The American Left is currently in a crisis. It sees itself split between two main factions–progressives (who make up activists and socialists) and liberals who would like to see the Democratic Party return to a conservative and more moderate status. Since liberals have gravitated toward an ultra-centrist, almost absolutist place over recent days, this has bequeathed the far-Left, leaving it at odds with the future of the Democratic Party. Since the signing of the US-DPRK declaration, the Left has been publicly fighting about the merits of the diplomatic turn. However, the discourse is rather ugly and sometimes outright derisive, and the name calling is coming from the liberal center. Some of which attempts to label progressives as ‘right-wing stooges.’ This will have both political and electoral ramifications down the road. But why has the Korea issue accentuated the ideological split?
It is important to note that the deal with North Korea garnered praise in places like South Korea, China, and Japan. In fact, the people of South Korea overwhelmingly support the move toward peace and embraced Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong-un. America’s neoconservatives and the liberal establishment, however, are blanketing the move as “alarming.” While it was a modest prospect of peace for the Korean peninsula, liberals are delegitimizing those on the Left who see the move as a withdrawal of the American empire —something socialists and other human-rights activists have been advocating for years. Why have those who once called for diplomacy and an end to war (like during the Bush era) suddenly feel the need to retract their once coveted positions? The answer is that politics and strategy are more important than moral solutions. The political game is unfortunately harnessed in the liberal-driven anti-Trump movement, which has clouded the judgment of the Left, broadly—making what would traditionally be a win for the Left a loss because Trump is behind the measure.
This particular moment in history precisely demonstrates why the problematic positioning by liberals is flawed and morally abhorrent — with a move that liberals would traditionally support (Cuba, Iran), embarrassing and rebuffing Trump is more important than accepting a step toward peace. This means liberals are willing to foolishly risk furthering conflict and keep open the possibility of nuclear war than accept the first phase of negotiations that place North Korea’s nuclear capabilities in check and relinquishes US military presence at the DMZ. Democrats would deny a series of historic moves that could be monumental in terms of a global peace process. Even the first phase equates to a transition that reduces the nuclear threat, but it also brings closure to American hegemony in the Korean region. What is boggling is that Trump is being criticized for calling an end to “war games.” Suddenly peace becomes the enemy of conflict. It is telling that defense stocks took a major blow after the deal. This should stand as a vindication to anti-war activists who have been fighting against defense contractors and their corporatist relationship with US Defense agencies.
Àlvaro Longoria’s documentary “The Propaganda Game” thoroughly reviews the history and Cold War nature of the Korean War that had essentially been fought as a proxy between US and Soviet forces. The documentary concludes with a stimulating consideration on how both the US and DPRK produce propaganda and play each other’s military as a chess game. This is what principally deprives the North Korean people, as most of the government’s budget is allocated toward arms protection. The North Koreans see the military intimidation by joint South Korean-American forces and Japan as a ‘continuing nuisance’ to their peace and security. It is stated in the documentary how Kim has seen what has happened to the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi and Iraq’s former leader Saddam Hussein when provoked by the West. Therefore, the North Korean leadership sees it an imperative to continue to fund their military goals in order to guard against regime change—which has similarly been attempted in Cuba and other communist strongholds.
The US-DPRK peace declaration is a palpable success in terms of reducing the provocations initiated by the West since the start of the Korean war in 1950, which had aggravated the split between the communist North and capitalist South at the outset. However, liberals are now clamoring the same thing conservatives claimed against Obama when he negotiated diplomacy and peace talks with Cuba and Iran. We hear: “Kim is a despot”, “North Korea’s people are suffering at the hands of the regime”, “How can the American president make a deal with a dictator?!” These arguments can stir a room but they go against the pre-established logic employed by the Left. It also fails to hold water policy-wise since opening economic relations with North Korea would enhance the lives of those who live there economically. So we should expect conditions to improve if the deal continues to move forward. This is not to say that we should not encourage addressing human rights abuses committed by the regime–because we should–but the first phase already aims to alleviate these concerns in two ways: (1) reducing the nuclear threat, and (2) opening up the DPRK to Western markets.
Trump is toxic in many respects. Though we should be more optimistic when it comes to his recent diplomatic efforts with the DPRK. Also, understanding the declaration through a policy prism rather than through the going headlines by pundits is helpful. Over the last few decades, the US has historically chosen provocation, military proliferation, and economic, political and geographical imposition on other powers and people—not just including dictatorships—but also in the Global South. Sadly, those pushing the narrative of skepticism with the North Korea summit happen to be primarily war hawks who would rather conflict than peace. If the Left continues to issue the same complaints, it will be stretching its credibility. Criticisms against peace negotiations and denuclearization are obsolete tactics merely tailored to provoke anger, fear, and doubt for the sake of sustaining defense company profits and uncertainty about Trump. Liberals will likely succeed in planting these sentiments amongst the public, but it may not exactly be felt by those on the far-Left.
In fact, if liberals continue to contentiously bully anti-war activists who stand with the US-DPRK declaration, they will further isolate the activists and grassroots power on the ground that has kept the Left thriving within the Democratic Party for decades. What will follow will likely be a gradual disempowerment leading up to an attempt to rebuild the Party through bringing in neoconservatives who would rather embrace the Kissinger/Cheney view of the world. It seems that playing political games is more important than actually attaining peaceful solutions, no matter how promising they may be. For liberals, Trump is worse than peace. Unless activists and socialists organize independently, this will hinder the Left from achieving its moral vision.