President Donald Trump may be the most disdained US President internationally in decades, but he may just surprise us all.
Trump believes that only he can make momentous national security decisions, and sees himself as a master negotiator.
He desperately needs a foreign policy success that earns him accolades both at home and abroad, and he needs to distinguish his style as superior and ultimately more effective than that of his predecessors.
The question is – can he really pull it off with North Korean chairman Kim Jong-Un? I believe he can.
Both Trump and Kim share the same fundamental character traits - the belief that they are the only people that matter, capable of going where no other leader has gone before, and leading their country to greatness.
Both leaders will recognise aspects of themselves in the other, and the mirror reflection may enable them to fairly accurately predict responses, lay down their bottom lines, and take charge of forging a grand compromise.
It is hard to imagine Trump ever leaving such important discussions to bureaucrats or special envoys, and the same can be said for Kim. If a deal is to be done, they will do it themselves and take all the credit for it, elevating their status to one of a national hero among their people.
Former US presidents were historically guided by their advisors and senior bureaucrats on US policy towards North Korea, but Trump’s ability to think outside the box and sidestep his advisors may actually reap the dividends that have eluded all past US Presidents.
At the core of Trump’s approach will be, of course, to prioritise American interests and get a better deal for the US, not only in terms of eliminating North Korea’s nuclear threat, but forging a more holistic regional security deal.
Such a deal will necessitate drawing down US forces in the region, which will serve as a significant cost saving measure.
This would fit very tidily into North Korea’s primary interest, which is seeing the US withdraw its forces from South Korea and end joint military exercises, an arrangement which has incurred North Korea’s ire over many decades.
In this sense, the two leaders may actually find more common ground than is expected, and the outcome of their deliberations could transform the regional security arrangements in East Asia for decades to come.
What has likely made this new and fast moving dynamic possible, is the long held desire of North and South Koreans to realise reunification, and it seems the time has come where both governments are prepared to take the necessary steps in that direction.
The real hero in this story is South Korean President Moon Jae-in, as he has risen above the narrow and security-centric approach of past South Korean administrations, and shown real vision for unifying the two Koreas, which is ultimately in the interests of his own people.
His long-held desire to usher in détente with the North, first as an advisor in the Blue House and now as president, has been accompanied by a willingness to compromise and talk with North Korea, not at it. This is how a sustainable peace will be made.
North Korea has for decades sought reunification with the South, but on its own terms. Given the overwhelming desire of North Koreans for reunification, Kim has every reason to make this happen and not only see investment pour into the North, but to enable him to remake his image on the international stage.
So a grand Trump-Kim deal may look like this: North Korea agrees to denuclearise in return for US forces withdrawing from South Korea and ending joint military exercises.
That would in effect end the war between North Korea and the US which has never been resolved since the end of the Korean War – only an armistice was signed.
North and South Korea would map out a plan for reunification on mutually agreed terms, making the need for US forces obsolete. South Korea would no longer need THAAD (the US-installed missile defence system), and its dismantlement would appease China which could then normalise relations with South Korea.
As for Japan, the US is likely to retain a military presence there as it will want to maintain bases on China’s doorstep, and a significant footprint in the region. It may, however, scale back on its comprehensive security umbrella, and insist that Japan develop its own defence capabilities, easing the financial burden on the US.
Given the outright rejection by the Japanese people of any kind of military power projection, the Japanese government will want to maintain close military cooperation with the US.
Such a regional scenario would be a very welcome turn of events when one considers that the region has been on the cusp of a limited nuclear war.
Anyone in the region that wants to avoid a nuclear conflagration better hope that Trump’s gamble works.
* Shannon Ebrahim is Group Foreign Editor.