It has been noted, principally by the Berkeley psychologist Dacher Keltner, that people who display empathy and fairness towards others often reach the top; once there however, they lose such inhibitions in their exercise of power.
On a macro scale think of our Nobel Peace Laureate president and the upscaling of the war in Afghanistan, the mushrooming of droning in Pakistan, interference in Somalia, Yemen, Ukraine, not to mention Syria, and the crowning achievement … the rape of Libya, a country that once led Africa in the Human Development Index, was a Mecca for African economic migrants, and is now a broken hulk known particularly for exporting refugees to Europe.
Think of Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright and the deaths of over a half-million Iraqi children at their hands through the sanctions imposed. When questioned, came Ms. Albright’s notorious reply, “The price is worth it.” Dennis Halliday the UN Assistant Secretary General resigned after a 34-year career in development, saying, “I don’t want to administer a program [where] five thousand children are dying every month.” His successor Hans von Sponeck also resigned. Following him two days later was Jutta Burghardt, the head of the World Food Programme in Iraq. No such problems of conscience in Ms. Albright, not even a twinge.
On a micro scale we have the repulsive Harvey Weinstein, the smooth Matt Lauer, the probing Charlie Rose, the imperious Roger Ailes, and so many others … the big and the little, the dictators and the martinets.
Consider Kim Jong-un of North Korea. Here is a leader who did not have to be nice on the way up — he was already there. And his actions when he assumed power have been clearly beyond the pale. One can only wonder how one sets about negotiating with him.
Since becoming leader, he has rapidly dispatched his uncle by firing squad and his playboy half-brother through lethal poison — applied to his face in broad daylight at Kuala Lumpur International Airport in Malaysia. His agents flew home forthwith. The two girls who actually carried out the attack claim they were told it was a prank for a reality TV show.
Mr. Kim has now met with South Korean president Moon Jae-in at the Peace House in the demilitarized zone. Amid much handshaking and smiles, and a state dinner, the two found time to discuss peace and issue a final statement — the outlines probably established earlier by representatives.
It has the usual fluff about an end to hostile activities between the two, easing the reunion of families divided by the border, and joint participation in the Asian games as they did at the Winter Olympics. South Korea will also, in all likelihood, expand economic ties as before under Mr. Moon’s Democratic Party predecessor.
Then comes the crunch: They have agreed to advocate three-way talks with the U.S. and China. Mr. Kim clearly wants China at his back. On the nuclear arms issue, the two leaders pledged to ‘aim for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.’ That is a long way from actual denuclearization. It might help of course if China is a signatory to any deal.
Will Mr. Kim actually give up his nuclear weapons? After what happened to Muammar Gaddafi in Libya, the already faltering (or faltered) Iran deal and Bush II breaking an earlier agreement, will he be willing to trust the U.S.? Equally important, can the U.S. trust him?
The answer to all these questions, at present, is a disconcerting … no.