It does not make anyone comfortable to acknowledge the realities of an unstable, volatile, and attack-prone American president, but it is important to recognize those realities. He could not let go of North Korea’s uncertainties about a summit and had to cancel -- but then scheduled it back just as impulsively. His pattern of revoking invitations before he can be rejected, or to assault before what he perceives as an assault on him (or his image) has a chance to realize, is well-known.
Yet, a historic opportunity should not be missed. Rather, the two Koreas may have just missed a major opportunity, but can walk back. The two Koreas, whose leaders just met again on Saturday, might have used Donald Trump’s very public dismissal letter as their excuse to say something as follows:
The Korean War has to be formally and confidently ended. Doing so will lead to major military de-escalations, which everyone says they want, including a nuclear-free Korea. The current situation in Asia is a major threat to world peace, and is not just a matter involving the US. Therefore, the new summit that now needs to be arranged should include China, South Korea and the United Nations.
Okay, maybe let Kim Jong-un and Trump shake hands, smile for the cameras, exchange feigned pleasantries, and even let Trump claim the credit.
Then quickly bring in Moon Jae-in, Xi Jinping and the UN secretary-general and maybe even invite Vladimir Putin and Shinzo Abe as well. According to Bruzonsky (the international affairs analyst among us), the outcome should be a signed declaration bringing the Korean War to an end with the new treaty to be unanimously endorsed by the UN Security Council.
Lee (the psychiatrist among us), whose bestselling book The Dangerous Case of Donald Trump has recently been translated into Korean, has repeatedly emphasized that the farther the actual negotiations are removed from Trump, the better. She bases this assessment on his mental instability. For example, the agreement to hold a US-DPRK summit came after substantial war preparations coupled with unprecedented verbal threats and extraordinarily denigrating personal assaults on the part of the US president. Even in the short intervening time, he replaced his secretary of state and national security adviser; pulled out of the treaty that stopped Iran from developing nuclear weapons; and threatened North Korea again with “total decimation” — before rescheduling the talks.
Many mental health professionals in the US have questioned their president’s capacity to make sound, rational decisions that serve the interests of national and international peace. His responses to situations in real time, over extended periods of time, and collateral information from close contacts give abundant, relevant information about the high levels of danger he poses. His impulsivity, paranoid responses, rage reactions and vengeful attacks on others as a response to stress are well-documented risk factors for violence. His overwhelming need to demonstrate power, furthermore, makes war and destructive weapons more tempting to use, not less.
While the continued prospect of talks between the two sparring erratic leaders may still be welcome beyond the world’s wildest hopes, we should not be blindsided by the fact that, relying on Trump is almost as good as leaving the future of the world up to chance. His action of canceling the summit with North Korea only to place it back on schedule the next day, not to mention the impulsive manner in which he agreed to it in the first place, should by itself raise questions about his ability to stay with a diplomatic posture. He has shown little evidence, after all, of possessing the knowledge, understanding, appreciation, or even the inclination for peace.
The pressures on the president are also much greater, as he exhibits behavior that is increasingly of concern: incessant lies, emotional outbursts, and a resorting to conspiracy theories. A yearlong investigation has led to 17 indictments and five guilty pleas and now is closing in on the president’s closest associates as well as himself. His domestic agenda has stalled, while at the same time he has launched trade wars with much of the world. His psychological dangerousness is rapidly transforming into societal and political dangerousness, and we feel the obligation to warn, even though it gives us no pleasure to say these things of our own president.
At the same time, this may be a good opportunity to let go of the idea that the US alone runs the show. The Korean War itself was an international conflict, with 24 countries participating in that war. The international community, represented by the UN and supported by the people, should be the arbiter and not leave critical decisions for the entire world to a single superpower nation, much less an impaired leader who will not even consult with his own advisers before making critical decisions.
Maybe then, away from the hubristic bodies, will we not only finally end the Korean War but peacefully reconfigure international relations in the greater Pacific region.
Mark Bruzonsky and Bandy X. Lee
Mark Bruzonsky is an international affairs expert and political analyst in Washington, DC. Bandy X. Lee is a forensic psychiatrist and violence expert at Yale School of Medicine. -- Ed.