US President Donald Trump has taken a new tack when it comes to North Korean diplomacy this week.
Surprising many, most severely it seems his own cabinet, Trump decided to show a flicker of empathy and understanding towards leader Kim Jong Un in comments that some have gone as far as to call praise of the brutal dictator.
In an interview over the weekend with CBS’ Face the Nation, Trump called Kim “a pretty smart cookie,” praising his ability to seize and maintain power in North Korea at the age of 27.
On Monday, the president expanded on those comments saying he would be “honoured” to meet with the dictator “under certain circumstances.”
His comments sent many senators into a bit of a tizz, with Republican Senator John McCain calling the comments “disturbing”, and left Trump’s embattled and war-weary press secretary Sean Spicer once again cleaning up the mess.
Critics of Trump’s newfound appreciation for Kim, perhaps understandably, feel it threatens to disrupt America’s long-standing strategic partnerships, undermines the credibility of US democratic values overseas and emboldens a dictator who uses bloody measures at home to suppress dissent.
And there’s plenty of weight to that argument, but perhaps Trump sees an opportunity here to breakdown some walls (a very un-Trumpian approach, I know) and build some bridges with the notoriously reclusive leader. After all, has anyone ever tried just being nice to Kim Jong Un?
History – and the last month – has proven that escalating threats and increased sanctions get you nowhere other than to the brink of nuclear war, so perhaps a fresh approach is exactly what is needed.
Bearing in mind that the guy gets a very personal thrashing in the international media – McCain calling him a “crazy fat kid”, China’s widely used nicknames “Kim fatty the third” and “Kim Pig the Third”, and the inconvenient label of a bloody tyrant, for example – maybe a sympathetic ear could forge some progress in the standoff.
Now, I appreciate this sounds like a storyline straight from the Hollywood classic The Interview, and we know that Trump is a fan of his shows so perhaps that’s where he’s getting the idea, but likelihood is it’s more than that.
One hopes this is a flickering semblance of a foreign policy strategy. After all it’s not the first, or the last, time Trump used the ass-kissing approach to diplomacy with some of the world’s more unsavoury leaders.
In the past, he has claimed Egypt’s el-Sisi has “done a fantastic job”, offered both the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha a warm welcome to the White House, and placed a congratulatory call to Turkish President Erdogan after his referendum victory.
Presidents of the past have indeed bucked the trend of US foreign policy and reached out to adversaries to encourage dialogue, but rarely has it been seen with such seeming abandon and lack of prior reflection.
Trump is, hopefully, wooing these almost universally ostracised despots in an attempt to bring them to the negotiating table and forge ties where others have failed. Or perhaps these statements are impulsive and reactionary and are based on the mood of a narcissist who cannot handle it if someone doesn’t like him – even if that someone is a brutal dictator.
** This is the personal opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of Asian Correspondent