Kaufman, who jokingly referred to himself as Dr. Doom-and-Gloom,
presented his own “most optimistic possible scenario, if the U.S. were
to bomb North Korea,” in which the response would include conventional
or even chemical weapons, not nukes.
Both agreed, with measured optimism, that the stakes are too high for either side to start a nuclear war.
As Bowden put it, “It’s contrary to his own interests for Kim Jong-un to trigger a nuclear option.”
“North Korea has played the same game very well for 40 years—not by
luck and not by being crazy, but by being rational,” said Kaufman.
“[Jong-un] wants to breathe and he wants to rule, and he just wants the
United States to accept him.”
But what that means for a meeting between the leaders is yet to be determined.
“In principle, you make threats to get the other side to the table,
and then negotiate,” Kaufman said. “In reality, there’s no chance
they’ll give up their nuclear arsenal. And if North Korea thinks we’re
going to institute a regime change, they have no reason for restraint.”
And though “the idea that [Trump and Kim] would talk is hopeful,” Bowden worried of America “getting played” on the world stage.
“This meeting is being orchestrated by Pyongyang,” he said, “not by Washington.”