As North Korea’s vague, timetable-free promises to one day denuclearize the Korean peninsula have melted away, President Trump has emphasized his shrewd bargaining for the remains of American soldiers killed in the Korean War. “We got back our great fallen heroes, the remains sent back today, already 200 got sent back,” boasted Donald Trump earlier this summer.
Unsurprisingly, this is false. North Korea has almost certainly not sent back anything close to 200 bodies. In the past, the regime has promised to return the remains of servicemen, but actually handed over unidentifiable bones of many people and some animals.
The latest batch of 55 boxes of remains from North Korea has just been received, and appears to fit the historic pattern. According to the Associated Press, the boxes contain “a single military dog tag but no other information that could help U.S. forensics experts determine their individual identities.”
The good news, from Trump’s standpoint, is that it will take years to definitively identify the remains. So Trump can keep bragging about how he got back the remains of our great heroes without the media being able to definitively assert that he has not.
The ambiguity is fitting for the deal. Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told the Washington Post that North Korea is not negotiating to give up their nuclear weapons: “What they’re offering is: They keep the bomb, but they stop talking about it.” So North Korea pretends to give up the bomb, Trump pretends to believe it, and both sides pretend North Korea has returned American war dead, and they hope to keep it up long enough to sustain some “No-bel!” chants through Trump’s reelection campaign.