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What if Trump is not a bad president?

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By Oh Young-jin

Isn't it possible U.S. President Donald Trump is better a leader than he is a pro wrestler or a juvenile old neighborhood bully?

The American mainstream media are engaged in a constant screaming contest with Trump ― lately rerunning his tweet clip about him pummeling the "CNN man" in a mock ringside slugfest and highlighting his sexist/blood retorts. True, he deserves all the pillorying he is getting.

But what if he has the right stuff for the job, or at least parts for it, but is not being given credit for it? Aren't Americans and the rest of the world swept by the scoundrel Donald, not noticing the other side ― a smart, intuitive but underappreciated leader?

President Moon Jae-in's visit to Washington and the two's summit ironically allows a glimpse into the serious, presidential side of the most vilified man in the world.

At least two newspapers enlisted experts to score the summit on a 1 to 10 scale and produced an above-average eight points. True, the bar had been lowered since the pre-summit fear was that it would turn out to be a brawl between the two leaders of different ideologies or degenerate into an otherwise embarrassing circus, considering Trump's quixotic behavior.

The President ceded ground significantly to please Trump and address U.S. concerns such as Moon's decision to delay the deployment of a U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system. It is with a little hyperbole that Moon went to U.S. as a liberal but returned home a conservative.

The reason for Moon getting those high scores is thanks in no small part to the host. He looked presidential when acknowledging Moon's show of appreciation for U.S. help in protecting Korea during the 1950-1953 Korean War.

He gave Moon what he had wanted in the joint statement, which recognizes the leading role in the ROK-U.S. alliance and on the path to unification. Both references can be dismissed as ones only with rhetorical value but being so accustomed to playing second fiddle to a powerful ally, they provided Koreans with cause for celebration. He did little trick in confirming the two countries' alliance.

But the businessman in Trump came out and asked Moon to foot the bill.

The Korean side was caught off guard by the way he was asking but had expected to pay one way or another. For the American side, Trump did protect the U.S. national interest ― preventing any extra taxpayers' money from getting wasted.

Off the script in the press meeting, Trump made the renegotiation of Korea-U.S. free trade agreement (KORUS FTA) a fait accompli, and left no room for interpretation about his waning for Korea to pay more for maintaining U.S. military presence.

Three times, Trump showed Moon who's the boss.

Prior to the summit, the White House suddenly announced it was dropping THAAD from the summit agenda. Tension was building to a breaking point over it. This was seen as a tactical move to remove the thorny issue that had vexed Moon until he flew to Washington.

The second time came during their joint press conference when Trump ambushed Moon, who felt less burdened by the THAAD resolution, with the FTA and burden sharing issues. Moon could have stopped Trump cold and rebutted him over his wrong facts. The President listened politely without intervening.

The presidential office said later that Trump had improvised but apparently fell short of making a protest. The FTA renegotiations will certainly give U.S. goods an extra edge and the USFK burden sharing talks will surely squeeze more dollars from Korea. Trump deserves a point to keep his country on the plus side.

The third was about the seven-hour delay in the issuance of the joint statement. Some newspapers compared the delay with a "blood-drying" experience among the presidential staffers because the failure to produce one meant trouble in the summit. The presidential office explained that the draft was held up while moving up on the chain of command. If that was plotted, it would be like a sheaf from Trump's "The Art of the Deal" ― ensuring the other side feels grateful about your action.

As evidenced by those good scores, the consensus is that Moon did not get a bad bargain, enabling him to declare after returning from his Washington trip that he wants to get into "the driver's seat" in dealing with the North. Moon also managed to keep at bay the conservatives' complaint that he and his liberal ilk are soft on the North and weakening the alliance.

Truly, the magic appears to be wearing thin, prompting Moon to get out of his stupor and face reality as the Moon-Trump deal is being put under scrutiny. But it is undeniable that Trump has done well for the country on this one.

Few would be willing to give Trump the benefit of doubt. The good side of Trump is not hard sell but no sell, considering his daily fare of slapstick comedy and the state of the union that is on the verge of rebellion.

His presidency was born on the promise of disrupting the status quo. The suspicion is that it is trivialized and bogged down by vested interests. That means that his strengths are ignored at our expense?



Oh Young-jin is The Korea Times' chief editorial writer. Contact foolsdie5@ktimes.com and foolsdie@gmail.com.

Oh Young-jin foolsdie5@koreatimes.co.kr


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