The media continues to get the President’s North Korean peace initiative all wrong: in some cases this is due to laziness, Washington-centric group-think, and just plain ignorance. In other cases, it is quite deliberate. Take, for example, the recent “news” that Trump canceled Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s scheduled trip to Pyongyang due to a “belligerent” letter sent by the North Koreans to the White House. What is the source of this alleged development? A single report in the Washington Post put out there by one Josh Rogin, not a reporter but an opinion columnist with strong neoconservative inclinations. Rogin attributes this information to “two senior administration officials” while admitting that “[t]he exact contents of the message are unclear.”
We don’t know what the letter said, and so we don’t know why Trump canceled the trip. In short, we don’t know anything. That’s the “news,” folks.
So what really happened? Why the cancellation?
We can’t know for certain, of course, since these things are usually kept under wraps, and yet we can speculate if we have the right context, which is something none of these esteemed Korea “experts” and “analysts” – who are often proxies for special interests – provide. What we usually get is either complete misinformation, as in the case of the “belligerent letter,” or else a priori speculation along the lines of “Why would Kim Jong-un give up his nuclear weapons after seeing what happened to Qaddafi?”
A priori arguments are fine in the realm of economics, but they don’t work at all in the foreign policy realm. We need empirical evidence, and to get that it’s necessary to penetrate a famously opaque North Korea and get a handle on what Kim and the rest of the North Korean leadership want to get out of the negotiations. And, more importantly, we have to ask ourselves how well do the lords of Pyongyang understand the dynamics of American politics, which will ultimately determine US policy?
The answer to this last question, it turns out, is pretty damn well, if the North Korean media is any indication. As reported in one of the few reliable news sources that specialize in North Korea,