The Oslo syndrome
The author is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.
Some people seriously believe in things that others find implausible. Self-indulgent people are prone to such a tendency because they choose to believe what they want to believe. U.S. President Donald Trump seriously believes he deserves a Nobel Peace Prize; the winner for this year will be announced on Oct. 10. He complained that he deserves one “for a lot of things — if they gave it out fairly, which they don’t” during an interview in New York while attending the United Nations General Assembly last week.
There are certain people who have encouraged this thinking by Trump. After summit talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un since last year — and posing next to him in a landmark meeting in the truce village of Panmunjom in June — many agreed that he deserved the prize for his attempt to broker peace. “We are not there yet, but if this happens, President Trump deserves the Nobel Peace Prize,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham in the spring of 2018. Even former president Jimmy Carter — an outspoken Trump critic and one of four U.S. presidents to win the prize — agreed, along with British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and President Moon Jae-in. No wonder Trump is infatuated with Oslo’s biggest prize.
But Trump’s obsession with the award could lead us down a very dangerous path. He seems to believe that the award is his if he can accomplish a cease-fire and some kind of half-baked denuclearization from North Korea. If that process goes too far, permanent denuclearization is no longer possible. Given his persistence, Trump will pursue the award next year if he cannot get one this year.
With the U.S. presidential election in November next year, Trump is hungry for a meaningful achievement on the denuclearization front. If Pyongyang makes an offer he can settle for, Trump could pull U.S. troops from South Korea.
The possibility of withdrawing U.S. troops from South Korea has been floated every time the bilateral relationship has soured. But the latest talk is more serious as it comes from influential figures in Washington.
During a recent visit to Seoul, legendary American journalist and Washington Post associate editor Bob Woodward said that Trump could decide to pull troops from Korea on a whim. In his latest book “Fear: Trump in the White House,” he wrote that Trump had an argument with former Defense Secretary James Mattis about pulling U.S. forces from South Korea due to costs and the U.S. trade deficit with the country.
John Hamre, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), was blunter. In a lecture in South Korea last month, he claimed that calls from Congress and others in Washington for the withdrawal of U.S. forces have grown as more Americans believe South Korea is strong enough to defend itself.
The other factor is the South Korean government. President Moon officially is against the withdrawal of U.S. forces. In an interview last year, he said that American troops should stay on the Korean Peninsula even after unification. But he could change his mind if North Korea strongly demands a pullout and the U.S. military poses a primary stumbling block to the peace process he wants. Moreover, most of his support base wants U.S. soldiers out.
It is wrong to believe that the U.S. Congress would block a pulling out of U.S. forces from South Korea. There is a defense act that cuts the budget if the head count of U.S. troops in Korea falls below 28,500. But that restriction is effective for only a year and has exceptional clauses. The U.S. Congress will likely agree to a pullout if the move is asked for by South Koreans and meets U.S. interests at the time.
Chances are growing that Trump could scale back or pull out U.S. troops even if denuclearization is not complete. We must start drawing up radical options, including arming ourselves with our own nuclear weapons.
JoongAng Ilbo, Oct. 2, Page 30