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Why progressives should get behind Trump’s peace talks with North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un takes a walk with President Donald Trump during their summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018. | KRT via AP

Since his historic summit last week with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, President Donald Trump has weathered a barrage of criticism for giving away too much and gaining nothing.

“So much for the art of the deal,” said Sen. Chris Murphy, a Democrat from Connecticut.

OPINION

But a growing number of progressive Democrats are willing to support Trump’s diplomatic efforts, hoping to avoid war.

“Imagine if it weren’t Donald Trump there, but Barack Obama having that kind of breakthrough,” Rep. Ro Khanna, a California Democrat, told us. “There would be a reaction from almost every progressive Democrat cheering that on.”

Who wouldn’t cheer avoiding nuclear war?

It was only last September that Trump called Kim “Little Rocket Man.” In response to an exchange of such threatening comments by the two leaders, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists advanced its Doomsday Clock to two minutes before midnight, revising its assessment of the relative danger of nuclear war. Started in 1947, the Doomsday Clock has been at two minutes to midnight only once before: in 1953, the year the Soviet Union first detonated a hydrogen bomb.

Hawks like Republican South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham have long encouraged a military assault on North Korea. “If diplomacy fails, as a last result, Democrats and Republicans need to put the military option on the table,” Graham said last Sunday.

More concerning is national security adviser John Bolton, who wrote last February, “It is perfectly legitimate for the United States to respond to the current ‘necessity’ posed by North Korea’s nuclear weapons by striking first.” Bolton was invoking the doctrine of “necessity” of pre-emptive attack in self-defense, just as he did before the 2003 invasion of Iraq on the false pretense that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction.

“There isn’t any military solution on the Korean Peninsula,” University of Chicago history professor Bruce Cumings, one of the world’s leading Korea scholars, told us. “For the first time in a long time, there’s a thaw between Pyongyang and Washington, and to talk about going to war if this thaw doesn’t work is just reprehensible.”

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., wrote a letter to the president, co-signed by six other senators, demanding that Trump maintain negotiating positions that most experts agree are simply unachievable. These include the complete, verifiable, irreversible denuclearization (CVID) of North Korea, without comparable concessions from the U.S. to diminish its military presence on the Korean Peninsula.

“Sen. Schumer in that letter is basically parroting the talking points of John Bolton,” Rep. Khanna said, “that we should not engage in any diplomacy or make any concessions without complete denuclearization. That’s just not realistic.”

Khanna also sent the president a letter, this one co-signed by 14 Democratic members of Congress, rebutting his Senate colleagues. “A far more realistic framework,” he told us, “is an incremental approach … where we need to ask for the cessation of testing, and make concessions on an incremental basis. That’s what I think has begun with this process.”

Christine Ahn is the founder of Women Cross DMZ, a global movement of women to end the Korean War. She has led women-led marches across the DMZ — the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea — most recently two weeks ago. On Tuesday, just after Trump and Kim met, she said, “Peace is in the air, and we have a lot of work to do.”

People have been organizing since long before Trump to end the 70-year state of war on the Korean Peninsula. The importance of the election of South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, cannot be overstated. A mass movement drove his predecessor from office and carried Moon, who openly advocated for peace with North Korea, into power.

Famously mercurial, Trump canceled the US-North Korea summit once, only to reinstate it soon after. He could easily derail the peace process again. But in the United States, Democrats and Republicans should unite behind the peace movements that are driving this diplomatic opening.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,300 stations. She and Denis Moynihan, special projects coordinator for “Democracy Now!” are co-authors of “The Silenced Majority.”

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