President Donald Trump did something smart, something good – something right – with North Korea.
He stepped back.
Now, the long-troubled Korean peninsula and people have a chance for peace. The odds that they will get peace still are long, but the chances look a lot better than they did a few weeks ago.
If they do achieve peace, it also will mean greater peace for a troubled world.
This is a good thing.
North Korea is the most militarized part of the world. Its leader, Kim Jong-un, is both unstable and amoral, a dangerous combination. He’s killed members of his own family and threatened the United States and other countries with North Korea’s expanding nuclear arsenal.
For a time, it seemed that President Trump was determined to match or perhaps top Kim’s pugnacity and irrationality. The two leaders traded threats, keeping the world balanced on a knife edge between anxiety and terror in the process.
As Trump and Kim taunted each other, the world often seemed at the edge of war, held hostage by two men with impulse-control issues and vast numbers of nuclear weapons at their disposal.
It was in that space that South Korean President Moon Jae-in saw an opportunity.
The Seoul Olympic Games gave South Korea a chance to extend an olive branch to their neighbors and onetime fellow countrymen.
South Korea invited North Korea not just to participate in the games, but to have the two countries that once were one form teams together.
The thaw began, and it continues now.
President Trump’s supporters argue that he should be honored for this development. Quite a few of them – including U.S. Rep. Luke Messer, R-Indiana, whose Senate primary campaign is chasing Trump voters with the ardor of a hungry dog chasing a thrown bone – even have urged that the president be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Trump may not merit a Nobel, but he does deserve credit, just not for the reason his most devoted followers think.
His inflammatory saber-rattling and adolescent boasting don’t merit lauding.
But his willingness to cede the central position in the discussions regarding North Korea does.
Too many U.S. presidents have fallen victim to the fantasy that U.S. power equals U.S. omnipotence. Too often, they have acted as if we could remake the world as we wished, wiping away centuries of history and uprooting millions of lives along the way.
But America’s power, great as it is, is not limitless.
We, like every other nation and every other person on the planet, are bound by reality.
And the reality is that any lasting peace on the Korean peninsula would have to be created and implemented by the peoples of North Korea and South Korea. Any “peace” foisted on the two nations by outsiders would have been an ongoing source of resentment and fuel for future conflagrations.
The only way to peace is the way now being pursued – that of allowing the Korean people to talk and work through their differences. If they can put an end to nearly 70 years of warfare, distrust and tension, their lives will be better,
and every human being will be able to sleep more soundly.
This is as it should be.
Too many leaders – not just in the United States, but everywhere – think it is their duty to solve every problem. They forget, at times, that the important thing is the solution, not the person who arrives at it.
Sometimes, the best – the wisest – thing a leader can do is get out of the way.
Part of the reason there is a shot at peace along the Korean peninsula is that President Trump did just that.
Donald Trump sees himself – and his followers see him – as a take-charge guy, one who commands attention.
It goes against his nature to let go, to surrender the stage to someone else.
That’s what he did here.
That’s why things are better.
He deserves credit for that.
John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 Indianapolis and publisher of TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.