Trump clarifies: Of course I hold North Korea responsible for Otto Warmbier's death

This is one of those times where it’s hard to tell if he’s BSing us or BSing himself.

He’s not being misinterpreted. No one accused him of refusing to blame “North Korea” for Warmbier’s death. Of course the NorKs are responsible. Warmbier was in their custody. Even Kim doesn’t dispute that North Korea bears responsibility. The claim is whether Kim personally bore blame. Nope, said Trump in Hanoi. Kim told him he didn’t know about it and he takes him at his word.

Watch the clip here of Republican Chris Stewart, which contains the Trump footage, making the very obvious point that in an Orwellian state like North Korea naturally Big Brother would know what’s happening with Warmbier. Particularly since he was a citizen of North Korea’s archenemy, the United States, and as such his treatment might carry dire diplomatic or military consequences.

Look at the delicacy with which the fate of the downed Indian pilot who was captured by Pakistan was handled by both sides. Hostage crises are powderkegs. It’s ridiculous to imagine Kim’s goons taking it upon themselves to decide how to handle a young American prisoner without input from the supreme leader. And everyone understands this. So again, is Trump gaslighting us or himself?

You would think that running interference for Kim on Warmbier would be enough of a concession to preserve the detente between the U.S. and North Korea, but no, apparently a little more weakness is required:

The U.S. military is preparing to announce that annual large-scale joint exercises conducted with South Korea every spring will no longer be held, according to two U.S. defense officials.

The major U.S.-South Korea exercises are being curtailed as part of the Trump administration’s effort to ease tensions with North Korea, the officials said. The exercises — known as Key Resolve and Foal Eagle — will be replaced with smaller, mission-specific training, according to the officials.

Various excuses are being offered for this, like the idea that the same readiness can be achieved on a smaller scale (contra decades of military claims), and it’s supposedly not linked to the summit. But that’s impossible to believe. The timing ensures that it will appear as a concession to Kim — a unilateral one too, since nothing was obtained in return. If Trump wanted to avoid that perception he’d hold off on scaling back the exercises for awhile.

The best explanation for his bizarre apologetics for Kim over Warmbier’s death is that a charm offensive has always been his core plan for getting North Korea to denuclearize. Experts were knocking him on Wednesday for having let sanctions relief derail the summit when that’s the sort of issue that normally would have been worked out by the two sides in advance, as a precondition for a face-to-face meeting between the heads of state. Either the White House couldn’t manage that or, more likely, Trump thought it was a minor detail that could be overlooked temporarily in the expectation that he’d charm Kim when they met and the issue could be resolved between them. For fark’s sake, he apparently tried to flatter the Big Brother of North Korea by telling him that he had known plenty of guys from prominent families growing up and many had emerged messed up, but not Kim — as if some cokehead trust-fund baby from Manhattan compares unfavorably to a nut known to execute his enemies by having artillery fired at them. Viewed in that context, of course he ended up covering for Kim on his Warmbier lie. His one and only strategy has been to ingratiate himself to this wackjob and hope that their new friendship will lead Kim to voluntarily disgorge North Korea’s greatest strategic asset. He’s all-in on the charm offensive, even if that means helping to cover up Kim’s culpability in North Korean crimes.