Trump’s presidency will be in 2020 or 2024. In that vein, the 2020 US Presidential Election is very likely factoring into Kim’s decisionmaking on denuclearization. Trump, after all, is the one who would be best able to deliver on his promise of a North Korean economic renaissance, so to speak. With regard to Kim, a health condition, which many suppose that he has, could limit the period of his leadership and might spell disaster for Trump’s efforts. Illud autem ante omnia memento, demere rebus tumultum ac videre quid in quaque re sit: scies nihil esse in istis terribile nisi ipsum timorem. (Remember, however, before all else, to strip things of all that disturbs and confuses, and to see what each is at bottom; you will then comprehend that they contain nothing fearful except the actual fear.)

On medical matters, greatcharlie admits being out of its province. Yet, without pretension, greatcharlie states that it has no intention of being waggish in considering the matter. In its assays of the diplomatic process on denuclearization, the goal has been to better understand Kim’s behavior, to better forecast the course of the diplomatic process. The intention is to stick with the primary problem instead of rooting around at extraneous matters. That has required selecting what particular strands to pull out from a mass of information. Neither Kim’s health, nor that of Trump, falls into the extraneous category Rather, the life of the diplomatic process on denuclearization essentially depends on their lives. Indeed, it seems fitting in this case for it to engage in a foray into concerns, in this case, about Kim’s health no matter how inelegant it may appear.

Surely, it would be tough to accurately conclude what would be the outlook for North Korea should Kim fall ill or leave the scene completely. As addressed in both Article 2, Section 1, Clause 6 as well as Section 2 of the 25th Amendment of the US Constitution, the immediate Line of Succession from the President is the Vice President, the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, and then the President pro tempore of the US Senate. However, who in the Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK) would eventually take control of North Korea after Kim and how he or she may may view the diplomatic process on denuclearization is unknown. Under the by-laws of the Charter of the WPK, the Chairman of the WPK is elected by the Central Committee of the WPK. Members of the Central Committee are not seated permanently. They are elected by the Congress of the WPK, therefore, one would stand on a slender thread in attempting to predict the membership of the Central Committee at the moment of Kim’s hypothetical demise. (Surely, the Russian Federation and China would want to have some influence on the matter. Their respective interests regarding North Korea certainly do not mirror those of the US. Perchance it might be decided in the capital of one of those countries that decapitation of the North Korean leadership might be the best way to halt Trump’s progress if it all becomes too threatening to its interests.)

Verbum semel emissum volat irrevocabile. (A word once sent forth (uttered), flies forth irrevocable (irrevocably)) It seems reasonable for Trump to feel the need to address well-being of a critical element of the diplomatic process on denuclearization: Kim. Perchance his intent was to allay the worries and fears of others perhaps in the US Congress, in foreign policy circles in Washington, and in the US public. One might posit that Trump’s surprising discussion of Kim’s health on Twitter mostly evinces the extent to which it was a matter of considerable importance to him. Agreeing to work with North Korea on its rapid economic development will require enormous investment from the US. Trump had to consider early on in the diplomatic process on denuclearization how he expects the situation in Northeast Asia to look many years ahead given relative capabilities and possibilities on the US and North Korea. However, he must also consider how things could look if things go wrong at certain points and determine what it will take to make it beneficial for the US from start to finish. A happy fact is that in his comments, Trump stated without reservations that he found Kim mens sana in corpore sano. That clearly indicates that he feels it would be prudent for him to continue with his efforts.

Without being assured of success at any step or being assured of a successful outcome long-term through the diplomatic process on denuclearization, every push forward into that unknown entails significant risk, calculated as best as possible. For Trump, effective calculation of that risk requires being read-in on as thoroughly as possible on every new report produced by government agencies, particularly the intelligence services–despite alleged hostile claims found in the news media made by disgruntled, unknown, or former Trump administration officials. It also requires opening his consciousness to what is happening in the process, to know what and when steps must be taken, to recognize what must be in place for the process to advance and to assess the possibilities for varied moves by Kim and aides and advisers. Interestingly, it could be ascribed as part of Trump’s personality that as an optimist, he will always look for ways to move a promising situation forward. He will try to identify issues on which he might be able to do some real open field running to advance his cause. Trump would then look within himself to design the next best steps he would  take with the North Korean leader, steps with which he would feel most comfortable. type of thinking led to his decision to invite Kim meet impromptu at the DMZ. So far, Trump has provided a conductor’s performance of exquisite diplomacy.

Throughout the diplomatic process on denuclearization, it cannot be denied that Trump has been very understanding of Kim’s position in Pyongyang. For many in North Korea, the idea of any agreement with the US remains inimical to their beliefs regarding the Communist Movement and Anti-capitalism. At the time of this writing, North Korea still refuses to sign a formal peace agreement to mark the end of the Korean War. The war ended on July 27, 1953. Trump has taken timing into consideration the timing of his meetings with Kim. Along that line, Trump has presumably incorporated into his own decision making Kim’s evaluations through letters of when it might best to proceed without creating too much shock at home over his interactions with the US President. Trump has also displayed a deep respect for the politics of Kim’s situation. For example, he seems to recognize that Kim’s launching of short-range rockets and fiery speech toward South Korea as an effort to mollify military and security elites who might believe he has become too congenial toward the US. Yet, on top of those considerations, there is no doubt that Trump has a good sense for what Kim may be feeling as a young leader confronted with a particularly tough, challenging matter. He has also taken into account the meaning of the denuclearization diplomacy to Kim, and his emotional responses to it. From the beginning of his administration, Trump spoke of the heavy responsibilities that had been laid on Kim’s shoulders in almost an avuncular way. Interestingly, Trump to an extent has tried to minimize unnecessary stresses directly upon Kim during the denuclearization diplomacy. Looking at it all as a human process, both Trump and Kim are both strapped tightly into the harness of leadership, which in dealing with certain matters, can feel more as a yoke. Amicus certus in re incerta cernitur. (A sure friend is discovered in an unsure (risky) situation.)

Despite all that was apparent about Trump’s concern over Kim’s physical and emotional and emotional well-being, within the US news media, his sudden discussion of Kim’s health was generally viewed as mysterious and confounding. Broadcast, published, and posted reports from the US news media have more often been critical of the Trump administration’s handling of the diplomatic process on denuclearization than not. Many insist that Kim has gone along with Trump to build a friendship in order to score a devastating blow to the US President by destroying the relationship and the diplomatic process through betrayal. (Even Kim should be well-aware at this point that the consequence of insincerity and deception would be dreadful for North Korea.) Second to the preconception that Trump lacks the faculties to navigate through the diplomatic effort with the so-called wiley Kim, the news media emphasizes that conversations between the US President and the North Korean Chairman are shrouded in mystery. Indeed, the argument has been made that it should not be so difficult for anyone from outside the diplomatic process to understand or judge exactly what was actually going on. Unfortunately, unlike the way movies, television, novels, there is no one available to explain things, to cheer everyone up. In covering the delicate and discreet process of diplomacy on denuclearization, it would behoove the news media to focus less on the melodramatic and more on the intellectual.

Without the intent of contradicting the US President regarding Kim’s health, greatcharlie would like to suggest that its readers nonetheless take a good look at Kim’s bearing in Vladivostok on April 25, 2019. As noted in a May 19, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “The Putin-Kim Summit: An Uneasy Episode in Kim’s Introduction to a Brave New World”, one could reasonably state that he appeared to be having health problems. Apparently exceeding his appropriate weight range and being a smoker, it could be expected that Kim would be dealing with dome underlying health issues. However, in Vladivostok, Kim simply looked unhealthy. Kim breathed laboriously as if he had anything from a very bad cold, bronchitis, asthma, or pneumonia, to something much worse, such as a pulmonary edema, a pulmonary embolism, or some other pulmonary episode. A far lesser possibility now, but one worthy of consideration at the time of the Vladivostok meeting is that Kim was suffering from a myocardial infarction (heart attack) of a Type 2 diabetic, slowly dying in discomfort, without appropriate care.

Kim appeared pale, shuddering, breathless. At times he additionally appeared disoriented, uncertain, uncomfortable, anxious, even jumpy. This uneasy behavior was not observed in Kim in Singapore, Hanoi, or Beijing. Thinking in a way similar to greatcharlie, Eric Talmadge of the Associated Press, stated in his article published in Time magazine on April 26, 2019: “What caught the attention of many outside observers Thursday wasn’t the scene, but the sound — of Kim’s loud breathing. Clips of the introductory encounter were quickly tweeted around the world, many with comments about the leader’s audible breathlessness. South Korea’s media, meanwhile, speculated that it could be a sign of Kim’s poor health. He is, after all, overweight and a notoriously heavy smoker.” According to Talmadge, Kim has evinced similar health problems at previous high-level meetings. Some may recall that in April 2018, on the occasion of his first summit meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Kim looked out of breath as he signed a guestbook following a short walk.

It was the English mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead who explained: “Simple solutions seldom are. It takes a very unusual mind to undertake analysis of the obvious.” When Trump entered the diplomatic process on denuclearization with Kim, he set aside the preconceived ideas of others about him. He did not simply accepted as accurate information available that ticked enough boxes to confirm “bad man” and attempting to work with him would be hopeless. In the US news media, much was reported about Kim that has supported such views. However, the reality was that very few Western journalists had ever met him, nor had they ever seen him up-close until the Singapore Summit in June 12, 2018. Regarding Kim’s health in particular, except from what journalists may have gleaned from reading reports in the abstract about Kim, there was no baseline on Kim’s normal functioning or responses in specific situations from which they could compare or appraise Kim’s behavior. Trump was determined to explore the matter. So thorough has been his examination, as is known now, he even engaged in his own evaluation of Kim’s health.

Most important concerning Trump’s evaluation of Kim as they both move through the diplomatic process has not been his judgments on the North Korean leader’s  health. Rather, his judgment that there is a certain humanity in him that critics doubt he has. Trump seeks to use that humanity he believes that he has found in Kim to accomplish big things. Assuredly, the two leaders are energetically engaged in tandem to resolve what was once a nuclear crisis. Pragmatism and practicalities make instant gratification through the denuclearization diplomacy improbable. Still, those who have been following the diplomatic process very closely likely have the same positive intimations, a certain sense of impending success that will be achieved over the long-term. In the meantime time, the opportunity exist to address troubling issues and sew together the threads that will result ultimately in diplomatic triumph for both countries. Ornat haec magnitudo animi, quae nihil ad ostentationem, omnia ad conscientiam refert recteque facti non ex populi sermone mercedem, sed ex facto petit. (To all this, his illustrious mind reflects the noblest ornament; he places no part of his happiness in ostentation, but refers the whole of it to conscience; and seeks the reward of a virtuous action, not in the applauses of the world, but in the action itself.)

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