Donald Trump's North Korea Visit with Kim Jong-Un Follows Ronald Reagan's Example | Opinion

Trump and Kim Jong Un
President Donald Trump and North Korea's leader Kim Jong-un stand on North Korean soil while walking to South Korea at the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on June 30 in Panmunjom, Korea Brendan Smialowski/AFP

"Peace is not absence of conflict; it is the ability to handle conflict by peaceful means."

--Ronald Reagan

Nearly 30 years after the end of Ronald Reagan's presence in American foreign policy, President Donald Trump has once again showed this past week with his spontaneous "step" into North Korea to meet with Kim Jong-un, that the ideas of the great communist dragon-slayer are alive and well inside his administration.

The president shocked the world, and undoubtedly shocked Kim himself, when following the G20 Summit, and while preparing to visit the DMZ with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, he took to Twitter to invite Kim to meet him at the border for a "handshake." This surprise move triggered the predictable cries of outrage from both the press and establishment political operatives who want to characterize his effort as anything from reckless to sheer egotism in search of a photo-op.

At least one Democrat running for president, Tim Ryan, even equated it to Neville Chamberlain trying to appease Hitler.

The correct analogy to draw from the president's visit with Kim, and for his ongoing efforts to engage in dialogue with the North Korean dictator, would be to recognize that it resembles very much the approach Ronald Reagan used when dealing with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev.

This past February, the president cut short his meeting with Kim Jong-un in Vietnam which was centered around nuclear weapons talks. At the time, numerous comparisons were made to President Reagan famously walking away from the 1986 summit with Gorbachev in Reykjavik. The similarity was real as in both cases our president left a negotiation where the other side was unwilling to yield on critical deal points. Both men understood that a lesser agreement would be meaningless.

While that one-off comparison was certainly appropriate, the correlation between the 40th and 45th U.S. presidents, especially on foreign policy, runs much deeper. It is deliberate and systematic, not simply coincidental.

In fighting communism, Reagan created a not-so-simple, three-part, heuristic for engaging the enemy. President Trump has recognized Reagan's model, revived it, and is now applying it to our modern context.

Step one is to strengthen the economy at home and make certain that America is the most economically powerful nation in the world. Reagan did this through tax cuts, deregulation and waving the flag of American exceptionalism to create a positive energy within the business community. This led to increased investment, production and job growth. President Trump has done exactly the same thing with his economic policies and a "make America great again" theme. In this way, he has very publicly declared to the world that America is open for business again.

Step two is to build up the American military. After taking over from Jimmy Carter, President Reagan found our military depleted and demoralized. He immediately began to aggressively rebuild it with the intention of showing the Soviet Union that if they wanted an arms race, they would get one—against an opponent they couldn't outrun. Reagan knew the Soviets did not have the capability to keep up with a motivated and mobilized American military.

It's important to note that Reagan did not build our military only to then engage in endless and costly foreign wars. His approach to military buildup was more Sun Tzu than George W. Bush. He wanted the enemy to surrender without having to fight. But any threat of force must be more than a bluff. When Reagan did use force in Libya, it was simultaneously an unmistakable signal to the Soviets not to test our resolve.

President Trump inherited the exact dynamic from President Obama: a foreign policy marked by a mix of appeasement, cash and impunity. President Trump's decision to rebuild American military capacity was vintage Reagan. Likewise, his decision to attack Syria in April 2018 was his Libya.

Ronald Reagan Mikhail Gorbachev Reykjavik Summit
Joined by their interpreter (center), President Ronald Reagan (left) and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev (right) uncomfortably face each other at the end of their summit meeting in Reykjavik, Iceland. | Location: Reyjkavik, Iceland. Wally McNamee/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Step three is to engage in dialogue, and to do so with clear objectives as to what diplomatic success looks like. President Reagan labeled the Soviet Union an "evil empire" and spoke of how someday the people behind the Iron Curtain would live in peace and prosperity. In the same way, President Trump gave a sobering address to the U.N. where he declared that Kim was on a suicide mission if he continued threatening the U.S. and its allies. Months later he had the opportunity to lay out an economic plan for North Korea to become the next Singapore.

Contrast this approach with President Obama's. His counterpoint to Reagan's first step was to go on an American apology tour, regulate the economy, and tell Americans that low GDP growth was the new normal. He gutted the American military and replaced many proven military leaders with those more political in nature. Finally, there was no meaningful engagement with North Korea or other enemies, save for Iran where his solution was a plane full of cash.

It was widely reported that during the Obama-Trump transition that the outgoing administration told the incoming that North Korea posed the primary national security threat. Well, those doing the briefing had eight years to act and failed to accomplish anything other than an escalation in missile testing from the North Koreans. The droning on by liberals criticizing President Trump for talking to Kim Jong-un reflects a true absence of any sense of history, any sense of statesmanship, or any sense of negotiating strategy.

During the Korean conflict almost 34,000 Americans gave their lives in battle to halt the expansion of communism and keep South Korea free. South Koreans have done their part to earn that sacrifice over the past 70 years, but the North remains a dangerous vestige of a past, Cold War era. President Trump is doing his best to bring the Hermit Kingdom into the light of day and to perfect the legacy of those brave Americans who gave their lives.

I for one am willing to trust the process started by President Reagan, and one that President Trump is in the process of finishing.