North Korea

Lindsey Graham Says Only Possible Outcomes From Trump-Kim Talks Are 'Peace or War.' He's Wrong.

Such binary thinking has gotten the United States into trouble in the past. It should be rejected now.



Now that President Donald Trump's meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un is in the books, a new chapter in the tense relationship between the two countries can be written.

According to reporting by The New York Times, the United States has promised to stop war games in the region and to open diplomatic channels to the long-isolated nation, while North Korea has re-committed to de-nuclearization. It is important to remember that Monday's meeting is really just one step towards lasting peace. Or at least a step away from nuclear war.

It's also important to remember not to listen to Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.).

On Sunday, Graham appeared on ABC's This Week to try to create a false choice on North Korea that would put the United States at greater risk of military conflict with Kim's regime. The outcome of the Trump-Kim meeting, Graham said, could be just one of two things: "Peace, where we have a win-win solution, military force where we devastate the North Korean regime and stop their program by force, or to capitulate like we've done in the past."

"Donald Trump is not going to capitulate," Graham concluded, "so there's really only two options—peace or war."

This is true in the strictest sense, of course, because the relationship between any two nations can be described as a state of peace or a state of war. But real life is hardly so binary, and those two outcomes exist at the extreme ends of a continuum with nearly limitless alternatives in between. Indeed, if the only two choices were "war" or "peace," we might have to be mobilizing for a conflict with Canada after the spat that has unfolded during the past two weeks between Trump and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. That obviously sounds absurd, and so does Graham's assessment of international relations.

Trump's meeting with Kim is unlikely to result in an immediate outbreak of peace. Beyond the nuclear weapons issue, there are horrific human rights violations for which the North Korean regime will eventually have to answer. Those have been off-the-table so far because they are seen as a third rail in the negotiations. There is a long way to go, but hopefully Monday's conference in Singapore is a small step towards the "peace" end of the continuum.

And if it turns out that it was not a step in that direction, well, that doesn't mean that war is the only alternative either.

"Lindsey Graham is a danger to the country by even proposing ideas like authorizing war with Korea," Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) told CNN on Monday, just hours before Trump and Kim were set to meet.

Paul said Graham's comments reflect a "naive worldview where he believes that war is always the answer, and that means expenditures for war are always the answer."

Graham's binary thinking about how to deal with rogue states has not served the United States well in the past. The "if you're not with us, you're against us" rhetoric of the George W. Bush administration is something for which America is still paying a steep price—not only in Iraq, but in our ongoing efforts to avoid a repeat of the Iraq disaster with fellow "axis of evil" members Iran and, yes, North Korea.

Whatever missteps he's made in other aspects of foreign policy, Trump deserves credit for making the effort to open diplomatic channels with North Korea. Graham's binary worldview—one that he is not alone in holding—is too easy and too weak. It requires no critical thinking. Trump seems willing, for now, to consider a more nuanced understanding of war and peace.

In short, Trump has given peace a chance. Hopefully, he'll give it a second chance and a third one too, if necessary.