Put this in the For What It’s Worth basket.
The LA Times has run a story headlined Aides warned Trump not to attack North Korea’s leader personally before his fiery U.N. address.
Senior aides to President Trump repeatedly warned him not to deliver a personal attack on North Korea’s leader at the United Nations this week, saying insulting the young despot in such a prominent venue could irreparably escalate tensions and shut off any chance for negotiations to defuse the nuclear crisis.
Trump’s derisive description of Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man on a suicide mission” and his threat to “totally destroy” North Korea were not in a speech draft that several senior officials reviewed and vetted Monday, the day before Trump gave his first address to the U.N. General Assembly, two U.S. officials said.
Some of Trump’s top aides, including national security advisor H.R. McMaster, had argued for months against making the attacks on North Korea’s leader personal, warning it could backfire.
But Trump felt compelled to take a harder line.
A detailed CIA psychological profile of Kim, who is in his early 30s and took power in late 2011, assesses that Kim has a massive ego and reacts harshly and sometimes lethally to insults and perceived slights.
It also says that the dynastic leader — Kim is the grandson of the communist country’s founder, Kim Il Sung, and son of its next leader, Kim Jong Il — views himself as inseparable from the North Korean state.
As predicted, Kim took Trump’s jibes personally and especially chafed at the fact that Trump mocked him in front of 200 presidents, prime ministers, monarchs and diplomats at the U.N.
In my view, here are the critical points.
First, the story is essentially unsourced. The “U.S. officials” tag can literally mean anyone. But it also means the source did not originate at policymaking levels because then it would be “senior U. S. officials” or “White House officials.” (Read this for a very, very good overview of how anonymous sources are named.) This story may or may not be true but what we know is that the sources for the story got it third-hand. This is gossip.
Second, I’m sure there were factions in the White House and State and Defense who wanted a conciliatory speech in regards to North Korea. Having said that, if you look at what McMaster and Haley said both at last Friday’s White House press conference and over last weekend, that train had left the station.
Third, Trump is not the first US president to threaten to destroy North Korea. The objection here rests solely on the fact that it was Trump making the threat. This is the core essence of and motivating factor for present day never-Trumpism in both parties.
Fourth, even “top aides” were against it, that doesn’t mean very much. Trump is the president and gets to make that call. “Top aides” will be found on both sides of any contentious issue because a lot of the opposition/support for text in speeches is internal power politics. I’m not comparing Trump to Reagan, but on June 12, 1987, Reagan was on the way to give a speech in front of the Brandenburg Gate in West Berlin:
“We were in the limousine on the way to the Brandenburg Gate and he was reviewing the speech text one last time,” deputy chief of staff Kenneth Duberstein recalled. “When he got to the section of the speech that was disputed by the State Department, he looked and me said, ‘It’s gonna drive the State Department boys crazy, but I’m gonna leave it in.’”
What Reagan returned to the completed draft of his speech was the “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall” phrase.
This speech is not going to be remembered (unless a war begins) but it underscores the point that the guy giving the speech gets to make decisions, too. You may not like it–and if you were one of the people here who were giggling over Kim Jong Un’s diatribe against Trump, you probably don’t–but that is utterly immaterial.
The underlying objection in this piece is that somehow Rocket Man will get his panties in a befouled little wad and refuse to negotiate an end to his nuclear arms and ballistic missile program. FACT CHECK: he isn’t going to do that and no sane or lucid person can possibly believe that he will. North Korea developed its nukes while getting economic assistance negotiated by the Clinton administration on the condition it NOT DEVELOP NUKES.
Trump’s insults seem calculated to bring the matter to a conclusion and to do it in the very near future. Kim can agree to abide by twenty years of UN Security Council resolutions and give up his missiles and nukes. Kim can try to ride out what looks like an economic war directed at North Korea and hope he outlasts Trump and finds a more compliant Democrat successor before economic collapse takes place. Or Kim can take military action to try to reset the board but he will have to to do it before he has produced a significant number of nuclear weapons. What Kim can no longer do is continue to do what North Korea has done for nearly thirty years, which is develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles without any cost.