It has taken 10 presidents and almost 70 years to heal the breach in the Koreas and the threat it represents to peace in the world. But Donald Trump is succeeding where all others have failed.
The strong sanctions, passed by the United Nations due, in part, to the leadership of our Ambassador Nikki Haley, and the unrelenting sanction enforcement by Trump's Treasury and Justice Departments, laid the groundwork. But the transformation of a framework for conflict into a prospect for peace is almost entirely due to the personal vision of President Trump.
Trump's triumph comes not so much from skillful negotiation but rather from his missionary work in bringing about a conversion of sorts in North Korean leader Kim Jung Un — a conversion to the secular religion of capitalism.
The economic sanctions function as a kind of excommunication from the global financial system that threatens perpetual damnation of North Korea — as it does of Iran — to the perdition of poverty. This potent tool brought the stark choice to Kim's attention: Isolation and poverty or denuclearization and prosperity.
At 36, Kim will have had a long life to live with his decision. Days can, indeed, get long in a country that is isolated and alone.
We need only look at satellite photos of the Korean Peninsula at night, showing the brightly lit south and the blacked-out north in vivid contrast, to see the dimensions of the choice with which Trump presented Kim.
But sanctions are only the negative part of the story. Trump's seduction of Kim, who apparently had a brief exposure to Western life in his preteen years at a school in Switzerland, included showing him the economic advantages of ending his isolation.
Kim's family rule over North Korea amounts to a kind of organized crime family running a country. And, as with any such group, sooner or later, they want to get rich.
In the past, North Korea has sought profits through counterfeiting, aiding nuclear proliferation in Iran, and being involved in arms and drug sales. But Trump is offering a better way and introducing Kim to the global world of trade and wealth.
Trump's offer of security guarantees not only is emboldening Kim, but weakening his dependence on China. The juxtaposition of Trump's criticism of Canada and his praise of Kim raises the prospect that we will kick Canada out of NATO and let Kim in. With Trump you never know!
But by dangling South Korea's prosperity and success before Kim, Trump is luring him into the civilized world. In fact, his choice of Singapore as the site of the summit is inspired because the city-state combines free market capitalism with autocracy, a mixture Kim will likely find more attractive than South Korea's democracy.
Critics who, for want of anything else to say in the face of such a stunning achievement, warn that we didn't get enough in return from Kim or that he can still weasel out of his promises. They miss the point. The key variable Trump controls is not military maneuvers with South Korea or conferring global prestige on Kim. It is relief from economic sanctions. And that won't happen until Kim denuclearizes.
This achievement could never have happened under any other president but Trump.