Chance at peace in North Korea will come from thinking differently
Having recently finished a book, I was looking for something to read.
I have a rather eclectic taste that varies from historical biographies to science fiction and fantasy. And of course, there is my insatiable appetite for political books.
But it is summer, and I’m feeling a bit burned out lately, so I thought I would dust off a familiar book. A book that matches the summer season. So, I picked up “Moneyball.”
I haven’t read it in years, but it remains one of my favorite books. Part of that is my love of baseball, of course. But I gravitated to it so many years ago because I love stories of people fighting against conventional wisdom and entrenched, antiquated thinking.
It isn’t just a book about baseball, it is a book about life, and one with powerful, applicable lessons to apply to everything, from business to sports to politics.
One lesson in particular stood out to me.
In the film version of the novel, there is a scene at the end where Billy Beane, the general manager of the Oakland Athletics, is meeting with Red Sox owner John Henry to discuss the possibility of Beane coming to Boston.
Having just lost in the playoffs after building a team from nothing, Beane was questioning himself, and weathering the intense criticism of his method by baseball’s old guard.
“I know you’ve taken it in the teeth out there,” Henry says to Beane, “but the first guy through the wall — he always gets bloody.”
Henry was describing, in essence, why it is so difficult to fight against something old, established and entrenched.
“It’s threatening the way that they do things. And every time that happens, whether it’s the government or a way of doing business or whatever it is, the people who are holding the reins — have their hands on the switch — they go [expletive] crazy.”
Read any story of a great entrepreneur, and you will see this philosophy at work. Greatness is achieved by those who think and act differently. Indeed, starting something new often means breaking the old, and the guardians of the old are the ones that push back the hardest against that.
Things are no different in politics.
You’ve undoubtedly heard the old political adage, “only Nixon could go to China.” The phrase, of course, was born of the notion that President Richard Nixon, as the red-baiting anti-communist stalwart that he had become known for, was the only person that could realistically get away with opening ties with China.
When it happened, he had an avalanche of reasons that told him it was neither possible, nor a smart idea. The foreign policy intelligentsia, particularly those in Nixon’s ideological camp, felt that to recognize China would put an American stamp of approval on a brutal, murderous communist regime, and degrade our moral standing.
Worse, the move would prop up an ideological and geopolitical adversary, when the United States should be seeking to isolate and contain the Chinese.
Yet Nixon saw an opening the others didn’t see, a possibility to end a period of hostile brinksmanship, and play the major communist powers, the U.S.S.R. and China, against each other to forge a lasting detente, and promote peace.
Today, there is another real opportunity to ignore the old guard and create something of lasting value by breaking a suffocating, decades-long prison of conventional wisdom. And once again, it is in the area of foreign policy.
For some reason, foreign policy is one of those things that breeds groupthink, and the phrase “this is the way we have always done things.” State Department bureaucrats in multiple administrations, both Republican and Democrat, have said basically the same thing as it relates to North Korea.
Don’t legitimize their regime by granting a presidential meeting. They aren’t rational. Denuclearization is a pipe dream. The Korean War will never officially end.
Generations of diplomats have told all American presidents to do exactly the same thing, with absolutely no track record of it producing any tangible results. Yet the same advice is given, and the same advice is followed.
Perhaps it is time to think differently.
Perhaps it is smart to discard that crushing, useless conventional wisdom. Perhaps making the North Koreans think that the United States is an actual, serious threat to the Kim regime, while simultaneously offering face-to-face meetings, which no other American president has done, might just bring them to the table.
Perhaps, just perhaps, only Donald Trump could go to North Korea.
Matthew Gagnon of Yarmouth is the chief executive officer of the Maine Heritage Policy Center, a free market policy think tank based in Portland. A Hampden native, he previously served as a senior strategist for the Republican Governors Association in Washington, D.C.