The U.S. has faced tense situations with North Korea for decades. Under former North Korean strongman Kim Jong Il, many analysts viewed the leader’s erratic and dangerous behavior as calculated moves intended to bring the U.S. to the negotiating table on key issues.
But Kim’s son, current leader Kim Jong Un, is different. His behavior is unpredictable and many question his mental stability. Under Kim Jong Un, North Korea and the U.S. are as close to a military conflict as they’ve been in recent memory, which could have devastating consequences on the Korean Peninsula, Japan, and possibly on the U.S., especially if North Korea actually possesses a deliverable nuclear weapon.
On Sunday, CBS’ Face the Nation aired a sit-down interview with President Donald Trump. Host John Dickerson asked the president about the situation in North Korea, and about its murderous leader, Kim Jong Un.
After saying he has no comment on Kim, Trump did comment, saying (emphasis mine):
People are saying, “Is he sane?” I have no idea. I can tell you this, a lot of people don’t like when I say it, but he was a young man of 26 or 27 when he took over from his father, when his father died. He’s dealing with obviously very tough people, in particular the generals and others, and at a very young age he was able to assume power. A lot of people I’m sure tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it. So, obviously he’s a pretty smart cookie…
Given Kim’s suspected mental instability, it could be argued that placating the dictator isn’t such a bad idea. The last thing a U.S. leader would want to do right now is provoke North Korea into a dangerous reaction. Or, it could be Trump just being Trump.
Either way, calling Kim a “smart cookie” without clarifying that he has led a brutal, murderous dictatorship, and avoiding entirely the paranoia behind Kim’s executions of high-ranking officials and even members of his own family, is also somewhat irresponsible.
According to the Institute for National Security Strategy, a South Korean think tank, Kim has ordered the executions of 340 people since assuming power in 2011, 140 of them believed to have been senior officers in the regime. That includes Jang Song Thaek, Kim’s uncle who Trump mentioned in his interview with CBS. Jang, like several other officials both before and after him, was executed at Gang Gun Military Academy outside of Pyongyang by antiaircraft artillery. How that’s even possible is beyond me. Kim must be smart to have figured that out.
South Korea also suspects Kim of being behind the Feb. 13 assassination of his estranged half-brother Kim Jong Nam by attackers using a VX nerve agent at the Kuala Lumpur International Airport. That same month, he executed five other security officials, all of them with antiaircraft guns, according to South Korea.
There is no doubt that Trump is in a delicate position on the North Korea issue, and he must choose his words carefully. But he also has a duty to be straightforward with the U.S. public. Glossing over Kim Jong Un’s brutal behavior and downplaying the threat falls short of the presidential duty to lead the nation at a dangerous time.