Less here than advertised, and less than meets the eye, too. When this clip began garnering buzz yesterday on Twitter, it was made to sound as though Donald Trump was signaling his admiration for North Korea’s tinpot hereditary dictator. When viewed, however, it’s clear that Trump is warning against taking him lightly or assuming he’s just a pawn:
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) January 10, 2016
Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump appeared to praise North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, saying at a rally Saturday that “it’s incredible” how he was able to dispatch his political opponents.
Trump called Jong-Un a “maniac” during remarks about North Korea’s nuclear program during a rally at Ottumwa, Iowa, but conceded, “You gotta give him credit.”
“How many young guys — he was like 26 or 25 when his father died — take over these tough generals, and all of a sudden … he goes in, he takes over, and he’s the boss,” Trump said. “It’s incredible. He wiped out the uncle, he wiped out this one, that one. I mean this guy doesn’t play games. And we can’t play games with him.”
How much “praise” can this be when it’s prefaced by labeling Kim a “maniac”? The answer is: not much. Any fair estimation of this statement in total would conclude that Trump isn’t praising Kim — he’s criticizing US handling of Kim, and perhaps especially the misconception of him as a puppet.
In other words, this isn’t Trump praising Vladimir Putin as “a man so highly respected within his own country and beyond,” although ABC’s Evan McMurray draws that parallel. Nor is it Trump drawing some moral equivalence between Putin’s ruthlessness and US policy. In fact, Trump’s making the opposite point here — that Kim operates in a different paradigm than we do (and Putin too, presumably), and that we are not taking him seriously enough.
Left unsaid, though, is what Trump’s policy would be regarding Kim and North Korea. What would Trump do differently than the status quo? In this, Trump is hardly alone; most Republican candidates went on the attack after Pyongyang’s nuclear test last week, demanding a tougher policy toward the Kim regime, but they had some difficulty providing specifics as well. That is in large part due to the fact that the Clinton administration left the barn door open more than 20 years ago, and the US and its allies have had its hands tied since then. No one wants another war on the Korean peninsula, especially now — which is why the Kims pursued nuclear weapons in defiance of the “agreed framework” in the 1990s.
There isn’t much left to do except to horse-trade with China in hopes that they will use their influence to conduct a regime change and bring something akin to rational leadership in the DPRK. Maybe Trump could make the case that he could get the best deal from China, but so far there isn’t much there other than this warning to take Kim Jong-un seriously.