(First posted at whowhatwhy.org)
We are about to witness a no-holds-barred match between two of the greatest bait-and-switch artists in history.
Two men will enter the ring. In this corner, Donald J. Trump, who describes himself as the best dealmaker on the planet. In the other corner, North Korea dictator, Kim Jong-un, a man who runs his hermit kingdom with an iron fist and never takes "no" for an answer.
One man will leave the ring victorious. The other will claim the match was "fixed."
The stakes could not be higher: Whether a brutal Stalinist dictator is accepted as a member of the small club of nuclear-armed nations, along with his long-range ballistic missiles. Whether North Korea will have a nuclear vote in Asian power politics. Whether the US mainland will chill in the shade of a North Korean nuclear umbrella.
For now, many just seem happy the world has been pulled back from the brink of nuclear war. But really nothing has changed. A year or two from now this relief will be viewed as the height of wishful wishing.
Let me explain.
People in the West have been fed a nonstop diet of news and official statements framing Kim as an unruly spoiled kid, who was handed unrestrained power decades before he reached political (or emotional) maturity. He's been painted as a petulant little brat who, when confronted by any real or potential challenger(s), has such persons packed off to concentration camps or viciously murdered. He was ignorant, we were told, of the wider world. He was dangerously unpredictable.
But look where he is today. Kim has shepherded his dirt-poor kingdom through countless economic assaults by nearly every country on the planet. Yet he has attained each of his stated goals, one after another, nearly without pause. He has stood fast in the face of military threats from the strongest country on the planet. He hasn't blinked.
Kim now has at least 20 fully functional nuclear warheads. By 2020, he could possibly have up to 60. He has proven wrong a legion of nuclear experts who claimed that he was years away from being able to miniaturize these warheads. And, in a rapid-fire manner he has succeeded in building intercontinental missiles capable of striking anywhere on the US mainland, even Washington.
In short, he won all those rounds, and did so under the kind of pressure that caused older, stronger, and richer Iran to fold.
Kim is now in the catbird seat, and he knows it.
Which is why what we saw this week was a relaxed, smiling, even jaunty, Kim skipping across the DMZ to high-five the leader of his enemy to the south. Suddenly, Kim is claiming it is he who is the peacemaker.
Meanwhile. His adversary, Donald Trump, is slapping himself on the back, claiming it is he and only he who is responsible for Kim's change of heart. How wrong he is.
Kim says he's ready to talk about making the Korean peninsula a "nuclear-free zone." And if you believe that, you're, well, naive. Kim is still playing his hand, and it's a strong one.
First, in coming negotiations, Kim may agree to cut, even eliminate, his current stockpile of nuclear warheads. It would be a cheap card for him to play. Now that he has attained the knowledge and people to build nuclear warheads, he can order new ones built quickly. The long learning curve is now over.