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Category: Security

The Singapore Summit: Cautious Hope, But All Bets Are Off

The Singapore Summit: Cautious Hope, But All Bets Are Off

By the time this piece is posted we’ll be minutes away from the historic face-to-face meeting in Singapore between President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un. As I’ve said in my previous posting on the question of what to do about North Korea, it’s a fool’s bet to try to predict outcomes. It takes either more hubris than I am willing to muster or more in-depth knowledge than I am willing to claim to predict with any degree of confidence what is going to come out of this summit.

I will claim a few good calls, though. While many were deriding the President’s rhetoric as risking provoking Kim into pulling the trigger and attacking (fill in the blank: South Korea, Guam, Japan, the U.S., the dark side of the moon), I saw it as one bully using the language the other bully might understand. And that’s pretty much how it shaped up. That exchange of nah-nah-na-yah-nah was actually pretty productive and through it Trump told Kim he wasn’t going to be pushed around or sweet talked, as previous presidents had been.

It undoubtedly also took persuasion by the DPRK’s few allies, most notably China, to encourage Kim to consider a new tack in relations with the U.S. and, by extension, South Korea. And one can’t discount the flair and pageantry and the positive PR value of the two Koreas joining together for the Soeul Olympics.

None of this is to say that Kim and Trump will become bosom buddies and that North Korea will abandon its nuclear program or the weapons it already has. Perhaps the best that can be hoped for is that there will be an agreement and framework reached for advancing a process, most likely a lengthy and contentious process, that could eventually lead to some sort of normalization in relations between the U.S., the DPRK, South Korea, and other countries in the region. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo already has said that he is prepared to brief the leaders of the region’s countries on the summit, a kind of preparation for next steps.

There has been one troublesome development in the past few hours, which is Kim’s announcement that he plans on leaving Singapore later today, cutting short his stay. I’ve not only seen this tactic before, but was the victim of if when it was used on me in a key negotiation I had been engaged in. What I fear is that the North Korean leader will discuss most of the key issues with Trump, and then bow out with the most important and crucial issue left untouched. As an experienced negotiator, I trust the President will see through this ruse, but I can’t help but think this is Kim’s plan.

I don’t think it would be any surprise if either Trump or Kim, or both, walk out of the summit. One thinks back to the 1986 Rejkjavik Summit between Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev, when talks collapsed, but the framework was laid for what eventually led to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the U.S. and the then Soviet Union. And one wishes that Barack Obama and John Kerry had been more willing to walk out on the Iranians rather than agreeing to the weak nuclear treaty that President Trump recently pulled the U.S. out of.

Well, it’s almost show time in Singapore, so get your beer and snacks, pull up a seat, and get ready to watch the festivities.

The New Normal

The New Normal

The New Normal.” That phrase, already becoming hackneyed through use, pretty much tells it like it is.

Whether in New York or Nice or London or Barcelona, terrorists’ use of vehicles to mow down innocent people has become part of that “new normal.” Why bother with hijacking or blowing up an airliner when one can rent a truck, penetrate low-security areas, and make one’s twisted point with the blood and broken bones and murder of innocent people? With this approach, every low-level fanatic or miscreant worldwide becomes a tool for ISIS or other such groups to spread their message of terror.

Sad, but I believe accurate, to say, what happened in New York on Hallowe’en afternoon when Uzbeki émigré Sayfullo Saipov used a rented truck to career down a bike and pedestrian lane to take the lives of eight innocent people and injure at least another 15 embodies this “new normal.” And while it isn’t the first, by no means will it be the last time we see such an attack. What’s more, the ease and economy of mounting attacks of this nature makes everyone who ventures outside or who takes part in enjoying group activities or just taking a walk on a nice day a potential target.

It has been reported that ISIS put out the word through its social-media channels encouraging its adherents worldwide to mark Hallowe’en by doing exactly what Saipov did. Probably the only remarkable thing is that there weren’t other such attacks to mark the day and provide ISIS with more of the impact it seeks. But that should not offer any solace or encouragement. There is every reason to believe that there will be more vehicular and other low-level attacks and they will, in fact, figure into this “new normal.”

Other than personal vigilance and being acutely aware of one’s surroundings, there isn’t a huge amount anyone really can do to protect against attacks of this nature. It’s hard to tread a path somewhere between being blithely unaware and persistent paranoia. Somewhat akin to awareness of the potential for criminal activity in any public place or on any public conveyance, staying on what I would term “Condition Yellow” – being attuned to what’s going on around oneself and being prepared to react quickly to a perceived threat – should probably become the base condition for any of us when out and about.

In terms of public safety, a better response demands keen and focused policing. It’s now known that the authorities were aware of Saipov, who figured into various security investigations that were under way. Why Saipov’s plans were not uncovered and why he was not picked-up before he could carry out his heinous attack remains to be seen. Whether we’ll ever know the answer to this question also remains to be seen. We see shades of the Boston Marathon bombers, Tamarlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who also were in the FBI’s radar. The FBI even had been warned about the Chechen brothers by the dreaded Russians, but the FBI failed to take the pair into custody in advance of their murderous 2013 attack that killed three people and injured hundreds of others.

Failures in intelligence gathering and failures to act on intelligence leads are serious and have real-world consequences. Boston and New York and many of the other terrorist attacks that have taken place here and abroad where it later came out that the terrorists were on officials’ radar demonstrate the truth of this.

One thing that has come under scrutiny as a result of the Hallowe’en bombing is what is known as the Diversity Visa Program (DVP), better known as the Visa Lottery Program. Saipov had been admitted to the U.S. in 2010 under this program. While it might be a stretch to say that were it not for the DVP the New York attack – or at least others like it – would not have happened, it is a program that demands scrutiny.

As a consular officer in 1990 when DVP was first introduced, the “brain child” – to speak euphemistically – of the U.S. Congress, I and other consular officers with whom I worked were appalled by the program. Not only did it offer one more way for foreign nationals to skirt the normal strictures of our immigration law, it took the value of immigration to the U.S. and debased it, making it a matter of simple luck. Neither skills nor specific qualifications nor even family relations played any role in being selected for a DVP visa. All it took was being a citizen of what was deemed to be an “under-represented” country and having a post card with one’s name on it picked at random. Winning a visa under the DVP was the same as winning any other lottery.

Now, 27 years later, the only substantive change to the DVP is that the numbers of visas allowed have increased from 20,000 to close to 50,000. While the initial rationalization for DVP was to benefit Irish would-be immigrants, 48,000 of whom were legalized in the first three years of the program, the mix of DVP immigrants today is strongly tilted toward Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe. I can’t help but ask why the most diverse country on earth needs to resort to a lottery to further that diversity?

While admission of would-be terrorists can’t be any more directly attributed to DVP than to any other U.S. immigration category, it’s pretty clear it was the source for Saipov being in the country in the first place. It’s also pretty clear that Saipov, described by people who knew and worked with him as a disgruntled truck driver with a poor driving record, lacks any of the higher-level skills that the country needs and which DPV fails to address. If, as a matter of policy, the country wants to open up immigration to other than simply family members of those already here and to encourage merit-based immigration, the answer is not a visa lottery but rather a points-based immigration system, much like Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and other countries have. To see why, be sure to read my posting on Pointing Immigration in the Right Direction.

Regardless what happens with the DVP, it’s clear that we’ve moved into the era of a “new normal” where terrorism is concerned. So be alert, stay on Condition Yellow when in public, and let’s hope those whose responsibility it is to track and apprehend those who would do us harm do a better job than they have in cases like Saipov and the Tsarnaev brothers.