Donald Trump looks at dictators like North Korea’s Kim Jong-un and sees role models
Robert Delaney says that when the US president witnessed Kim at the inter-Korean summit, he may have felt pride in bringing Kim to the negotiating table, but also envy at the young leader’s dictatorial powers
He has, characteristically, taken credit for the conditions that caused Kim Jong-un to agree to a formal end to the Korean war and to denuclearise his country.
Many analysts agree that the US leader’s hardline approach to Kim, matching every provocation by Pyongyang with even stronger threats to annihilate North Korea, ultimately played a role in the current detente.
Trump has a stronger argument for vindication with respect to Korea than he has against those investigating and suing him in the United States over issues ranging from alleged collusion with Russia by his campaign and administration associates and payouts to women claiming to have had sex with him.
Any number of factors could explain the cessation of Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile tests, as well as Kim’s sudden friendly overtures to Trump, South Korean President Moon Jae-in and Chinese President Xi Jinping, but clear signals from the US leader that Washington was not going to offer any concessions surely figured into the strategy behind Kim’s diplomatic outreach.
But while Trump trumpets his foreign policy win, let’s spare a moment to consider what must be causing him tremendous heartburn.
The viral image of bodyguards running alongside Kim’s Mercedes sedan in formation as the North Korean leader made his way to the negotiating table with Moon last week must have destroyed Trump. The authority Kim commands – the kind Trump aches to have – was summed-up in those few seconds.
What we know of Trump – facts about his character that cannot be disputed even by his supporters – is that he feels a certain kinship with the likes of Kim, Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi.
Trump lives to bring his political opponents down in the most aggressive ways possible. What then must he think when he reads … sorry, when he watches Fox News reports about Kim’s violent takedowns of perceived adversaries using sadistic means.
Multiple sources have confirmed Kim’s purge of his uncle Jang Song-thaek and other officials close to Beijing. Kim then executed “thousands” allied with Jang, according to Ri Jong-ho, who ran the international network of North Korean businesses that funnels hard currency to Pyongyang before defecting to the US.
Trump probably dreams about letting wild dogs loose on Jeff Sessions, his attorney general who enraged the US president by recusing himself from involvement in decisions around the Russia investigation. How about smearing VX nerve agent on the faces of Senators Jeff Flake and Bob Corker, lawmakers from Trump’s own party, who have defied Trump? How badly would Trump want to line up any number of Washington Post and New York Times journalists in front of a battery of anti-aircraft guns?
And then there’s Xi, a leader Trump can’t stop complimenting even though he leads a government that Trump claims is responsible for the loss of millions of US jobs and is actively undermining American security interests.
Trump has shown an affinity for Xi that he can’t muster for many of the most respected figures in his own political party because he has no tolerance for the system that doesn’t automatically bow to his every whim.
The diplomatic corps and the academic-minded analysts who had for so many years informed Washington’s policy of isolation and patience with respect to Pyongyang are now relegated to Twitter, warning from the sidelines that the peace Kim is talking about with Moon may not last. They may yet prove to be right.
In the meantime, we’re in a world led by strongmen, and Trump is trying to be as much a player in this new paradigm as he can.
If only he could force Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the top congressional Democrats, to run alongside his limo when he meets Kim later this year.
Robert Delaney is the Post’s US bureau chief, based in New York