SEOUL — Talk about missed opportunities. Donald Trump won’t be visiting Panmunjom for the chance to glower across the line at the North Korean soldiers on the other side, wave a fist and shout, “I will destroy you.”
That’s too bad considering just about every other American president has made the trek up there from Seoul. They all went by helicopter, not fighting the traffic as most of us have to do. I’m sure the Trumpster could summon one even if it’s not on the itinerary.
Think about it. Wouldn’t it be great to see and hear him sounding off on the “evil empire” as he stares right at it?
OK, I’m in a time warp. Wasn’t it Ronald Reagan who spoke of the old Soviet Union as the evil empire while urging Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down that wall”? Trump, whatever he’s said, has yet to use that phrase while telling “Little Rocket Man” in Pyongyang to stop brandishing his missiles.
Imagine if Trump were to change his mind and venture up to the DMZ. He could shock us all by talking nicely, politely, urging the befuddled North Koreans over a mega-loudspeaker, interpreted by a dutiful American embassy language officer, to make peace, not war, and open the gates to North-South traffic, family visits, cultural events, interaction of all sorts.
Such an approach, though, would definitely not be in the character of the man who loves to warn how easy it would be to bury North Korea just as the Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, years ago in the United Nations, shouted, “We will bury you.”
A flotilla of American warships, led by the carrier Ronald Reagan, is already off the South Korean coast, and warplanes are poised to pounce if Kim Jong-un shows signs of making good on his rhetoric, which of course he will not, at least not now.
Considering all the military hardware in play, a lot of people are asking why Trump isn’t joining the parade of American leaders on the ritual tour south of the North-South line. Some say there’s a security issue. All the North Koreans would have to do is open fire and — bang! — there goes the man they love to hate.
The security issue, though, is bogus. Nothing happens to anyone who goes to Panmunjom. Security there may be the best on the Korean peninsula. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis was just up there sounding off beside Defense Minister Song Young-moo. Surely Trump could do the same.
But here’s probably the real reason he’s not going. His handlers are afraid he’d get carried away making all sorts of remarks that would only annoy his host, President Moon Jae-in, yearning for dialogue with the North, and also detract from the tone of his entire Asian Odyssey, all about looking for ways to bring about goodwill among old enemies.
No telling how Trump would behave at the DMZ, but we can be pretty sure it would not advance regional harmony, much less American interests. Then too, isn’t there another factor at work here?
Trump loves walls. He’s ordered construction of a wall across the U.S.-Mexican frontier in order to seal off the United States from undesirables who commit crimes, defile squeaky-clean communities, and cost taxpayer money sending their kids to local schools. (Never mind that they’re thoroughly exploited, paid peanuts for picking apples, tilling fields, harvesting grapes, mowing lawns, grueling work that good honest born-and-bred Americans don’t want to dirty their hands doing.)
While carrying on about The Great Southern Wall with Mexico, the Trumpster might have used a visit to the DMZ to talk up the merits of strong barriers against a wicked enemy. Imagine Donald Trump wearing a baseball cap inscribed with the slogan, “Make America Great Again,” in the faces of North Korean soldiers. Pity he won’t be there.