What was once insightful analysis about North Korea has now become conventional wisdom, so much so that even 78-year-old grandmothers in Tennessee who only recently heard of North Korea now declare with conviction that Kim Jong-un will never give up his nukes.
Perhaps the conventional wisdom about North Korea is right, but the handshake at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un should be a moment for even-hardened critics to reflect upon changes and opportunities.
It is no longer U.S. presidents (Clinton, Bush, Obama) looking at North Korea through binoculars from afar ― President Trump was standing on North Korean soil, shaking the murdering dictator's hand.
The days of "rocketman" and "dotard" seem so long ago, when people asked if war was imminent, but critics are like ideological generals fighting old battles although times have changed.
Before, during and after Trump's "fire-and-fury" remarks, maximum pressure strategy, and declaration that "my button is bigger," critics charged that Trump was itching to start a war with North Korea. Then the flip argument appeared after Trump suddenly called for a diplomatic summit, critics charged he was naively cozying up to the North Korean dictator.
When Trump on the one hand signed the Singapore deal and on the other walked out of the summit in Vietnam, both cases were allegedly proof he was out of his league and handing Kim (diplomatic and media) victories.
Coming or going, up or down, diplomacy or threats, good cop/bad cop or both, Trump was wrong. He suddenly calls meetings with heads of state, uses Tweets instead of back-door diplomatic negotiations, and steps on North Korean soil. There's no need to re-evaluate if the billionaire businessman elected president against the odds is on to something.
Trump the deal maker said he would do things differently than others, and who can doubt it with his stream of consciousness 4 a.m. tweets? His "Art of the Deal" strategy of taking an extreme position, then negotiating has been dismissed by former diplomats with sterling credentials, white papers and no accomplishments in North Korea.
It isn't just the experts, analysts, diplomats and media. Human rights advocates, I love you, but you are also not adapting to changing conditions. Kim, the smiling dictator-diplomat with the guillotine and machine guns, must never be legitimized in their eyes.
I have advised human rights advocates directly and indirectly to change strategy. "Make deals, not war, with Trump." Denouncing him won't work, the best strategy may be to cut a deal with Trump to get him to mention human rights, family reunions or abductions.
The experts, diplomats, media and human rights activists haven't changed ― what about North Koreans themselves?
The orange-haired "dotard" stepped on North Korea's soil. Can even those North Koreans who have been brainwashed see things differently? My human rights friends have helped spread information into North Korea, but it took Trump to bring the tyrant out of his cave. What else is possible?
If Trump having a Skype call or engaging the North Korean dictator in other ways has more of an impact than a statement about human rights, would that be preferable?
North Korea is not a normal country, but it needs to become one, as distasteful as that feels to those of us in the U.S. who have criticized North Korea for years. The tyrant has left his cave, but is there no need to evaluate possibilities or alternatives?
Watching this political sausage being made is nauseating, but Trump's madman-ready-to-walk-away-at-any-moment strategy mixed with handshakes, personal letters and meetings seems to be working better than other approaches. Should that be abandoned for what failed before?
Trump said during the campaign that his predecessors made bad deals. It remains to be seen if he can make such a good deal by hugging a hungry wolf.
Certainly, he recognizes the benefit of neutralizing Kim before the 2020 U.S. presidential election, as has been charged. He is also a businessman who seeks results, and the big deals that no one else could get done.
Trump deserves some blame for his critics not adapting to changing conditions, he issues extreme statements as part of his negotiating tactics. Critics are stuck on one version of Trump: evil, wrong, stupid, a modern Nazi, etc.
In contrast, as I wrote at this time last year, North Korean refugees are going through the "seven stages of Trump," trying to understand him.
According to some scuttlebutt I heard last year from former North Korean diplomats, there has been some internal reflection because Kim has lost the respect of the elite, Trump's direct challenges scared them, and sanctions are hurting.
If even the North Korean elite is rethinking strategy, and apparently looking to cut a deal with the orange-haired dotard, then even 78-year-old grandmothers in the U.S. may reconsider the conventional wisdom they have recently learned.
Casey Lartigue, Jr., co-founder along with Eunkoo Lee of the Teach North Korean Refugees Global Education Center (TNKR), is the 2017 winner of the "Social Contribution" Prize from the Hansarang Rural Cultural Foundation and was recently named the 2019 winner of the "Challenge Maker" Award from Challenge Korea.