Trump’s Fatal Attraction

Published March 1, 2019

National Review Online

The good news is that the Trump/Kim summit in Hanoi did not result in a deal — because any deal would be nothing but a scam perpetrated by Kim Jong Un. Selling this rug repeatedly is a North Korean specialty. The Kim dynasty inked agreements to denuclearize in 1985, 1992, 1994, 2005, 2007, and 2012. You’ve seen the results. Pyongyang violated every one and marched inexorably toward nuclear weapons and ballistic-missile technology. It’s bad enough to confront the prospect of a nuclear-armed North Korea. It would be worse to, in effect, subsidize it, which is all that was on offer.

Why would Kim give up his nukes? To get American aid to improve his economy? Fantasy. He runs a prison state that actually exports slaves to countries like China, Kuwait, and Qatar. His goal is not to develop the economy but to remain firmly in power and to conquer South Korea. He saw what happened to Moammar Qaddafi when he gave up his nuclear program and to Saddam Hussein who only pretended to be working on one.

That much must be obvious to Trump’s advisers, if not to Mr. Trump himself, who seemed so eager for a deal that he announced before the Hanoi summit that the U.S. was dropping the demand for a full accounting of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic-missile programs. If that sounds precisely like what President Obama did vis-a-vis Iran, it should.

For now, Trump has sidestepped the trap Kim prepared. While he may have avoided one bad outcome, his behavior was so bizarre and sycophantic toward Kim personally that he still departs Hanoi trailing a stench of shame.

There is just no mistaking it; our president gets excited in the presence of dictators. Appearing with Kim at a press conference, the president warned reporters — as he never has regarding the leaders of democracies — to show respect to Kim. “Don’t raise your voice, please. This isn’t like dealing with Trump.” Trump himself went way beyond diplomatic niceties, contrasting Kim favorably with other “rich kids” who didn’t turn out so well.

Even if Mr. Trump could overlook the millions who have been persecuted (it’s a crime to visit a South Korean website), starved, tortured, and worked to death in the Hermit Kingdom, it’s beyond appalling that he would offer a pass about the torture and murder of a young American, Otto Warmbier. Recall that in 2017, Trump had said, “Otto’s fate deepens my administration’s determination to prevent such tragedies from befalling innocent people at the hands of regimes that do not respect the rule of law or basic human decency.” But off teleprompter, Trump demonstrated his characteristic sympathy for dictators caught behaving badly. “He [Kim] tells me that he didn’t know about it, and I will take him at his word. . . . I don’t believe he knew about it.”

Nor did he believe Mohammad bin Salman knew about Jamal Khashoggi’s murder. And he took Vladimir Putin’s word over the judgment of the U.S. intelligence agencies about Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte has launched a vicious program of state-sanctioned murders of suspected drug addicts and dealers. According to the Philippine National Police, the state has killed more than 5,000 people since Duterte’s election in 2016. Others estimate that the true number is closer to 20,000. Amazingly, Duterte does not dispute this. “What is my sin? Did I steal even one peso? . . . My sin is extra-judicial killings.” On another occasion he said, “Hitler killed 3 million Jews. Now there are 3 million drug addicts. I’d be happy to slaughter them all.”

The world is full of misery, and American leaders sometimes have to deal with unsavory characters. But nothing required President Trump to pick up the phone in 2017 and say to Duterte, “You are a good man . . . . You are doing an unbelievable job on the drug problem. Many countries have the problem, we have the problem, but what a great job you are doing, and I just wanted to call and tell you that.”

Explaining the need for a wall on the southern border, Trump offered this odd report from a conversation with China’s Xi Jinping, who apparently told the president that China has no drug problem because they employ the death penalty. He found this exhilarating. “If we want to get smart, we can get smart,” Trump said. “You can end the drug problem, can end it a lot faster than you think.”

It would be less disturbing if Mr. Trump’s chief weakness were for porn stars and money. Alas, his attraction to thugs seems even stronger.

© 2018

— Mona Charen is a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center.

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