Again, Trump displays his massive ignorance of East Asia matters in an interview with John Dickerson on the CBS show Face the Nation. In this interview, when asked how he assesses North Korea leader Kim Jong-un Trump said that Kim was a “smart-cookie.” Specifically:
I have — I really, you know, have no comment on him. People are saying, “Is he sane?” I have no idea. I can tell you this, and 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.
It’s wise to not underestimate Kim Jong-un and dismiss him as a madman, but it’s also just stupid to overestimate him and misunderstand his role in the North Korean context. Trump said, “…at a very young age, he was able to assume power,” I’m sure not even realizing that Kim Jong-un’s assumption of power was a foregone conclusion.
North Korea was founded by Kim Il-sung. After his death, his son, Kim Jong-il, took over. And then, after Kim Jong-il’s death, his son, Kim Jong-un, took the reigns. Kim Jong-un did not have to be a “smart cookie” to take over when his father died. There was very little competition. The only competition he had was his brother Kim Jong-chul, who was passed over for succession for unknown reasons, and half-brother Kim Jong-nam, whom some believe was recently assassinated for his pro-reform views. Much of the power the North Korean government has over its population is the narrative of Kim Il-sung’s legacy. Kim Jong-un did not have to be smart or tough to take power. This is what nepotism is, something Trump should know a little about.
Trump said, “A lot of people, I’m sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else,” and this is also an uninformed statement. No one in North Korea is going to question the authority of Kim Il-sung’s grandson. The only question is how much power Kim Jong-un has on his own and how much he is influenced by others.
Trump makes Kim Jong-un appear to be more capable than he actually might be, when that’s a short-sighted way of looking at it. What we really need to look at it is the base from which political power in North Korea is generated, and a big part of that lies in the founder Kim Il-sung’s legacy in the eyes of the North Korean people. Trump’s statement that he think’s Kim Jong-un is a “pretty smart cookie” just shows that Trump is knows nothing about North Korea.
Furthermore, Trump criticized North Korea’s recent attempt missile test in a Tweet:
North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 28, 2017
which, in turn, was criticized by Sen. (D-DE) Chris Coons, who said, “The way to conduct diplomacy is not through Twitter but by leadership by the National Security team at the Trump administration.” This is a good point, but also, do you really think North Korea gives a shit that they “disrespected” China? If Trump knew anything about North Korea he would know that they don’t. In one tweet Trump has probably degraded diplomacy not only between North Korea and the US, but also North Korea and China, who might actually be able to help us in this matter.
Hey, it’s no shame to not know stuff. But Trump could have the most knowledgeable people in the United States advise him and he could actually learn a little about what’s going on before he opens his mouth. But he doesn’t do these things. And that’s what makes Trump stupid. When it comes to a dangerous state like North Korea, stupid ain’t gonna help.