The Putin-Kim Summit: An Uneasy Episode in Kim’s Introduction to a Brave New World

Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin (right) and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un (left). During his summit meeting with Kim on April 25, 2019, in Vladivostok, Russia, Putin had the opportunity to resolve some matters with regard to relations between their countries. Russia and North Korea are more than just friends; they are allies. In Washington, a reasonable concern would be that Putin used the meeting in part to mangle inroads made by US President Donald Trump with Kim, and spun up the young leader enough to cause him to drift back into a posture of belligerence. In reality, he may have unwittingly done the opposite.

The fate of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea), good or bad, will likely be decided at this moment in time. Hopefully, what is negative, wrong, and evil, will not walk upon the scene. The potential source of those ills could possibly be Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin. During his summit meeting with North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong-un on April 25, 2019, in Vladivostok, Russia, Putin had the opportunity to resolve some matters with regard to relations between their countries. Russia and North Korea are more than just friends; they are allies. Presumably, an item for discussion during the meeting was the diplomatic process on denuclearization in which Kim has been engaged with US President Donald Trump for more than a year.

Kim’s vist to Vladivostok was actually a two-day affair. Beginning on April 24, 2019, there were compliments and toasts offered with affectation, and the photo opportunities swollen with the pretension of a great friendship between the two leaders. Yet, despite all of that, beneath the surface, where mostly those obsessed with scrutinizing such events closely might look, Putin’s approach to Kim was not tender, but rather rough edged and, to a degree, domineering. Some analysts and scholars who study the Russian leader and, to the extent possible, understand his idiosyncrasies and the nuances of his facial expressions and body language, chalked it all up to Putin just being Putin. It was perceived by others as a display of Soviet-style formality. The suggestion being that not much should be put into Putin’s behavior at Vladivostok. However, the results of the meeting bare out the idea that Putin, to put it plainly, was not very nice to Kim. Consider that Putin did nothing special to help him. If he did, it was so subtle that it could not to be seen. Putin certainly did nothing publicly to convince anyone that he was Kim’s benefactor or protector. If he did, giving notice to the world of such a pledge is the usual way to ensure other countries would pay heed. Alas, he did not do that. Kim apparently failed to correctly parse out Putin’s agenda, moreover his concept and intent, with regard to North Korea before he arrived. Kim likely came to Vladivostok comforted by the thought that the Russian relationship has been long-term, beneficial, and historically speaking, reliable. He perhaps thought he might be able to eek out some type of additional assistance from Russia, in some form or another. If Kim truly came to Vladivostok with that purpose, his was truly an anemic effort. That approach may have left him open to the measures of the artful Putin.

A reasonable concern over Vladivostok in Washington would be that Putin used the meeting in part to mangle the inroads achieved by Trump with Kim, and that he may have successfully spun up the young North Korean leader enough to cause him to drift back into a posture of belligerence. Throw on top of that reports in the US news media indicating that even before Kim left for Vladivostok, there was intelligence apparently collected by the US on activity taking place at facilities related to North Korea’s supposedly dormant nuclear weapons and long-range missile programs. That would present the possibility that Kim wants to have the capability to leap back into developing systems that will allow him the launch a nuclear strike against the mainland US. Such would be an act of daylight madness by Kim. To intuit that the diplomatic effort at this point is still somewhat fragile surely would not be out of court. However, as result of his relatively lukewarm reception of the young North Korean leader, Putin may have actually given that diplomatic process a boost by bumping Kim in the direction of Trump. So different are the approaches and opportunities presented respectively by Trump and Putin, that Kim’s choice of whom to travel North Korea’s path into the future is essentially black and white. There is no equivalence, no shared attitude toward people, no mutual conduct displayed, no matching diplomatic techniques, for Kim to find comparison between the two leaders. Through the next set of communications and via a third summit, Trump may have the opportunity to capitalize on Putin’s shrewd, but barbed and unconventional moves. Si computes annos, exiguum tempus, si vices rerum, aevum putes. (If you compute the years in which all this has happened, it is but a little while; if you number the vicissitudes, it seems an age.)

There were compliments and toasts offered with affectation, and the photo opportunities swollen with the pretension of a great friendship between the two leaders during Kim’s visit. Yet, despite all of that, beneath the surface, perhaps where mainly those obsessed with scrutinizing such events closely might look, Putin’s approach to Kim was rough edged and, to a degree, domineering. Some analysts and scholars who study the Russian leader chalked it all up to Putin just being Putin. However, the results of the meeting bare out the idea that Putin, to put it plainly, was not very nice to Kim.

A Reality Check for Kim

Kim seemingly came to Vladivostok bearing all of Pyongyang’s vulnerabilities and anxieties on his sleeve. The Achilles Heel of North Korea is its economy. That economy has been in an absolute shambles for many decades. Through the Trump administration’s maximum pressure campaign targeted at North Korea’s economy, the country has been slowly strangled to death. Kim may have been desperate to maintain or increase Russia’s economic munificence in talks with Putin. As for his country’s anxieties, Kim, from the start of the Trump administration, boasted about North Korea’s nuclear weapons and burgeoning capability to reach the US with them. However, the US has the actual capability and capacity to attack and destroy North Korea. Away from the rallies and loudspeakers in his country through which he has convinced his people that their country is part of a larger bulwark of anti-US countries in Northeast Asia, there is the reality that Pyongyang’s allies in Moscow and Beijing would never put their countries’ well-being at risk for North Korea. There is the additional reality that North Korea was more of a financial strain and psychic drain on Russia and China than a useful and valued asset as a buffer against the US and its allies in the region. It is likely that Putin, to some extent, saw the meeting as an opportunity to demonstrate that what Russia thinks and says has relevance with regard to Northeast Asia, a region in which its territory resides. Putin had been unsuccessful in finding the angle to latch on and carve out an influential role for Russia in the Trump-Kim Talks. Putin surely knows why Trump was not so eager to offer him a place in the diplomatic process.  He was already on fairly shaky ground with the US President over Russian efforts to interfere in US elections as well as Russian misdeeds in Crimea, Eastern Ukraine, Venezuela, Syria, and other points around the world.

Perhaps it was thought in Moscow and Pyongyang prior to the actual meeting that Vladivostok had the potential to become a public relations triumph. However, the world appeared to take only a moderate interest in events there. Public relations-wise, Trump had already made an authentic splash with his first meeting with Kim on June 12, 2018 in Singapore. His second meeting from February 27, 2019 to February 28, 2019 in Hanoi also drew quite a bit of attention. After Kim met with Trump in Singapore and Hanoi, there was a real sense that a new energy, new hope for peace and progress in Northeast Asia had been created. Kim was brought out the hermit kingdom to discover a brave new world, a world from which his people still remain isolated. For introducing him to that world, Kim really has much to thank Trump for. Any luster was left to glean from a Kim meeting was exploited by Chinese President Xi Jinping when they met from March 25, 2018 to March 28, 2018 and January 7, 2019 to January 10, 2019. Indeed, by the time Kim met with Putin in Vladivostok, he was no longer the mystifying, obscure young leader in Pyongyang.

In the search for indicia that there was plenty of goodwill between the Russian and North Korean leaders and the meeting served to advance their relationship, much has been made of the fact that Putin was reportedly thirty minutes early for the April 25th meeting and waited for Kim. That fact takes on greater significance given Putin’s well-known history for arriving late for meetings with world leaders. He was nearly one hour late for his Helsinki Meeting with Trump in July 2018, four hours and fifteen minutes late for a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2014, fifty minutes late for a meeting with Pope Francis in 2015, and a tame fourteen minutes late for a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II in 2003. Yet perhaps conversely to creating a positive atmosphere around which the Russian-North Korean relationship could be viewed internationally, Putin was of the mind to set a sort of trap for Kim. The goal of which most likely was to suss Kim out and, at the right time, take the opportunity to establish the nature of their relationship as leaders. As a result of that effort, the entire visit had a strange feel. Everything seemed a bit off kilter, a little grayish. Certainly, Putin and Kim were never too chummy publicly. Putin’s personal approach and demeanor toward Kim did not mirror that of the avuncular Trump. Rather, he behaved nearly in the manner of a cold-hearted, Ian Fleming’s James Bond sort of “gangster as spy” of whom Trump’s critics and detractors inappropriately claim the US President faced in Hamburg, Da Nang, Helsinki, and Buenos Aires. He did not! Putin handled Kim much as a bewildered target for recruitment. As it was previously discussed in a February 28, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “A Russian Threat on Two Fronts: A New Understanding of Putin, Not Inadequate Old Ones, Will Allow the Best Response,” Putin prepares for his meetings or any other forms of contact with another national leader or senior foreign diplomatic official, in advance, by mining all available information and by considering all possible angles of how an interlocutor might challenge him and how he would explain himself in a plausible, satisfying way. Being engaged in an exceptionally devious sort of manipulation of Kim, one could be certain that every little move made in Vladivostok was performed with purpose. To that extent, even the anomaly of Putin’s punctuality was a calculated step.

Putin (right) and Kim (left) on escalator in Vladivostok. Taking cues from how the two men appeared standing together, Putin clearly was the leader and Kim was the follower. Perhaps in the confidential one on one meeting between them, Putin also sought to establish his position as “the boss” with Kim. Intriguingly, at Vladivostok, Putin was practically every bit the Ian Fleming’s James Bond sort of cold-hearted, gangster as spy about which critics and detractors of Trump have endlessly waxed and have inappropriately claimed the US President faced in Hamburg, Da Nang, Helsinki, and Buenos Aires.

Attempting to reach into Kim’s head concerning the visit, Putin probably calculated that he would be very optimistic over the outcome of his visit. Putin may have also parsed out that Kim believed that there was virtually an organic affinity between them given the long relationship Russia has had with North Korea. That affinity would be primarily founded on the notion that Putin was raised and served for years as an officer of the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known as the KGB in the Soviet Union. The Soviet Union was the original, unholy bastion of Communism, Marxist-Leninism, and Socialism, which form the political underpinnings of North Korea today. Russia, a former Soviet republic, was at the center of the collapsed superpower. Moscow was the Soviet capital. Further, in support of his grandfather and hero, Kim Il-sung, the Soviet Union provided not only weapons, equipment and training for North Korean forces during the Korean War, but covertly provided Soviet soldiers and airmen to to engage covertly in combat operations. (China’s commitment to its North Korean ally during the war was even greater.) Thus, Putin would be reasonably assured that drawing Kim in would not pose difficulties. Ensuring that he would be able to exert influence on Kim would be his main task. Putin’s effort to miniaturize Kim was almost heartbreaking to watch. Yet, few would shed tears for the despotic North Korean leader under the thumb of the ex-Soviet spy. He exploited every opportunity to publicly demonstrate that he was dominant. On each occasion that he did so, he had the look of a cat among pigeons. This is how it looks when expediency and outcomes are given primacy before method. Taking cues from how the two men appeared standing together, Putin clearly was the leader and Kim was the follower. Perhaps in the confidential one on one meeting between them, Putin also sought to establish his position as “the boss” with Kim.

Psychologically, Putin may never have been disposed to even pretend that he was on level terms with Kim. Putin has never spoken of any meeting with another national leader as a “meeting of equals”. Putin has never hesitated to take the “Alpha-male” position with leaders of other countries and let them know his intentions. In Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?, Karen Dawisha recounts the occasion when the new prime minister of a Central Asian country paid his first visit to Moscow. He met with Putin. After the cameras had left the room, Putin is said to have loosened his tie, leaned forward, and in a menacing snarl told the startled leader: “Listen here (slushay syuda), I decide everything. Don’t forget it.” (This reality makes Putin’s attitude and behavior with Trump even more intriguing. One can clearly observe a certain grace and sangfroid displayed by the Russian leader. He has never appeared jagged or, even more, threatening in the slightest degree toward Trump at any moment in which they were together publicly.) Among the North Korean people, Kim is the “Alpha-male”, who rules with an iron fist. He is the country’s supreme leader, its champion, its top man above all, deified, never to be second-guessed, never to be challenged. That side of Kim was not present in Vladivostok. There was no swagger, no expressions of conceit from Kim.

Putin may never have been disposed to even pretend that he was on level terms with Kim. He has never spoken of any meeting with another national leader as a “meeting of equals”. He has never hesitated to take the “Alpha-male” position with leaders of other countries and let them know his intentions. In Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia?, author Karen Dawisha recounts the occasion when the new prime minister of a Central Asian country paid his first visit to Moscow. He met with Putin. After the cameras had left the room, Putin is said to have loosened his tie, leaned forward, and in a menacing snarl told the startled leader: “Listen here (slushay syuda), I decide everything. Don’t forget it.”

Something that one might also consider is that in adherence to the principles of Korean culture, a world that he understands well, Kim likely sought to show a degree of deference to Putin as a part of his responsibilities as a guest. He likely believed his host would display an equal degree of authentic respect and graciousness toward him and the North Korean delegation. In that way, the kibun (mood or inner feelings) of both visitors and hosts would remain balanced in a harmonious environment. Kim encountered that sort of experience in Singapore, Hanoi, and Beijing. In Vladivostok, Kim was figuratively moving blindly in “the real” new world outside of North Korea. He seemed confused by the web Putin had spun for him. Indeed, seeing the footage revealed to the public of Kim’s expressions, gestures, and positions in Vladivostok, one might have trouble believing Kim was sure of anything while there. No one could show Kim the way while in Russia. Lucky enough for him, he maintained his balance, saw his way through, and made his way home. For Kim, it was doubtlessly an embarrassing chain of events. If those in Pyongyang who might read this would pardon greatcharlie’s freedom, Kim appeared to be caught completely off guard by Putin and stumbling around with his pants at his ankles in Vladivostok.

The Putin-Kim meeting most assuredly was not an inflexion point in Russian North Korean relations. Beyond Putin’s use of the meeting to remind Kim of the nature of their relationship, it is difficult to discern, with certitude, what was accomplished in Vladivostok. Urgent and important matters specific to their countries underpinning the meeting, at least officially, were not sufficiently enumerated publicly. From what was witnessed, no significant change in the geostrategic balance in Northeast Asia or relations in general among countries in the region that resulted from the meeting. As for dealing with the US as a threat, Kim did not appear to have been given the assurance of support from his country’s longtime “ally” that he wanted receive. It could be imagined that instead of promising to provide a type of nuclear umbrella for North Korea that the US provides for its allies in the region, Putin, in a hollow gesture, likely praised Kim’s willingness to take on the US and found his devotion and heroic disregard for death admirable. Concerning the denuclearization diplomacy with the US, it would be difficult to believe that Kim was given, at any point while meeting with Putin, solid, hopeful advice. Putin most likely acted in the manner of a dark muse for Kim on the matter.

Given that economic conditions of both countries have been greatly harmed by US sanctions and both leaders have publicly indicated that they would like to have all international trade sanctions removed, one might extrapolate that the matter of business, relations, business activities, between the two countries were broached. Russian-North Korean business ties are divided between a modicum of legitimate and substantial illicit activity. Legitimate trade was limited to $34 million in 2018 due mainly to sanctions against North Korea. Statistics on gains from illicit activity are not available here but reportedly clandestine sanctions busting efforts are ongoing and apparently profitable enough to be worth the risk. It would not be a matter too trite to be managed by the two leaders as detection by the international community of any clandestine business activities, disallowed by sanctions, would mean grave consequences for both countries via sanctions. Through the process of monitoring their business activities, the international community has learned that transport agents in the Russian Federation have prepared documents for North Korean vessels. The government has not denied that. However, certain actions  have also been taken to help North Korea evade sanctions. Port services have allegedly been provided to North Korean-flagged ships. North Korean vessels have been fueled in Russia. The sale of that fuel to them by representatives of certain firms has been ignored. No interest is given to whomever might be selling cargo and oil products to the North Koreans. Further, a blind eye is turn toward whomever may be loading North Korean vessels. Vasili Kolchanov, head of the Russian Federation port services agency involved, explained to Reuters: “It’s not our concern who fuels the vessels, who sells that fuel, who they buy the cargo and oil products from.” He further stated: “We do not load vessels. As an agent, I only need to check that they have permission from customs.”

The type of business Putin would like Russia to develop with North Korea concerns mineral resources, including rare metals. Kim would like access to Russian electricity supplies. While Moscow generally views North Korea as a poor investment, Kim would like Russia to invest in the modernization of Soviet-built industrial plants, railways and other infrastructure. Nevertheless, as long as sanctions remain in place, none of that will come to fruition.

Image of an illegal cargo transfer to a North Korea vessel on the open sea. (above). Economic conditions of Russia and North Korea have been greatly harmed by US and UN trade sanctions. One might extrapolate that business activities between the two countries was a key issue in the Putin-Kim talks. Russian-North Korean business ties are divided between the legitimate and illicit. Detection by the international community of any clandestine business activities disallowed by sanctions would mean grave consequences for both countries.

Kim’s Health

Taking a look at Putin’s bearing in Vladivostok, the Russian leader made a proper showing of himself as the usual sharp, strapping Russian leader. It was the loose, athletic, macho Putin, who in meetings exudes confidence, high-energy, and a readiness to do business. Taking a comparable look at Kim’s bearing, one could reasonably state that he appeared to be having health problems. Being most apparently somewhat outside of his appropriate weight range and being a smoker, it could be expected that Kim would be dealing with dome underlying health issues. However, in Vladivostok, Kim simply looked unhealthy. Kim breathed laboriously as if he had anything from a very bad cold, bronchitis, asthma, or pneumonia, to something much worse, such as a pulmonary edema, a pulmonary embolism, or some other pulmonary episode. A far lesser possibility now, but one worthy of consideration at the time of the Vladivostok meeting is that Kim was suffering from a myocardial infarction (heart attack) of a Type 2 diabetic, slowly dying in discomfort, without appropriate care.

In every video clip made public of the North Korean leader in Vladivostok, Kim appeared pale, shuddering, breathless. At times he additionally appeared disoriented, uncertain, uncomfortable, anxious, even jumpy. This uneasy behavior was not observed in Kim in Singapore, Hanoi, or Beijing. Thinking in a way similar to greatcharlie, Eric Talmadge of the Associated Press, stated in his article published in Time magazine on April 26, 2019: “What caught the attention of many outside observers Thursday wasn’t the scene, but the sound — of Kim’s loud breathing. Clips of the introductory encounter were quickly tweeted around the world, many with comments about the leader’s audible breathlessness. South Korea’s media, meanwhile, speculated that it could be a sign of Kim’s poor health. He is, after all, overweight and a notoriously heavy smoker.” According to Talmadge, Kim has evinced similar health problems at previous high-level meetings. Some may recall that in April 2018, on the occasion of his first summit meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, he looked out of breath as he signed a guestbook following a short walk.

The following link, https://youtu.be/40M-cfOhqxQ, provides a short video clip of one of several occasions at the Putin-Kim summit during which Kim’s labored breathing can be seen. Please focus on the region of the thorax between the neck and diaphragm in the front of Kim’s body or stated more plainly, his chest. On medical matters, greatcharlie is somewhat out of its province. Nonetheless, it seems fitting in this case, no matter how clumsy it may seem, for it to engage in an unlicensed, uncertified foray as an apothecary, to better understand Kim’s behavior. If Putin noticed Kim’s condition, odd behavior, in response, he showed him no quarter, no sympathy.

Kim takes cigarette break in China while en route to Hanoi Summit (above). In Vladivostok, Kim looked unhealthy. He breathed laboriously as if he had anything from a very bad cold, bronchitis, asthma, or pneumonia, to something much worse, such as a pulmonary edema, a pulmonary embolism, or some other pulmonary episode. A far lesser possibility now, but one worthy of consideration at the time in Vladivostok was that Kim may have been suffering from a myocardial infarction (heart attack) of a Type 2 diabetic, slowly dying in discomfort. If Putin noticed Kim’s condition, he showed him no sympathy.

In addition to directing attention at Kim’s difficulty breathing, the international news media noted what was generally described as an awkward gift exchange. Kim gave Putin a sword. Interestingly, among Russians, presenting swords and knives is considered sign of bad omen that could lead to disagreements and confrontations. Kim may have been aware of that superstition when decided to present Putin with a sword. After all, Russians and North Koreans are certainly not strangers to one another. Both Putin and Kim have sufficient, well-qualified experts to inform them of the nuances of gift giving in the respective cultures. Still, Kim presented it anyway, perhaps believing that Putin would be impressed with its size and value. Putin’s gift to Kim was even more intriguing. He gave Kim a coin. Video of the gift exchange made public show Kim completely befuddled in response. He seemed disappointed, closely eyeing the coin, clearly fazed by its diminutive size and relatively low value.

One might attempt to airbrush the episode by suggesting that Putin meant well when he gave Kim the coin, but that is unlikely. Putin was surely well-aware of Kim’s tastes and what would please him when deciding upon a gift for him. Gifting Kim with a coin may have been an atrocious display of Kremlin wit. Indeed, there is the real possibly that the coin presentation served as a banal amusement devised by Putin and his circle of mostly male acolytes. They may have wanted to witness an “entertaining”, stunned reaction from Kim. Even worse, a darker meaning of the gift could have been to create the impression that Putin was giving coin to a beggar. Along with their boss, the boys’ club in the Kremlin’s Senate building, who most likely in private mock and lampoon foreign leaders, have too often allowed such predictable, over-rehearsed, bad behavior, insinuate itself in important matters. Recently, it has been a persistent, distasteful theme in Russian diplomatic behavior that analysts and scholars have either missed or ignored. Indeed, Putin has been engaging in rather curious form of gift giving. Notable was his public presentation of a soccer ball to Trump in Helsinki. In response, Trump looked at the ball with a smirk, stated that he would give it to his son Darren, palmed it with his large right hand, and then casually tossed it one-handed to the First Lady, Melania Trump.

Despite the many problems associated with their interactions, Kim seemed to speak in harmony with Putin after the summit, and adhered to an anti-US line. It is unclear whether Kim simply wanted to oblige Putin just for old times’ sake or create the impression that he achieved some success in Russia. It may also be that he was left with little choice but to acquiesce to Putin’s position. At a post summit press conference, Putin, projecting a sense of accomplishment, stated that the North Korea’s denuclearization was necessary, but he insisted that North Korean sovereignty must be recognized and that security guarantees must be provided to Pyongyang. For Putin, security guarantees is a alternative way of stating the US must retreat from Northeast Asia, abandoning its longtime allies, and most importantly, remove the nuclear umbrella that shields those allies from a nuclear threat, not just from the North Korea, but also Russia and China as that umbrella was originally designed. Over the years, those capitals have been satisfied to see US military resources, psychic energy, and ire, directed at North Korea. By encouraging North Korea to seek steps that would to improve its security situation by reducing, even weakening the defensive posture of the US and allies in Northeast Asia, Russia would consequently serve its own security needs by invariably weakening the security of the US and its allies versus it, too.

Something that one might also consider is that in adherence to the principles of Korean culture, a world that he understands well, Kim likely sought to show a degree of deference to Putin as a part of his responsibilities as a guest. He likely believed his host would display a similar degree of authentic respect and graciousness toward him and the North Korean delegation. In this way, the kibun (mood or inner feelings) of both visitors and hosts would remain balanced in a harmonious environment. Kim encountered that sort of experience in Singapore, Hanoi, and Beijing. In Vladivostok, Kim was figuratively moving blindly in “the real” new world outside of North Korea. He seemed confused by the web Putin had spun for him.

Wake Up Kim!

Qui non proficit, deficit. (Who does not advance, recedes.) Ideally, for Trump, Kim would come to a third summit strangling at the leash, anxious to get going. It would be counterintuitive for Kim to come into a third round of negotiations with well made plans to melt away sanctions without offering necessary progress on denuclearization. He may very well retreat intellectually and be satisfied to accept advice from the North Korean intelligence services, crafted with an intelligence bigotry of military and security service elites founded on conspiracy theories about Trump and US actions and intentions. Particularly at this cut bait or fish stage, there is the potential for North Korean intelligence services, expert at whipping up scenarios and hypotheticals to expediently conjure up reports that provide support for the politicized or even hysterical views of consumers. (This is a disturbing reality that intelligence services almost everywhere face: hiring in error, individuals without honor, unfit to meet the moral obligations of the job.) The minstrels for the occasional exaggerated, distracting flashes of a belligerent posture to the US have been North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong-ho and Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui. To promote peace, and being the responsible party, the Trump administration listens to those expressions, but does not react emotionally to them.

As greatcharlie has noted in previous posts, there is an endless sense of distrust within North Korea toward the West that always comes into play in diplomacy. Further, given what is known about Kim’s psychological disposition, success with him in diplomatic effort was never assured. With Kim, one must take into consideration his selective welcome toward outsiders, pretension exhibited in public displays of affection for his people, reported lurid acts of self-indulgence, irate outbursts, outright cruelty, violent actions towards the people, associates, and family, and murder, Kim has not been popularly described as an up and down, manic depressive. These attitudes and behaviors have been chalked up as the stuff that defines tyrants and despots.

To enlarge on that, one must remember that prior to all of the niceties that followed the Singapore and Hanoi meetings and the many kind letters exchanged between Trump and Kim, the US President accurately assessed in his September 2017 remarks at the UN, that the North Korean leader’s regime was extraordinarily violent. Some expert observers of Kim might call the young leader essentially a sadist who is intoxicated by violence. The March 31, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled “Commentary: Trump-Kim Talks: Will Desire Obey Reason or Will Force Be Used to Overcome Force?” discusses a Yonhap article on an examination made by South Korea’s National Intelligence Service (Gukga Jeongbowon) of Kim’s behavior. Trump is well-aware of such reports about Kim. Yet, in the greater cause of denuclearization, international peace and stability, and the betterment of conditions for the people of North Korea, it is expedient to put all of that aside. The focus must be on what is positive, to ensure the diplomatic process is fruitful. If Kim goes down the wrong road, observers should expect to see him figuratively shoot the soccer ball far off to the wrong side of the aluminium goal post at the next summit with Trump. Perhaps Moscow and Beijing, in order to promote their own respective geostrategic goals versus the US, may very well be trying to undermine Trump’s diplomatic efforts with Kim at the moment. Even more, they may be nefariously encouraging him to behave in ways contrary to advancing that diplomacy.

Trump has kept a positive front, projecting optimism with regard to the antithetical attitudes and behavior of the leaders of both Russia and China. He has likely kept in mind that a delicate symmetry does exist among their three countries from which any good basis for a positive interaction now and the future might be founded. Yet, there can be no doubt that Trump is well-aware of their unseemly ways. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo scheduled a visit to Moscow on April 14, 2019, in order to express US concerns over Russian “aggressive and destabilizing actions.” Doubtlessly, Putin’s meeting with Kim in Vladivostok qualified to be an agenda item of the in camera Moscow meetings. In further response to the strategic goals and thinking of its soi-disant friends in Moscow and Beijing, Washington has nourished the strengths and equities of its alliances with allies in Northeast Asia. Those ties that bind the US and its allies in the region are the same ties that assure unity when dealing with Russia and China.

Kim must decide what his priorities are. Though, the choice for Kim, through the use of reason and wisdom alone, seems obvious. Trump offers the best solution for Kim and the North Korean people. North Korea has nothing to gain long-term from Russia and its stumbling economy, made all the worst by Western sanctions leveled upon it. Perhaps just a bit more time is needed before the economic well-being and the geo-strategic position of North Korea genuinely becomes paramount in Kim’s mind. To encourage Kim, Trump has practically indicated that he already has the US checkbook out. He has regularly expressed hope publicly, that Kim will do the best thing and make the right choice.

Trump (right) and Kim (left) in Singapore. Trump offers the best solution for Kim and the North Korean people. North Korea has nothing to gain long-term from Russia and its stumbling economy, made all the worst by Western sanctions leveled upon it. Perhaps just a bit more time is needed before the economic well-being and the geo-strategic position of North Korea genuinely becomes paramount in Kim’s mind. To encourage Kim, Trump has essentially announced that he has the US checkbook out. He has regularly expressed hope publicly, that Kim will do the best thing, make the right choice.

Trump to the Rescue?

Maybe if everything had been going perfectly on the denuclearization front, a third round of summit talks would be an opportunity to put the finishing touches on a deal. Meetings between US and North Korean business, financial, and development experts as well as meetings of international experts forms in various committees ostensibly would have come next in order to get cracking on North Korea sanctions economic rejuvenation. Surely, there is still time for that. At the moment, things are perhaps moving more gradually than initially expected. Yet, optimistically, everyone and everything will eventually arrive at the same place. To that extent, Trump continues to do the best things even in arguably unappealing circumstances with the hope of avoiding a calamitous situation in Northeast Asia. Trump sees no need for scare tactics. At the same time, Trump has kept his weapon, the armed forces of the US and its allies, figuratively cleaned and his sight zeroed. Cito rumpes arum, semper si tensum, habueris, at si laxans, quum voles, erit utilis. (A bow kept taut will quickly break, but kept loosely strung, it will serve you when you need it.)

In April and May of 2019, Kim launched missiles into the Sea of Japan. It may very well be that Kim believed the April 18, 2019 test of North Korea’s new “tactical guided weapon” and its May 4, 2019 “strike drills” using short-range, multiple launch rocket systems, fell well outside of the parameters of his promise to Trump not to test nuclear weapons or long-range missiles. Both weapons systems, fired off North Korea’s west coast, fell into the Sea of Japan, and did not intrude into Japanese or South Korean waters. As a result of the launches, Kim’s intent concerning denuclearization and halting missile development was placed into doubt among most US analysts and scholars. Some went as far as to assess that Trump should have taken a harder line with Kim on the matter. True, no matter how one might look at Kim’s mens rea, his missile launches were unquestionably displays of ill-advised audacity. Yet, Trump felt the tests were not of sufficient order of concern to derail the diplomatic process. He determined that the tests did not constitute, by performance or in spirit, a breach of Kim’s promise concerning weapons testing. His statement in response reflected that thinking. His response was in line with his concept of pitting hope against despondency in the diplomatic process on denuclearization. On May 4, 2019, using his Twitter account, @realDonaldTrump, Trump explained: “Anything in this very interesting world is possible, but I believe that Kim Jong-un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea, & will do nothing to interfere or end it. He also knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise me. Deal will happen!” Hopefully, Kim will not push such injudicious activity alongside the borderline on which Trump would not be able to countenance it.

To a larger extent, Trump would hardly believe that Kim thought for a moment that the launches would in any way improve his tactical position against the US. North Korea was never in great shape tactically versus the US, and will never be allowed the opportunity to be so. Trump would hardly imagine Kim thought the launches could somehow strengthen Pyongyang’s hand in the diplomatic process or pull him closer to Pyongyang’s negotiation position. On a more basic level, Trump is aware that many individuals develop and express impressions of decisions and actions of foreign leaders without attempting to detect internal matters that might be driving events. Homosum: humani nil a me alienum puto. (I am human: I consider nothing human alien to me.)

When Kim launched missiles into the Sea of Japan on April and May of 2019, Kim’s intent concerning denuclearization and halting missile development was placed into doubt among most US analysts and scholars. No matter how one might look at Kim’s mens rea, his missile launches were  unquestionably displays of ill-advised audacity. Some analysts and scholars went as far as to asses that Trump should have taken a harder line with Kim on the matter. Trump, however, determined the tests did not constitute, by performance or in spirit, a breach of Kim’s promise not to conduct tests.

A dimension of North Korea that one on the US side must lose sight of is that North Korea is a totalitarian tyranny, stratified in neat rows. To maintain his grip on the ranks of the military and security services in the midst of his denuclearization diplomacy, Kim may have decided to demonstrate his control and interest in the activities and developments within their organizations. It has been best for him to act in this way before even sensing any issues trouble in the ranks, Kim, to some degree, must also be responsive to Workers’ Party of Korea elites and senior leaders of North Korea’s now a tad more significant, forward-thinking, business leaders. North Korean military and security service elites, in particular, might have the sense that denuclearization will have the impact of discrediting and disenfranchising them. They would ostensibly be stripped of a considerable degree of real and psychic power. There would also more than likely be a loss of pride, prestige, and a certain emotional satisfaction. In any actions that he might take, Kim must be certain to avoid precipitating grumblings from them. By the same token, Kim would certainly be intolerant of the slightest scent of fragmentation within the Workers’ Party of Korea as a result of his diplomatic initiative with the US. Rather than avoid or preempt problems in the ranks, Kim might simply punish and obliterate suspected reactionaries and potential ones. Perhaps recent shifts made within the party’s senior leadership reflect his sensitivity to potential dangers.

Among the thoughts of those other than Trump in Washington, a greater concern might be that although Kim has metaphorically boarded the elevator and is riding it up, he does seem willing to travel to the top floor. He appears to be willing to get off several floors beneath it, just short of a grand prize for himself and North Korea. Perhaps when meditating alone over committing fully to a path toward denuclearization and working with the US, Kim may now and then feel slightly unclean in mind and body. Indeed, a turn toward denuclearization would surely require Kim to go against instinct. (In a way, that makes the mere fact that he is very openly considering it an extraordinarily step.) Alternatively, Kim might fear that Trump’s proposal is a cruel hoax, all too good to be true. Fool’s gold offered by a false heart. Considering such thoughts, one would not be on a slender thread to speculate that a real obstacle to working with Kim on denuclearization, may not be external manipulation or domestic concerns at all. There is the possibility that Kim, himself, remains the greatest restrictor to forward movement on a deal. However, in the diplomatic process, Kim is not being asked to bow down to US pressure, its desires, or accept something ephemeral. Putin would not ask for anything less from him. It cannot be stated enough that through Trump, Kim is being presented the opportunity to choose a better future for his people over the misfortune that they are coping with today.

Inter cetera mala, hoc qunque habet stultitia proprium, semper incipit vivere. (Among other evils, folly has also this characteristic, it is always beginning to live.) A potential pitfall for Kim would be failing to realize during a third meeting that Trump will be able to almost immediately read the writing on the wall as to where everything is headed. Indeed, if Kim’s efforts have not been legitimate, Trump will be fairly certain as to the Communist leader’s intentions once he leaves the table. As the erstwhile businessman, Trump will have a contingency plan for bad news. He calls such plans “alternatives.” Those alternatives surely include inflicting an unimaginable tragedy upon North Korea at best through ratcheting up the ongoing maximum pressure campaign of sanctions and at worst via a war fraught with the wreckage of innocent lives. It is also very possible that a prospective war might be fought with nuclear weapons.

In the diplomatic process of denuclearization, Kim is not being asked to bow down the US pressure, its desires. Putin would not ask for anything less from him. Through Trump, Kim is being presented the opportunity to choose a better future for his people. A potential pitfall for Kim is failing to realize during a third meeting that Trump will be able to almost immediately read the writing on the wall as to where everything is headed. Indeed, if Kim’s efforts have not been legitimate, Trump will be certain as to his intentions once he leaves the table. Trump will have a contingency plan. He calls such plans “alternatives.”

When one’s brain is functioning at such a high speed as Trump’s does, it regularly searches into the abstract. With the imagination serving as guide through the obscurity, his mind discriminates, vets, facts and ideas it has both recently encountered and has collected over time. His mind grasps for those most relevant to matter being focused upon. Those separate, yet correlative, facts and ideas are associated and via an even deeper analysis, are given higher meaning. As a result, an impression is formed which Trump’s mind constantly challenges with new information that is introduced to it. Having the ability to think in this way truly places Trump in a different category. (Note: There is no intent here to link Trump’s way of thinking to transcendentalism.)

Despite everything Kim has done so far, Trump, more so than anyone, appears to view him as a national leader, who has albeit made mistakes, but still has promise and is a work in progress. Trump does not believe Kim has limited facilities to improve his mind. Having worked with, coached, and mentored a number of young men and women during his business career as a land developer and builder, Trump has seen many evolve into very capable executives who went on to make the most of opportunities placed before them. Throughout the denuclearization diplomatic process, Trump has taken into account Kim’s emotional response to the process, its meaning, and enormity. Such empathy was likely difficult to muster given the singularity of Kim’s emotional responses. The very type of stresses that Trump wanted to keep out of his denuclearization diplomacy with Kim appeared to weigh heavy on the North Korean leader while he was with the Putin. Trump doubtlessly discerned that something was bringing him down, and seemingly burning him out. To steal a phrase from Trump, Kim “was low energy.”

Hopefully, Kim is self-aware enough to recognize that since June 2018 his relationship with Trump and his sense for what could be accomplished has been moving through a process of maturation. As part of that maturation, Kim must recognize that there needs to be a mutual exchange of inspiration between Trump and himself. If Kim is truly able to apply the discipline of accuracy, think with precision, accept the truth, and discern how beneficial everything Trump has proposed would be for North Korea, he will recognize that Trump has offered the best path possible, and all will be well. Interestingly, Kim, both keeps his hair cut and most often dresses in suits tailored in ways similar to those of his grandfather, Kim Il-sung. He has also fashioned his leadership style in his image. However, Kim, as with most humans, may aspire to advance to some greater form of himself. To that extent, there is the real possibility that he will want to take both his people and country to a far higher level from where they stand today.

The Way Forward

In Act III, scene i of William Shakespeare’s The Third Part of Henry VI, King Henry is being held captive by two armed keepers in a forest north of London. Stirring a discussion with his two captors, King Henry discusses his responsibilities as king. He explains that as king he serves for the purpose of his people, not for his own benefit. He states that every king must settle in to that idea. They must accept that is what it means to be a leader. Henry says in that moment: “My crown is in my heart, not on my head; / Not decked with diamonds and Indian stones, / Nor to be seen: my crown is called content: / A crown it is that seldom kings enjoy.” When Putin and Kim met in Vladivostok, everything was seemingly done under the pretense that all was well between the two countries. Still, there was a palpable sense while observing events in Vladivostok that Putin does not want North Korea to advance. He wants to  pull Kim and North Korea backward in time, backward to a circumstance in which North Korea could only define itself as subordinate to Russia and obedient to its whims. It may very well be Putin’s standard behavior with leaders of “lesser countries” and nothing extraordinary. Perhaps Putin, before and after the meeting, viewed Kim as being naive and that he could easily have him eating out of his hand. It has been considered in previous posts by greatcharlie that Trump, being different in his approach, may be able to do things that others cannot. Kim left Vladivostok appearing uncertain of how to respond to what he observed and heard from the Russian Federation President. As aforementioned here, in a scenario favorable for Washington, Kim, having met with Putin, may now be better aware of the stark differences between the respective futures that the Russian and US leaders offer North Korea. Putin met Kim figuratively empty handed as opposed to Trump who offered a golden future for his country. To the extent that Russia can exert influence in the world, particularly its large stake in the energy field, its attention is sought after by some. Whatever influence it may have internationally, it pales in comparison with that of the US.

If Trump had been even a bit iffy about the prospects for his denuclearization diplomacy to succeed, he would not have been able to move forward with it. Still, it is not Trump’s responsibility to be the sole engine behind denuclearization and the legitimate push to advance North Korea economically. If and when he meets with Trump for a third summit, it would behoove Kim to show how he is moving North Korea in that direction. It must be reflected in his proposals, his language, and his demeanor at the negotiation table and away from it. If Kim is unable to recognize the real value in what Trump is offering, at best, he will essentially condemn North Korea to a grey economy of black market and questionable bootleg products of all types, reliant on back alley deals with organized crime and corrupt foreign government officials, cash influx from North Korean guests workers abroad with limited to no access to substantial salaries and remain present in foreign countries at the whim of their governments. Throw on top of that nuclear weapons and long-range missile program that the US fully intends to eliminate if not through diplomacy, through devastating military strikes.

In all likelihood, Kim, would be incensed over failing to remove painful sanctions and end the maximum pressure campaign; impress his people by scoring a diplomatic victory over their US foe by removing sanctions while retaining the DPRK’s nuclear program; and, losing time on developing more nuclear weapons and perfecting their ability to reach the Continental US. If the denuclearization process fails, that will be a tough ticket for Trump to swallow. Yet, rather than being angered, he would likely be saddened over failing to reach the young North Korean leader, to establish a friendship with him, or embrace him as neighbor in this small world; and, to prevent the great potential of the North Korean people from being wasted. Hopefully, none of that will be the case. Nunquam sero te venisse putabo, si salvus veneris. (I shall never think you are late arriving as long as you come safely.)

Commentary: The Hanoi Summit: What Kim Did Wrong and What Trump Is Doing Right

US President Donald Trump (left) and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un (right). Before the Hanoi Summit, Trump insisted that if he became unsatisfied with the meeting’s progress, he would walk away from the table. That was precisely what he did. It is not easy to comprehend what might have impelled Kim’s decision not reach a common understanding with Trump in order to create a denuclearization agreement. Yet, regardless of what drove Kim, the question of what will come of all the diplomatic work done to this point remains. Of particular interest might be how Trump might assess Kim’s actions and intentions in Hanoi’s aftermath.

The strains placed on both US President Donald Trump and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) Chairman Kim Jong-un in their February 27-28, 2019 meeting in Hanoi were quite significant. The intended outcome of the meeting, that primarily being an agreement on denuclearization and North Korea’s economic rejuvenation, would have been positive for both sides. Before Hanoi, Trump put considerable energy into considering the type of partnership with Kim that would be largely economic, and certainly serve the interests of the US and its regional allies. He remained optimistic despite being bombarded by the voices of pessimism heard from naysayers and dream killers of all political stripes. For Kim, moving North Korea along a path toward the economic miracle that Trump proposed would require a well-planned, monumental project to restructure the only world he and his people have known. Surely, it was worth the candle for both Trump.and Kim to make a go at it. However, it may very well be that Kim did not fully understand that everything North Korea is, and everything it has, was actually at stake. To that extent, North Korea may not have been properly invested in the move toward denuclearization. It appears even Kim’s purported percipience of Trump and US foreign and national security policy making was also lacking. (Perhaps that knowledge was simply not being properly applied in practice.) .

Trump insisted before the Hanoi Summit, much as he had before negotiations with other national leaders on agreements, that if he became unsatisfied the meeting’s progress, he would walk away from the table. That is precisely what he did. It is not easy to comprehend what might have impelled Kim’s decision not to reach a common understanding with Trump and create a denuclearization agreement. Given Kim’s human rights record, some might suggest may have been influenced by ingenious telepathy from Hell. Sardonics aside, the talk’s outcome provides indicia to support a few reasonable theories. Thinking outside of the box in order to find causality for Kim’s decision, one might conclude on a basic level, that the whole negotiation soon became too rich for his blood and rather than take a giant step forward and risk making the wrong choice, he held pat on his position. On a higher tier, one might assess that there may have been senior advisers in Pyongyang who convinced Kim that he could get Trump to eat out of his hand, and in a leap of faith, he tossed everything into an effort to twist Trump’s tail and get him to accept a deal shaped by North Korea’s terms. Additionally, there is the possibility that some self-doubt might have found a place in Kim’s thinking. Despite his leadership through iron rule, one might also politely conclude that Kim possesses a sort of 50-50 mentality. That would mean that Kim can see the potential of all arguments, even those made by the US. From that, it might be considered that he would typically need more time to reach a decision that would best suit North Korea long-term. In whatever way Kim may have been driven, the question now is what will come of all the diplomatic work done to this point. Of particular interest might be how Trump might assess Kim’s actions and intentions in the aftermath of Hanoi. Having apparently gotten things mixed up in Hanoi, hopefully Kim will not mess things up from this point on with Trump. Si sapis, alterum alteri misce: nec speraveris sine desperatione nec desperaveris sine spe. (If you are wise, mingle these two elements: do not hope without despair, or despair without hope.)

Is Kim Missing the Bigger Picture?

Right on the heels of the summit’s closing, Trump held a unilateral press conference in Hanoi on February 28, 2019, essentially to explain why an agreement could not be reached. Trump told reporters that the crux of the matter was sanctions. In summarizing the situation, Trump stated Kim wanted sanctions lifted to a degree in which they would be rendered ineffective. In exchange, Kim would be willing to denuclearize portions of critical areas. Yet, Trump said those testing areas Kim was willing to break down were not the ones the US wanted. They were hardly enough to elicit the cessation of sanctions. Since Kim held firm to that position, Trump explained that there was little choice but to walk away from that proposal. However, Trump never indicated the conversation on the denuclearization had been exhausted.

Indeed, Trump expressed the belief, “I think we’ll end up being very good friends with Chairman Kim and with North Korea, and I think they have tremendous potential.” He insisted that the US despite the outcome has not “given up on anything.” His sense that progress on denuclearization was bolstered by the fact that Kim even had an interest in closing down parts of the nuclear program. Additionally, Trump reminded that, “There’s no more testing. And one of the things, importantly, that Chairman Kim promised me last night is, regardless, he’s not going to do testing of rockets and nuclear. Not going to do testing.  So, you know, I trust him, and I take him at his word.  I hope that’s true.” As for how the parties might move forward with the diplomatic process following Hanoi, Trump explained: “In the meantime, we’ll be talking. Mike [Pompeo, US Secretary of State] will be speaking with his people. He’s also developed a very good relationship with the people — really, the people representing North Korea. I haven’t spoken to Prime Minister Abe yet. I haven’t spoken to President Moon of South Korea.  But we will, and we’ll tell them it’s a process and it’s moving along.”

There was no legitimate cause for any confusion in Pyongyang as to what Trump wants in return for a prospective partnership is the same prize that was at the root of his decision to talk with Kim: denuclearization, the end of long-range missile development, the continued return of US remains from the Korean War, and dependability. As one can see, progress made on some of these matters was mentioned by Trump during his Hanoi press conference. In exchange, Kim would be assured that economic pressure, sanctions, would be mitigated, and a robust path toward economic renewal, backed by the experience of Trump and the largess of the US would be initiated.

The Trump administration officials, particularly US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have sought to engage in very open, honest, and frank communications with their DPRK counterparts. That would include making inquiries regarding what is happening within the chambers of decision making of North Korea. From that information, the administration has been able to proceed with a good idea of whether success is possible. There have also been letters from Kim to Trump that have provided a sense of where things stand in North Korea regarding denuclearization. There was also no ambiguity over the fact that the Trump administration certainly does not want to give up the strengths and equities of its alliances with allies. Those ties that bind allies in the region are the same ties that assure unity when dealing with China. Alas, at the table, the maximum that Kim could possibly collect about Trump, in order to make a good decision on the deal offered, was put before him, for all answers concerning the US position, concept and intent, ultimately resided in Trump, himself. Kim and his aides and advisers in Pyongyang could not reasonably ask for anything more.

It would say much if Kim could not see that real empathy may have come from Trump, understanding how heavy a burden such a decision might be for the young leader. Previous deals with North Korea of great significance were last reached with his father, Kim Jong-un, and they crumbled under the insistent strain within North Korea, in Kim regime to pursue the goal of his father and grandfather, Kim Il-sung of developing nuclear weapons. That goal has been achieved.  There may still be the strain within Kim to ignite an economic development akin, or even beyond, the Chollima Movement, as initiated by Kim’s grandfather and hero, Kim Il-sung. There is much that needs to done in North Korea, and as Trump has repeated, great potential exists within its workforce.

Trump’s critics and detractors insisted that Trump was out of court to even attempt to reach agreement with Kim that would meet the requirement of serving the interests of the US and its allies in the region. Surely, the Trump administration would never surrender  the strengths and equities of its alliances with allies. Those ties that bind allies in the region are the same ties that assure unity when dealing with China. Those critics and detractors, upon discovering that Trump was unfazed by their persistent negative voices and was going to make the effort anyway, eventually turned to the standby criticism concerning any of Trump’s efforts on foreign and national security policy: he is unqualified. Further, they would also insist that behind everything Kim has done was a hostile DPRK plot, a “Red plot”, to lure Trump and the US to destruction.

The Snare of Insufficient Analysis

Attacks by critics and detractors of Trump have manifested more than elementary cynicism. The dark shadows of their machinations gathered as the Hanoi Summit came near. Their efforts did more more than serve to tear those in the US public who are supportive of Trump away from him. Despite claims from Trump’s political adversaries, and the usual critics and detractors that what was happening in Washington had no impact on what occurred in Hanoi, nothing could be further from the truth. Indeed, it would seem that Pyongyang, unfortunately chose to do what was expedient. That meant believing Trump was stressed from the potential release of a final report of the Special Counsel to Investigate Russian Interference with the 2016 Presidential Election and Related Matters. There have been repeated insinuation that Trump faced the threat of investigations by the Deputy US Attorney for Southern District of New York and the New York State Attorney General. Pyongyang might have believed that Trump, caught in the wave of excitement concerning the 2020 US Presidential Campaign, mystifying reports of supposed gains by Democrats in polls versus Trump, and the reported mayhem that exists within the mainstream political parties. There may have been the belief that Kim could capitalize on some forecasted by the intelligence services on the impatience on the part of Trump. Reports commentaries, and opinion pieces in the US news media surely would have rung a bell for Kim’s aides and advisers and analysts in North Korea’s intelligence services. From that, it would follow that Trump’s political difficulties at home would likely distract him. If any of this was the case, it may explain why Pyongyang seemingly went all in on an effort to force Trump’s hand.

What Trump confidently knew, but Kim and his aides and advisers in Pyongyang would have unlikely been able to discern clearly, was that the hearings of the Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives and in camera testimony before the Intelligence Committee of the US House of Representatives in which Trump’s erstwhile attorney Michael Cohen testified, in essence amounted to vanity projects undertaken by political opponents of Trump in his rival Democratic Party. Although the hearings grabbed headlines in the US news media while Trump met with Kim in Hanoi, the new information gained from them was for the most part already widely known. As it has been repeatedly counseled by greatcharlie, reacting, and much worse, inferring how Trump’s mind moves on an issue from stories, iniquitous commentaries, and opinion pieces in the US news media. For the most part, US news media houses have done a complete job presenting themselves as Trump’s adversary, not simply critics and detractors. In either case, they are not playing the impartial watchdog role in which the fourth estate is supposed to serve.

Leaders often take unimaginable risks under stress. One could surmise that Kim must have been under some stress at home. Indeed, looking at Kim objectively, the question would be whether Kim was being ambitious or desperate in Hanoi. There is the possibility that in the intelligence services or the Workers’ Party of Korea, it may have posited that Trump could be manipulated into accepting a deal far less than he originally wanted. Lending support for the idea would be that Kim managed to secure a second meeting and that Kim was the actual master at the negotiation table with Trump, and he could take US President down whatever path he wanted. Although it may all sound like daylight madness, it is actually the sort of colorization of policy with delusional notions of an all powerful supreme leader that has underpinned many prior ham-handed decisions by Pyongyang. Nam qui peccare se nescit, corrigi non vult. (If one doesn’t know his mistakes, he won’t want to correct them.)

Kim’s 50-50 Personality?

One might theorize that Kim’s failure to return home with a constructive answer may not have driven as much by politics but by the possibility that he possesses a 50-50 personality. This is not intended as a disparagement or an affront. It is not to suggest that Kim is a mixed bag, or worse, indecisive. It does not mean Kim is regularly afflicted by the paralysis of analysis. The 50-50 personality is the one able to see beyond black and white to the grey areas of significance. Kim cannot be pegged as one extreme or the other. Kim’s trained ability to project calmness and authority in all circumstances publicly has little relation to what might be stirring within. In private, he may in reality be as much the introvert as the extrovert, he may entertain his sense of things as much as use a honed intuition. He may try to feel through issues and situations coupled with thinking them through ad infinitum. He may be willing to use his perception of matters taking into account his experience and much as making calibrated judgments based on available facts and methods of analysis.

New Problems or a Curious Attempt to Ignite Further Talks?

Kim has created an additional problem himself at this point. Reportedly, he has sought to reconstruct a disassembled testing facility for long range rockets at Tongchang-ri. On first blush, it certainly does seem there is nefarious purpose behind his actions. It is hard to see how anyone could view Kim as anything but an aggressor. Trump has invested in diplomacy to resolve matters in contention: North Korea’s nuclear program and its long range delivery systems. Tactical moves must have payoffs or they are useless exertions, often opening the door for opponent to act. Kim, having met Trump, should not be under any illusion that Trump would not respond fiercely to moves he might find aggressive and or threatening. Kim does not need to extrapolate and infer anything from overt or covert sources that his intelligence services may be relying upon to understand and predict Trump’s moves. The suspension of military exercises should not have signalled to Kim that Trump is not interested in a military option. As he indicated in words he has since set aside in the spirit of negotiating some resolution, North Korea’s aggression would met with “ fire and fury the world has never known!” Pardon greatcharlie’s freedom, but military exercises with conventional forces would hold less significance on the North Korea front if an attack conceived by Trump would include the use of scores of nuclear weapons.

Does Kim Really Know What Is Best for North Korea?

Even with the notion that he has a type of 50-50 mentality, and with all of his revolutionary zeal and his commitment to the Communist movement taken into consideration, Kim must realize that Trump’s deal was too good to pass on. Nevertheless, he did so. Looking at the matter purely from the perspective of an external observer, Kim made a big mistake. As a national leader concerned with his people’s real future and being much more than a functionary within the system, logic should have driven him toward it. One stands on shaky ground saying anything positive about Kim given the sensitivity of government agencies in the US to such comments, nonetheless, failing to engage Trump for a bit longer in Hanoi on the development of a fitting agreement for both parties was not a surprising error for a national leader who is new to such high stakes diplomacy. Errant consilia nostra, quia non habent quo derigantur; ignoranti quem portum petat nullus suus ventus est. (Our plans miscarry because they have no aim. When a man does not know what harbor he is making for, no wind is the right wind.)

A logical next step for Kim and his aides and advisers, if they are truly interested in, and dedicated to, this important diplomatic process, might be to try to get the toothpaste back into the tube. A sign that such an effort could already be underway might be official statements by the foreign ministry of North Korea insisting that there was a desire in Pyongyang for a partial denuclearization. Indeed, on February 28, 2019 in Hanoi, North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho explained that Kim’s regime sought only “partial” sanctions relief in return for dismantling the North’s main enrichment capabilities for fissile material. As for continued negotiations, Ri stated, “It is difficult to say whether there might be a better agreement than the one based on our proposal at current stage.” He continued authoritatively, “Our principal stance will remain invariable and our proposal will never be changed, even though US proposes negotiation again in the future.” Ri also confirmed that the North would be willing to “permanently dismantle all the nuclear material production facilities” at the main Yongbyon nuclear site and allow U.S. nuclear experts to observe. He went on to complain that North Korea had sought an end to “sanctions that hamper the civilian economy, and the livelihood of all people in particular,” citing five out of 11 sanctions packages imposed by the UN Security Council. As mentioned earlier, sanctions relief along those lines would have amounted to a significant easing of the pressure on North Korea.

Although some somber and astute analysts might reach the conclusion that the foreign ministry’s bold, inaccurate statements, with their familiar antagonistic cadence, was simply a pretension, one more dramatic expression of Pyongyang. The odd hope of it all would appear to be influencing opinion among senior officials of the Workers Party of Korea and other elites of business circles of the society that Trump was not sincere about sanctions relief and he failed to respond to what is likely extolled in Pyongyang as Kim’s “generous offer”. It may very well have been the case that Pyongyang had the foreign ministry’s statement “locked and cocked” even before Kim left by train for Hanoi in the event that Trump would not accept the terms he planned to offer him.

The Agony of Negotiating with North Korea

It is interesting how North Korean officials have spoken so obstinately of Trump’s openhandedness toward their country. Perhaps Pyongyang has forgotten that Kim is not exactly everyone’s cup of tea. (That is unlikely something anyone in Pyongyang would ever say in Kim’s presence.) Among industrialized countries, ruling out the Russian Federation and China, few governments hold a favorable opinion of North Korea. Pyongyang should rest assured that a number of capable US allies have likely suggested in confidence that Trump should move on from diplomacy and simply use military force on North Korea and indicated the willingness to join that effort. Trump, the one that North Korean Foreign Ministry officials now criticize, is the national leader who truly has the military power to destroy North Korea, yet he has given it a chance to prove its positive intentions to the world. Trump has sought to create the circumstances in which the entire world could begin to think well of North Korea and consider ways to work well with it. Trump’s description of his contacts and communications with Kim and public statements about his friendship and chemistry with him, have made him far less the threat that deservedly made headlines with angry words and aggressive moves in 2017 when the administration began. Trump kept his promise to work directly with Kim on the diplomacy, although it would unlikely have gone any other way as he has become the administration’s talisman on bilateral diplomacy, trade talks, essentially every kind of dealmaking. More than half way through his term as of this writing, Trump has amassed a record of making things happen; getting things done.

Not under any circumstances would the reconstruction of the testing site fall under the category of a benign act. It would hard to see where Pyongyang, having had two bites at the diplomacy apple, might hope to have some understanding of its move to reconstruct it’s long-range rocket testing site in a positive way in Washington or anywhere in the US for that matter. In reconstructing the testing site, Kim is doing precisely what Trump said he did not want North Korea to do. Nonetheless, taking a second look at the matter of Kim’s move to reconstruct the testing site from another angle purely out of academic interest and with a dose of optimism, one could say that the effort, albeit poorly conceived, was designed to create a position of perceived strength and encourage Trump to talk with Kim again. After all, that step was less threatening than other available options to garner immediate attention, create urgency. Kim could have begun reconstruction on a shuttered nuclear facility or begun building a new one. Kim could have made unsubstantiated public claims of possessing new nuclear technologies to enrich uranium for weapons such as the ability to separate isotopes through laser excitation (“SILEX”). (Note, this is just a hypothetical. There is no effort here to suggest that North Korea possesses such capabilities.) For Pyongyang, the danger in engaging in such tricky stuff is that the wrong signal may be sent to Washington. By and large, Pyongyang has asked the Trump administration to be patient and to recognize that on the world stage, North Korea is going to display a lack of sophistication, savoir faire, and present itself as the isolated, authoritarian “hermit kingdom” it has always been. While it may have hoped to move things in a specific way, it is possible that what might be intended through such moves could be lost in the labyrinth. Perhaps even unknowingly, Pyongyang has placed its best hope in Trump’s willingness to interpret its moves in a somewhat positive way and view the diplomatic effort as being worth the trouble.

It is apparent that Trump along with those foreign and national security policy officials who were optimistic about a deal being reached on denuclearization with North Korea, reasoned that it would be worth giving Kim the benefit of doubt.  However, one could never be completely clear on how denuclearization would fit into the worldview of the Workers’ Party of Korea or Kim’s inner thinking. Shots have not been fired at anger across the border. There has been no testing over nuclear devices and no testing of long-range or short-range rockets. If a chance might be taken in the name of finding a peaceful agreement, right now is certainly the time to take them. It certainly would be a ashame if the positive spirit which had been discern in the White House from Kim’s thoughts, words, and deeds from Singapore until Hanoi, was simply imputed by the administration to greater degree than warranted. Admittedly, it is hard to understand why Pyongyang would at this point, hope for peace while reconstructing a testing facility for long-range rockets.

It is worth noting that in a more forceful, less grateful statement than Ri’s on February 28, 2019, North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui, explained: “The impression I got observing this summit from the side was that our chairman seems to have difficulty understanding the US way of reckoning.” Choe, offering her own assessment, declared: “I felt that our chairman has lost the will to engage in dealmaking, with the US saying that even a partial lifting of sanctions for the civilian economy is hard.” Conditions surely will not change through diplomacy if Pyongyang refuses to negotiate. If anything positive could be gleaned from Choe’s statement, itself, it is the fact that the harshest words were delivered by a vice foreign minister, not Kim or a very senior Workers’ Party of Korea official. That may have left the door open for Kim or a senior officials to walk back from those words, making diplomacy with the hope that cobbling together a denuclearization agreement might still be viable. Apparently, Trump mercifully brushed off pretentious statements by DPRK’s officials on their country’s power relative to that of the US, and the great disproportion between them with reality. It is difficult to determine how long Trump’s patience will last though. Given a third chance, Kim might goof again.

Trump certainly has not indicated that he feels the time has come to tie things off. It may be that Trump is more concerned with the prospect of millions of lives being lost if he does not give it every chance. When asked in Hanoi whether the bridge could be gapped between Kim’s desire to have all or a significant portion of sanctions removed and his desire to more significant denuclearization, he responded: “With time.  It’ll be bridged, I think, at a certain point.  But there is a gap.  We have to have sanctions.  And he wants to denuke, but he wants to just do areas that are less important than the areas that we want.  We know that — we know the country very well, believe it or not.  We know every inch of that country.  And we have to get what we have to get, because that’s a big — that’s a big give.” Oculis de homine non credo, habeo melius et certius lumen quo a falsis uera diiudicem: animi bonum animus inueniat. (I do not trust my eyes to tell me what a man is: I have a better and more trustworthy light by which I can distinguish what is true from what is false: let the mind find out what is good for the mind.)

Commentary: Will the Trump-Kim Summit Yield an Agreement That Is Cosmetic or Consequential?

If an agreement is reached between US President Donald Trump and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) Chairman Kim Jong-un in Hanoi, it would certainly be a great leap forward not only in terms of US-North Korea relations, but also in terms of establishing true global peace and security. Smart money says both Trump and Kim will come through for their people, and the essence of an agreement as initially desired will be put together. The world should wish them well.

If some agreement is reached between US President Donald Trump and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea  (North  Korea) Chairman Kim Jong-un when they meet February 27-28, 2019, in Hanoi, the hope is that it will be more consequential than cosmetic. Since his first meeting with him in Singapore, Trump has been thinking through a new type of partnership with Kim that would be largely economic, and certainly serve the interests of the US and its regional allies. What he has also been doing, however, is creating the circumstances in which the entire world could begin to think well of North Korea and consider how to work well with it. Hopefully, Kim has been preparing his people for a big change, a new path forward. Some observers have demanded to see tangibles, commenting specifically that there are no signed documents agreeing to any plan of action with concrete steps. The reality is that on this monumental undertaking, change will take time. One might refer those impatient observers to the words of the Greek Stoic philosopher of Ancient Rome, Epictetus, which explained: “No thing great is created suddenly, any more than a bunch of grapes or a fig. If you tell me that you desire a fig, I answer you that there must be time. Let it first blossom, then bear fruit, then ripen.”

What Trump wants in return for a prospective partnership is the same prize that was at the root of his decision to talk with Kim: denuclearization, the end of long-range missile development, the continued return of US remains from the Korean War, and dependability. In exchange, Kim would be assured that economic pressure to include sanctions would be mitigated, and a robust path toward economic renewal, backed by the experience of Trump and the largess of the US would be initiated.

Accepting that has most likely been tough for the North Koreans on many levels. The enormous uplift and national pride, the sense of power and control, that comes with possessing nuclear weapons and the means to use them, elevates their importance in Pyongyang. To that extent, resistance to Kim’s effort could have been expected from many senior officials. Certainly, Kim is well equipped to cope with stubborn resistance to his new efforts in his own way. However, quite different from resistance to a deal, but still threatening enough to it, would be almost inherent lack of desire in Kim or any other official in Pyongyang to be “subsumed” by Washington just to gain advantages or considerations being offered. It must always be remembered that the North Korean government is authoritarian in nature and underpinned by a revolutionary movement. It will be reluctant to trust and slow to accept change. There would unlikely be a desire to integrate with what North Koreans may have for so long demonized as a Western-led international order.

It would be a mistake to believe that reaching an agreement would be seen by North Koreans as a means to acquire some sense of affirmation. For the North Koreans, particularly members of the Workers’ Party of Korea, affirmation can only result from loyalty to Kim, to country, and adherence to revolutionary ideals. That all lies deep within. Reaching an agreement would find greatest acceptance among North Koreans as a decision driven by revolutionary impulse. Additionally, North Koreans would want to know what they might create as a result of an economic revival will rightfully belong to them alone. There would be joy in knowing that whatever they might build would be the product of their own hands, not something given to them or done for them by external agents. Support from Trump must be viewed as being actuated by his humanism, and not negatively perceived as a cloaked manipulation or a quest for US dominance. As noted in Pensées, the collected works of 17th century French mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal: “We are generally the better persuaded by the reasons we discover ourselves than by those given to us by others.”

What may also prove challenging for Pyongyang, if an agreement is reached, will be exercising the restraint required when working within the international order. The parameters of of bilateral and multilateral agreements, rules, regulations, and procedures, will need to be obeyed. Pyongyang should not equate using restraint as surrendering control. Rules, regulations, and procedures both established and understood in the international order, allow for sense of certainty, assurance, and safety. If anything, control resides in Pyongyang’s ability to make the decision to enter and to remain in the global economic fray as a genuine player. What is being presented is an authentic opportunity for North Korea to choose to be something other than a stranger to the rest of the world.

Given the great economic and financial benefits expected of a Trump-Kim deal, the question would likely remain in Washington on whether the life condition of the North Korean people would be changed by steps taken by it. Only Kim would be able to decide that. The best hope Washington might have on the matter would be that Kim will accept with “revolutionary zeal and patriotism” that the transformation of the country should touch all levels of North Korean society. Interestingly, if Kim follows through on a deal with Trump, the economic effort could very well be viewed as the greatest attempt to take DPRK’s Revolution to new heights since the Chollima Movement initiated by his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, decades ago.

If Trump and Kim reach an agreement in Hanoi, it would certainly be a great leap forward not only for the US and North Korea, but also in terns of establishing true global peace and security. The world should wish them well. China, Vietnam, and Mongolia have gone through similar, yet respectively unique, economic transformations. If some written accord is not reached by the two leaders at the summit, there will be other opportunities to meet. However, if everything goes thoroughly bad at the meeting and this mighty diplomatic effort collapses, both leaders will face a dilemma that could take two forms. One may include cobbling together an agreement to maintain some semblance of the status quo. The other may be to go war. The latter is certainly far more distressing than the former, as it may result in the loss of millions of lives. Smart money says both Trump and Kim will come through for their people, and the essence of an agreement as initially desired will be put together. In his work, Meditations, the renowned Ancient Roman Emperor and Stoic philosopher, Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus, provides apt marching orders for Trump and Kim: “Concentrate on what you have to do. Fix your eyes on it. Remind yourself what nature demands of people. Then, do it, without hesitation, and speak the truth as you see it. But with kindness. With humility. Without hypocrisy.”

The Second US-DPRK Summit: A Few Additional Things Trump and Kim Might Consider

US President Donald Trump (left) and DPRK Chairman Kim Jong-un (right) in Singapore. It has been easy for some even in the US Government to muse over the intentions, concepts, policies, ideals and even personality traits of the leadership DPRK, and then enumerate reasons why the denuclearization process would likely fail. What is more difficult is to gather all information available and put good minds to work at developing ways to cope defeat those problems in order to achieve the President’s goals. Trump is working hard to make denuclearization a reality. Hopefully, Kim is working hard in Pyongyang to do the same. 

Regarding the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and denuclearization, US President Donald Trump has pursued what he perceives to be an opportunity for the US to change things for the better. Since his meeting with DPRK Chairman Kim Jong-un, Trump has expressed the view that relations between the US and DPRK are the best that they have ever been. He explains that is evinced by the fact that: his communication with Kim has been very positive; there has been no nuclear weapons or missile testing; US citizens being held in the DPRK have been returned; and, the US is receiving remains of its soldiers lost in the Korean War. It has been easy for some even in the US Government to muse over the intentions, concepts, policies, ideals and even personality traits of the leadership DPRK, and then enumerate reasons why the denuclearization process would likely fail. What is more difficult is to gather all information available and put good minds to work at developing ways to cope with or even defeat those problems. That is what the Trump is trying to do. Hopefully, Kim is working hard in Pyongyang to do the same. Now is the time to advance toward the actual realization of denuclearization as well as have the US enumerate what it and the rest of the world will actually do for the DPRK.

Naturally, success, while wished for from the second meeting, is not guaranteed. Trump has been acknowledged both directly and obliquely in eloquent phrases on Twitter, speeches, and press conferences. This next meeting must be the inflexion point of the negotiation process on denuclearization. If satisfactory results in the form of guaranteed, concrete steps from Kim are absent, abandoning the effort would be completely in step with Trump’s “America First” concept. The purpose of this rather “lean” essay is to look briefly at some issues both Trump and Kim might be already contemplating before the next meeting, along with other, small thoughts that might also be worth considering. At points, it highlights some impediments that were very likely responsible for decelerating the pace of the negotiation process, and calls attention to those obstructions that could be removed in the second meeting. It is not orotundity to state that it is not greatcharlie’s intention, as the 2020 Presidential Election Campaign begins, to serve as some conseiler isolaté d’un aspirant president from which attacks against the Trump administration could be formed. The hope is to simply contribute in some balanced way to the policy debate on the DPRK and denuclearization. Quid ergo? non ibo per priorum vestigia? ego vero utar via vetere, sed si propiorem planioremque invenero, hanc muniam. Qui ante nos ista moverunt non domini nostri sed duces sunt. Patet omnibus veritas; nondum est occupata; multum ex illa etiam futuris relictum est. (What then? Shall I not follow in the footsteps of my predecessors? I shall indeed use the old road, but if I find one that makes a shorter cut and is smoother to travel, I shall open the new road. Men who have made these discoveries before us are not our masters, but our guides. Truth lies open for all; it has not yet been monopolized. And there is plenty of it left even for posterity to discover.)

Kim seated during his 2019 New Year’s Address (above). It is very likely that both Trump and Kim will find in that face-to-face encounter that they are respectively not the exactly same as on June 12, 2018. Much as Trump has expected Kim to have evolved somewhat in terms of his thinking on the US and on the potential of his country following their Singapore Meeting, Trump, having gone through much concerning international affairs, has surely evolved since.

Some Things Kim Might Discern about Trump

Trump and Kim have already shared their elaborations of how the other troubled them in Singapore. The connaissance suffisante that they acquired of one another then has served as the basis upon which continued communications between them was comfortably founded. That communication was mainly conducted by using their top officials as envoys and letters. What they truly understand about each other, their chemistry, will be verified by the results their next meeting. It is very likely that they will find in their next face-to-face encounter that they are respectively not the exactly same as in Singapore. Trump already seems to feel Kim has evolved in terms of his thinking on the US and on the possibility of transforming his country. Kim will discover that Trump, having gone through much in the realm of international affairs since, has also evolved.

Objective observers of Trump would say that if one is able to get a sense of Trump’s inner thinking, one would become better able to parse out or simply have better sense of his decisions on foreign and national security policy.  Otherwise, he may often appear to be doing nothing when he is actual doing a plethora of things, step by step. In his efforts, Trump does not act as if he were tinkering figurative tools in his political maneuverings and deal making. Rather, he uses certain “instruments” to methodically, and rapidly, tailor a situation, to craft things. The vocal “bang and boom” often heard while he takes action is typically used as distraction and even amusement at times. Within, he approaches matters with a rhythm that is smooth and unbroken, steady and strong. He always has a plan and knows where he is going. His true target is not always one that others would immediately discern. He prefers to accomplish many things at once. When warned about advancing on a matter, Trump may often boldly push ahead. In his current position, much as during business life, Trump will treat important what he intuits on how to proceed. US Government foreign and national security policy professionals may appreciate his ideas, but requirements that they much adhere to regarding diligence will invariably demand that generally refrain including his “gut reactions” in their analyses. Yet this contrast in approach in no way serves as indicia that the relationship between Trump and the US intelligence community has been corrupted.

Critics and detractors within the US news media and among scholars, policy analysts, political opponents, and leaders of the Democratic Party, have had Trump on the brain continuously from the time he became a Presidential Candidate in 2015. Unfortunately, it seems that some mud brought into the campaign by a few self-interested others, unbeknownst to Trump, was tracked into the White House on the bottom of his shoes. However, it has long since been swept out of the building despite continued efforts to impute upon Trump whatever behaviors in which others were engaged behind his back. Trump is certainly not totally insensitive to his opponents attacks. Admittedly, there is some aggressiveness. The attacks of his critics and detractors should not be underestimated for they surely would have smothered or destroyed other national leaders of less strength and fortitude. In a way undisclosed, Trump still finds space to grow and evolve as president, despite the weight and nature of criticisms levelled against him. It may sound a bit soupy, but the reality is that Trump becomes stronger, vitalized by the adversity he faces; he draws from the potential energy and kinetic energy manifested from the power of his struggles. The Ancient Roman Senator and historian Marcus Porcius Cato, known as Cato the Elder, once expressed: “We cannot control the evil tongues of others; but a good life enables us to disregard them.”

On that basis, an understanding of Trump’s approach to foreign and national security policy can also be founded. A fairly common belief globally, but not always admitted in more recent times, is that the US is the beacon and the ballast for the world. Trump holds to that belief, and knows that it would be a moral failing to be remiss or delinquent in dealing with urgent and important issues  However, unlike his predecessors, while he sees all the needs around the world, Trump is not inclined to hand anything to anyone. He would like the other party to demonstrate, through some exchange, of goodwill even, an appreciation for what the US may give. Me rendez-vous heureux?

From what is collected by the intelligence services of both countries, strands must be pulled from what is synthesized to support the requirements of decision makers. That information must also be accurately portrayed. Seeking to collect as much as possible about Trump to prepare Kim for the next meeting, to develop something new, there may be the temptation to infer and extrapolate information from derisive US news media reports of recent events concerning the US President. Reading that might lead Pyongyang to erroneously believe that Trump’s range of action and ability to do big things on foreign and national security policy might be restrained somewhat by his rather curious domestic political struggles. Nothing could be further from the truth. Observing reporters almost instantaneously receive approval from editors and producers in broadcast, published, and online media to pursue stories on the Trump administration only after developing an immediate impression of their veracity shocks the system. The overwhelming nature of its incredulity can even amuse as it is the juxtaposition of two ideas: “all the news that is fit to print” versus “anything goes!” Still, as long as such reporting and commentaries sell advertising space, there most likely will be a lot more of it. Is qui scit plurimum, rumor. (That most knowing of persons: gossip.)

Once Trump has determined what he desires from a matter, he finds a path to get where he wants to be, regardless of how rocky. With the knowledge of how he can successfully proceed firmly in mind, Trump often will initially be patient, allowing an opposite party to try to better understand and find some agreement with his positions. The value of that would be to facilitate any negotiations. Intriguingly, Trump prefers and usually seeks to reach a mutually acceptable agreement through negotiations. Yet, at the same time, Trump will allow the path he charted to develop further. If a deal cannot be reached, he will travel that path to his goal. Interestingly, his clashes with political opponents have underlined that “they do not get Trump.” They seem to have no desire to examine him in an objective way. Kim should avoid the mistakes they have made in negotiating with him.

Most important to know is that what Trump does on one issue may serve to positively shape what he is doing on another. He economically exerts his energy, squeezing the maximum benefit from his decisions. Persistent, iniquitous, coverage of Trump’s handling of the very important political debate on border protection, the border wall, the government shutdown and even the State of the Union Address, obscured the reality that there were other important and urgent matters on his plate. A sampling of what Trump was working on at the same time included: agreeing to a new meeting with Kim on denuclearization, throwing full US support behind the interim president of Venezuela, Juan Guaido, drawing down US troops from Syria, watching peace talks and the US drawdown in Afghanistan, and working in trade with China. National unity and expressions of goodwill in the US were necessary for the world to see, not a partisan battle. By the way, the outcome of that partisan battle on border security, even though it may not be generally accepted, is certainly assured to go Trump’s way.

The Vice Chairman of the Workers’ Party of Korea, Kim Yong-chol (left) hands Trump (right) a letter from Kim. Trump and Kim have already shared their elaborations of how the other troubled them in Singapore. The comfortable level of connaissance suffisante they acquired of one another has served as the basis upon which continued communications between them was founded. That communication was mainly conducted by using their top officials as envoys and letters. What they truly understand about each other will be verified by the results their next meeting.

Some Thoughts Trump May Be Having about Kim

The initial meeting in Singapore allowed Trump and Kim to get a sense for one another, discuss expectations, and essentially figure out whether denuclearization was even feasible with all things considered. In the second meeting, some tangible steps toward denuclearization must result or the entire process will be largely seen as a failure. If a memorandum of understanding, outlining requirements, responsibilities, and time lines for action to which officials from both sides could later add flesh out, that would be very encouraging. If Kim came to the meeting and then left having offered nothing new, he would make a huge mistake. If Trump feels in the end that he has been led down the garden path on denuclearization, and would be left standing before the world with nothing, he would not react well at all.

As discussed in a January 19, 2019 greatcharlie post entitled, “Trump Uses Prior Experience, Flexible Thinking, and Even Empathy, to Make Foreign Policy Decisions Fit for Today’s World”, when mulling over a new approach on a matter in negotiation with another country or countries, the foreign and national security policy machinery of countries as the DPRK will very often move with the same speed as the massive naval dreadnoughts of early and mid-20th century. Wheeling those giant ships port or starboard took real effort. Self-interested bureaucracies will champion their points of view on a matter and guard their turf. Their devotion to ensuring the primacy of their organizations’ partisan interests can even surpass their enthusiasm over the matter at hand. It is more than likely that by now, Kim has dealt with any issues of that nature. Bureaucratic issues concerning denuclearization, if they ever existed, are by now nonexistent in the truest sense of the term. Kim definitely has a strong grip on his government. Political rivals are essentially nonexistent. He most certainly would have been “on his way” after presenting the mere idea of denuclearization to the leadership of the Workers Party of Korea. What is more likely is that Kim may be concerned with being profoundly disappointed by Trump, who is in fact a relative stranger to him and initially an adversary from the US. (One must look from Kim’s perspective, not one’s’ own lens, not one’s’ wishes.)

Given the militaristic culture and security mindset that undergirds the DPRK’s society, Kim naturally may still harbor fears over being outmaneuvered by the US in a way that leads to military invasion. A new window of opportunity has been opened for US-DPRK relations and for the DPRK directly, and the world. Still, due to that, one must not treat the fact that after July 27, 1953 armistice ending a horrific three year war on the Korean Peninsula, tens of thousands of troops on both sides of a Demilitarized Zone remained heavily armed and on alert in a stand-off with less care than it deserves. The 65 years following the war were a time of anger, aggression, deception and betrayal between the US and the DPRK. What emerged from that period within both governments was a vast paranoia.  That paranoia eventually hardened, became somewhat ordinary, and seemingly gave rise to intractable negative beliefs and harsh convictions of both nations respective intentions. This defacto bigotry in thinking on both sides colored personal and institutional  perceptions, doubtlessly insinuating itself into studies, observations, and varied other reports on both sides. This was particularly so in the military and intelligence and other security services. Having for years regularly diagnosed one another as bad, to be fair, it is now hard for them to turn on a dime because one wants them to do so. Great unease, suspicion would naturally exist.

Having kept the DPRK in isolation, much as his father, Kim Jong-un, and his grandfather, Kim Il-sung had for so long before him, Kim might certainly concern himself with having his society become rapidly “contaminated” by stealthy  Western efforts to influence his people or simply by philosophies and lifestyles that loyal members of the Workers’ Party of Korea would consider anathema. With this alone in mind, it would be unreasonable for anyone to complain that a change in the mindset of the DPRK on interacting so closely with the West on denuclearization or any transformative matter should have come more rapidly. Trump did not leave Singapore feeling a need to dictate the tempo of the negatiation process. It has been left to Kim to guide his country across the many figurative intellectual and emotional pickets lines that exist to denuclearization.

However, what could be legitimately characterized as a resistance and reluctance by Kim to advance toward an agreement may indicate that he may fear an invasion of another sort. He may fear that economic development effort will lead to invasion in the form of multinational corporations which are accountable to no one. Multinational corporations would argue well that they are good global citizens doing much that is not publicized. A general impression in many capitals, however, is that help from them is not really help. They are viewed as operating solely with pecuniary interest in a country. One only needs to recall the experience of Russia following the fall of the Soviet Union a Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin regularly laments. Undoubtedly, Moscow has reminded Kim of that. The massive multinational corporations have budgets greater than the DPRK itself. They are well staffed by very intelligent and capable development professionals who diligently look for what to exploit in weak countries. They can engage in nearly formulaic efforts to self-enrich themselves leading to dreadful damage to societies even if it is unintentional. It can become a plundering of countries struggling to pick themselves up and trying to organize themselves. Kim may believe that opening the DPRK to assistance on economic development may make his country vulnerable to corporate intrusion as it tries to emerge. It is unlikely that the idea of creating linkages between US based multinational corporations and DPRK industries to foster their development, as was done in South Korea many decades ago, will not fly in Pyongyang. The DPRK will most likely want to move along its way without corporate intrusion. If Kim expresses such a concern in the next meeting, Trump will likely guarantee that he would not even hint to any multinational corporation that some right or protection will be provided to seize DPRK resources.

If in the aftermath of the Trump administration, multinationals attempt the move in on the DPRK in well-worn, predictable ways, that will almost guarantee an ugly response in which the multinationals will be most likely be violently forced from the scene. Ultimately, that might lead to the collapse of everything positive achieved. It is highly recommended that Trump should have a solution available to address that likely concern to share with Kim at the negotiation table.

Among the advantages that would supposedly be created by the DPRK’s cooperation with Trump, would be the betterment in the standard of living and ostensibly, through an improved economy, the empowerment of the Workers’ Party of Korea which itself would presumably go through some change. Through its transformation, the DPRK would no longer be “The hermit kingdom”, but rather, find itself invited to the grand table of countries. It too would be able to wield real influence internationally; it, too, would be involved in decisions made on urgent and important matters. Yet, regarding economic development, Kim may reason that the same economic levers that Trump may use to ratchet up the DPRK’s economy and greater industrialization can be used conversely to supplant his government’s freedom of action. It may even be used to undermine Kim’s present unrestricted, authoritarian control his country. If a reliance on the help of the US, or the international community in some collective effort, to subsidise the DPRK’s organization were to develop, the US and others would be able to control the spigot from with the society’s revitalization flows. Kim will be fully responsible for that circumstance, that loss of independence, self-determination, and control.

Realistically, the long-term process of the DPRK’s economic development will go beyond his time in office and the mission of transforming the DPRK would be assigned to future US administrations. Trump should consider Kim’s possible concern that while he has an exceptionally good relationship with him, perchance, relations between himself and another US President soon to follow may be problematic. If that turned out to be the case, rash behavior might once again be seen from Kim. Indeed, the need to break any perceived “chains” of Western economic and financial subjugation, and the need to regain full control of its destiny, may impel the most aggressive responses possible by Pyongyang. A mechanism must established to make sure that the US-DPRK relationship will continue to be handled with empathy and nuance.

Trump displays letter from Kim Jong-un in Cabinet Room of the White House (above). Beyond their communications, Trump might reassure Kim by presenting him with a discussion of concrete, enumerated steps that would be taken to economically energize the DPRK in exchange for denuclearization. A new DPRK, economically viable enough to find a place at the table with other successful economies in the region, may all sound well as part of a prospective process. Nevertheless, Kim, if his intentions are positive, will want to know how it all would actually pan out for him in the real world.

What Might Facilitate Negotiations

Conceivably, more so than less, Kim feels that he can rely on what he might call Trump’s “humanism.” Still, reassurance, most important in negotiations between adversaries, cannot come simply from engaging in more talk with Trump. Trump has already expressed much to exhort Kim to move toward denuclearization. Kim knows very well that Trump now wants to see genuine steps that will complete the dismantling and elimination of the DPRK’s nuclear weapons program. Assuredly, Trump will not present a partial version of himself through which he would intend to deceive Kim. There would not be some sort of “secret world” stuff going on that might possibly be discovered in his words, mannerisms, and attitude. Beyond ongoing communications, Trump might reassure Kim by presenting him with a discussion of concrete, enumerated steps that would be taken to economically energize the DPRK in exchange for denuclearization. A new DPRK, economically viable enough to find a place at the table with other successful economies in the region may all sound well as part of an imaginative prospective process. Nevertheless, Kim will still want to know, if his own intentions are positive, how it all would actually pan out for him in the real world.

Trump must bring tangibles to the negotiation table during the second meeting developed from his own shrewd thinking and knowledge of resources that he can commit to a deal. When mulling over what to present to Kim that would serve as the making of a plan of action, Trump’s aides and advisers likely determined what the relative value of a tangible might be to the other side. It must be useful enough to create some sense of equity, balance, and perhaps if a side is lucky, it might represent some real gain. Many of Trump’s suggestions might be steps that Kim and his aides and advisers in Pyongyang never considered. Despite what may be the wish of Pyongyang, no suggestions that may shift the security framework that exists between the US and its allies in Northeast Asia should be brought to the table with reasonable hope of seeing change. Indeed, Trump certainly must not give up the strengths and equities of its alliances with allies. Although the DPRK would the focus of talks, those ties that bind allies in the region are the same ties that assure unity when dealing with China. Indeed, given the concerns of the US and its allies to China’s actions and intentions in the Asia Pacific region, a reaffirmation of cooperation and commitments on security among them should be expected. Overall, Kim can rest assured that Trump will not offer rotten apples for him to choose from.

Simulatio delet veritatem, sine qua nomen amicitiae valere non potest. (Pretense obliterates the truth, without which the name of friendship cannot survive.) Kim would do well to focus on his own country’s relations with the US as well as neighbors in the region. If he is negotiating with some pretence of serving certain interests of China at the same time, he will essentially throw away an opportunity as the US and its regional allies would surely detect that effort. Kim must no longer allow his country to remain a prisoner of what most in the world views as an ignoble momentum.

Speculating on what might be offered, there might be some type of Marshall Plan tabled by Trump. Development programs similar to the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization must be organized for the DPRK’s many industries. Using its own wisdom, and the external assistance it chooses to receive, the DPRK must in a more efficient way enrich itself with its own natural resources. Improved trade opportunities with other countries worldwide, facilitated by guarantees by the US, could be established following the removal. Rather than to multinational, linkages could be made to the economics departments and business school of specified US colleges and universities. There may be some small-scale variante of the Peace Corps with well-defined parameters encompassing state-run industries and other economic activity within the DPRK, narrow in scope, curated in a way that recognizes the extraordinary internal security concerns of the DPRK. Those concerns will not go away overnight.

Trump is certainly not a political hack being led from the nose by his political party, not a creature of some financial interest due to subsidization, and not a corporate pawn as his enemies portend. or as a number of other US political leaders reportedly have been alleged to be. The potential threat that he could be lobbied or coerced to acquiesce to demands from some external source, political, financial, or corporate, is nonexistent. Nothing of that sort could possibly undermine what might be achieved.

If the second meeting is successful, it would be a dramatic moment. The years of struggle would be about to come to an end. There would need to be the call for collective retreat from hostile thinking if the two countries are to move forward successfully. Thinking and emotions must flow in a new direction. What is read and heard in the public from officials at the highest level on both sides should reflect that. There must be an insistent voice that proclaims the time for change has come. It must be expressed from the top and must be heard repeatedly. If encouraging satisfactory change in the DPRK proves to be insurmountable for Trump, or if there is an unwillingness of the DPRK leadership to be truly open to taking a new path, displaying ambivalence or equivocation in talks, the denuclearization process will most likely collapse. If the DPRK undertakes the effort to transform, it must be dedicated to it completely. Kim is essentially facing a binary choice. If Pyongyang could pardon greatcharlie’s freedom, returning to the unreality that the DPRK has the military wherewithal to take on the a military superpower would be a tragic mistake. Perhaps for him, reason might again be found in the words of Cato the Elder who stated: “Wise men profit from fools than fools from wise men; for the wise men shun the mistakes of fools, but fools do not imitate the successes of the wise.”

Trump feels unfettered by what was not accomplished in the past, or what has been called impossible. He has the vision and spirit to achieve news things. In this case, it is denuclearization and the DPRK. He knows how to support its industrial development, and usher it to a positive place in the international order. What drives Trump to get this deal is not his purported tendencies toward social ambition and aggressiveness. This is actually Trump putting his best foot forward. Although the values and interests of the US will be satisfied, it is predominantly about doing what is right for both the people of the US and the DPRK as well.

The Way Forward

In Act 1 scene 3 of William Shakespeare’s play The Taming of the Shrew, a story in the story of tinker abused as part of a local lord’s practical joke upon a poor tinker, Christopher Sly. He is convinced that he is a lord, and troupe of actors performs a play before him which makes up the main story of The Taming of the Shrew. Their play takes place in Italian city of Padua, a rich young man named Lucentio there to attend university, instantly falls in love with Bianca, a beautiful, mild young woman. However she already has two suitors, Hortensio and Gremio, and Bianca’s father has declared that no one may court Bianca until first her older sister, Katherine, an ill-tempered  is married. That problem is ostensibly resolved when Hortensio’s friend Petruchio, a audacious young man from Verona, arrives in Padua seeking a wealthy woman to marry. Believing he has found what he was looking for, he agrees to marry Katherine sight unseen. Several characters add to the warnings Petruchio hears about her. However, rather than back away, he views marrying her as a challenge, not just a money making opportunity. He explains that living with Katherine could not possibly be worse than the hardships he  endured in war and at sea. Petruchio exhorts: “Think you a little din can daunt mine ears? / Have I not in my time heard lions roar? / Have I not heard the sea puff’d up with winds / Rage like an angry boar chafed with sweat? / Have I not heard great ordnance in the field, / And heaven’s artillery thunder in the skies? / Have I not in a pitched battle heard / Loud ‘larums, neighing steeds, and trumpets’ clang?” In the same vein as young Petruchio, Trump feels unfettered by what was not accomplished in the past, or what has been called impossible. (By the way Shakespeare’s Petruchio proved his capabilities and eventually became happily married to Katherine.) the vision and spirit to achieve news things. In this case, it is denuclearization and the DPRK. He knows how to support its industrial development, and usher it to a positive place in the international order.

What drives Trump to get this deal is not his purported tendencies toward social ambition and aggressiveness. There is the real possibility that Kim’s aides and advisers might associate with that notion in their reports to their Chairman as it is one of the more popular analyses propagated about Trump worldwide. Yet, rather, this is actually Trump putting his best foot forward. He has acquitted himself exceedingly well. The better angels of Trump’s nature, so to speak, are guiding him on this matter. Rather than do what Trump is doing, other political leaders, some vying for the highest office in 2020, would perhaps be content to allow a long time adversary that they no answers for dealing with, drown in economic destitution under a continued “maximum pressure campaign” of sanctions. Although ultimately the values and interests of the US will be satisfied through the present process to establish a sustainable peace, it is predominantly about doing what is right for both the people of the US and the DPRK as well. An optimal way to confirm veracity of both sides at the moment, as the noncommissioned officers likely would have said at the New York Military Academy when Trump was a cadet, is to “snap to it!” Again, words alone simply will not do the trick on this second occasion. Both leaders, mens sana in corpore sano, must come through by constructing a draft upon which a sustainable agreement can be rooted. Ornat haec magnitudo animi, quae nihil ad ostentationem, omnia ad conscientiam refert recteque facti non ex populi sermone mercedem, sed ex facto petit. (To all this, his illustrious mind reflects the noblest ornament; he places no part of his happiness in ostentation, but refers the whole of it to conscience; and seeks the reward of a virtuous action, not in the applauses of the world, but in the action itself.)

Trump Uses Prior Experience, Flexible Thinking, and Even Empathy, to Make Foreign Policy Decisions Fit for Today’s World

US President Donald Trump (above). International Institutions as the UN, the World Bank, and NATO have served well in promoting global economic development, international peace and security, and providing responses to threats to democracy and freedom. Still, some countries, sensing they are surrendering a degree of control and power by creating space for the conciliation of such institutions, frequently work outside of them. Doing that well is not easy. Lessons can be drawn from Trump’s efforts at effecting change in other countries’ foreign and national security policy decision making.

Throughout centuries, overwhelming military power, hard power, has been used by empires, countries, tribes seeking to force some modifications in other groups or halt certain actions altogether. Threaded through that history has been the less frequent use of what the renowned international affairs scholar Joseph Nye referred to as “soft power”, the ability to shape the long-term attitudes and preferences of country by using economic and cultural influence rather than force. Institutions as the UN, the World Bank, and NATO, have well-served the interests of countries since the postwar era by promoting economic development worldwide, international peace and security, and providing responses to Communist aggression and other threats to democracy and freedom. However, effecting change peacefully since the end of the Cold War has often been a process in which stronger, very capable, sophisticated, industrialized countries, with a goal of “leveling the playing field”, and promoting an Utopian unreality of all countries “negotiating as equals”. Great strain and limitations have been placed on their diplomatic efforts. Indeed, they feel that they have been in a downward spiral in which they are slowly surrendering an ever increasing degree of control and power to create space for the conciliation of international institutions. Hardline political elements of those countries have gone as far as to complain that working through international institutions has resulted in an absolute derogation of their respective countries’ rights and power.In addition, authoritarian regimes have regularly exploited international institutions for their own ends. For example, Cuba and Venezuela, two of the world’s most egregious human-rights abusers, sit on the UN Human Rights Council. China exploits benefits of membership in the World Trade Organization while engaging in unfair trade practices to protect its domestic market.

In response to this dilemma, the US and a number of other countries have begun to engage more frequently outside of those institutions in their diplomatic efforts on major issues. They want to better enable themselves to determine outcomes on those efforts. Moreover, as Kiron Skinner, Director of Policy Planning at the US Department of State, explained in a December 11, 2018 opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal: “With the international order under siege from actors that would remake it in their own illiberal image, the Trump administration is acting to preserve a just, transparent and free world of sovereign states.” Surely, this does not mean that international institutions are not being abandoned. Efforts are being made to reform them. Abandoning them completely would be a terrible miscalculation for their good offices still have purpose in certain urgent and important multilateral, regional, and global diplomatic situations. Rather, as an alternative, countries can cooperate effectually by making themselves the guarantors of their own domestic freedoms and national interests. Once national leaders become involved in bilateral or multilateral diplomacy outside of the auspices of an international institution, they must be a bit shrewder, more incisive, have an optimal situational awareness, and remain truly dedicated to reaching an agreement or resolution as there will be no “middleman” available to referee or mediate. They must be willing to struggle with an idea until its inception, rather than back away from finding a solution because it takes too much effort, energy, and time. Countries may not be able to insist upon negotiating as equals outside of international institutions, but that matter can be overcome by acting with a heightened spirit of goodwill. National leaders and negotiators must ensure that they are empathetic toward an opposite’s circumstances and positions.

Lessons can be drawn from the approaches taken by Trump aimed at affecting change in the foreign and national security policy decision making of other countries in his first term while working outside the auspices of international institutions. There might be some disagreement with this suggestion, but often from what observers might perceive as crises, Trump has managed to create starting points for new beginnings in relations with other countries. Trump sees potential in everything. As a result, if he sees a better way, an easier route to put the figurative golden ring in his reach, there will occasionally be surprise shifts in his approaches. His critics and detractors insist that there are strictures on foreign and national security decision making to which he must adhere as US President. However, Trump, having been engaged in international business for years, has had time to examine the world using his own lens, and not a political or bureaucratic prism. He came to office confident that he could maneuver well among the galer of national leaders, each with his or her own ideas, goals, ambition, will, and predilections. He indeed exhibits the type of flexibility of thinking and action that an accomplished general would hope to display in war. It is possible that he has by instinct the methodology to do it all well. By identifying and examining patterns in his efforts, lessons become available. From an out-of-the-box perspective, an abbreviated discussion is provided here of the types of considerations behind Trump’s thinking on four salient foreign and national security policy issues set before his administration: Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (“DPRK”) denuclearization; Russian election interference in the US; the Russia-Ukraine confrontation in the Azov Sea (Kerch Strait); and, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the Khashoggi assassination. The intention here is not to insist that other national leaders should be guided by the meditations of greatcharlie on Trump’s decision making. Rather, the discussion simply outlines what may be some of the new necessities of thinking and reasoning by national leaders and their foreign and national security policy decision makers today as more countries seek to engage in diplomacy outside of international institutions. Further, it is hoped that the discussion here will become part of policy debate concerning the Trump administration. ‘Tu me’ inquis ‘mones? iam enim te ipse monuisti, iam correxisti? ideo aliorum emendationi vacas?’ Non sum tam improbus ut curationes aeger obeam, sed, tamquam in eodem valetudinario iaceam, de communi tecum malo colloquor et remedia communico. (“What,” say you, “are you giving me advice? Indeed, have you already advised yourself, already corrected your own faults? Is this the reason why you have leisure to reform other men?” No, I am not so shameless as to undertake to cure my fellow-men when I am ill myself. I am, however, discussing with you troubles which concern us both, and sharing the remedy with you, just as if we were lying ill in the same hospital.)

Trump (left) and DPRK Chairman Kim Jong-un (right) in Singapore. The Singapore Summit was held on June 12, 2018. in the months since, Kim, nestled in Pyongyang, has likely become comfortable. Just thinking now and then about drawing closer to denuclearization and the future Trump presented, likely disrupts that sense of comfort. Calculating what would actually be required to effectuate the economic transformation of his country, may make change a less attractive. Encouriaging Kim to move forward may be a challenge for Trump, but not an insurmountable one.

The DPRK and Denuclearization

Given DPRK Chairman Kim Jong-un’s apparent temporizing on the decision to denuclearize, critics and detractors of Trump would want everyone aware of the interactions between the US and DPRK to believe that Kim is using the US President to achieve his own ends. However, even if Kim actually feels that there is something more to the idea of denuclearization, surely he would still be hesitant to advance the matter. It would only be natural for anyone to have a bout with wintery feet facing the enormity of the potential undertaking before Kim. In the chambers where Kim and the DPRK’s most senior officials make decisions on foreign and national security policy, innovative and imaginative thinking would hardly be welcomed and denuclearization is likely accepted unenthusiastically. What has been produced there for quite some time has usually been uninspired stuff, aimed primarily at advancing the ideals of the Worker’s Party of Korea . Kim is surely aware of what happened in Russia economically with the help of “Western experts” after the fall of the Soviet Union. As mentioned in the July 27, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “To Foster Forward Movement on Denuclearization by Kim, Trump Says there Is No Rush, But His Patience Has Limits”, a complete trust in Trump hardly could have sprouted and blossomed exponentially in Kim during the Singapore meeting. Months have passed since Singapore, Kim is some distance away from it all. Any initial second-guessing Kim may have had about Trump may have morphed into considerable apprehension since. Kim has been comfortably nestled in Pyongyang. Drawing closer to the world that Trump presented, would require Kim to tear away from the only world he and his people have known. Just ruminating about what would be required to effectuate the economic transformation of his country may make it all seem so difficult and thereby a less attractive option.

When mulling over a new approach on a matter in negotiation with another country or countries, the foreign and national security policy machinery of countries as the DPRK will very often move with the same speed as the massive naval dreadnoughts of early and mid-20th century. Wheeling those giant ships port or starboard took real effort. They often moved so slowly that during World War II in particular, they became relatively easy targets for dive bombers and torpedo planes. Self-interested bureaucracies will champion their points of view on a matter and guard their turf. Their devotion to ensuring the primacy of their organizations’ partisan interests can even surpass their enthusiasm over the matter at hand. Decisions are usually reviewed endlessly, as they seek to advance their organizations’ parochial interests in an optimal way. Indeed, the bureaucracies can suffer the paralysis of analysis. Compromise is usually reached as last resort. Yet, “turf battles” can become so volatile on an issue that often in the end, while there may have been some compromise from the different organizations, no satisfactory decision is made at all, no approach truly beneficial to the country is advanced. Another result can be some composite solution that will be ineffectual in resolving the matter at hand in the best interests of their country. Further, there can be a result in which too many points, most of which were found to be too controversial to settle on in the bureaucratic struggle, are left uncovered, making it virtually impossible to proceed in the best interest of their country on a matter. All of this makes encouraging change in the thinking of another countries foreign and national security policy appear insurmountable. Trump and his advisers and aides have taken all of this into full consideration, and remain confident that the administration’s efforts will lead to success. In fact, it remains a goal in Washington to find a way to get Kim to accelerate his efforts at denuclearization. What they would like to do is create an occasion on which Kim to have a second chance to be in contact with the persuasive and assuring Trump. For Trump, there is a type of voluptuous quality about the entire challenge, as it will require the full use of his capabilities along the lines of excellence. Moreover, Trump has the freedom to maneuver in his own unique and often successful ways in the negotiation process. He does not need to be concerned that an international institution might impose limitations on his ability to make deals. Fortuna adversa virum magnae sapientiae non terret. (Adverse fortune (adversity) does not frighten (intimidate) a man of great intellect.)

As a practical matter, negotiating countries should ascribe probabilities of their opposites’ likely actions and reactions respectively. In that vein, national leaders of the negotiating countries must also be a bit more empathetic of each others circumstances. As the negotiation process continues, direct communication must be used to convey and remind what the expectations are for both sides and respective red-lines on trade-offs that neither side will cross. Nothing does more to prove how vested the other is on an issue when one party absolutely refuses to negotiate on it, even when perhaps minor agreements tied to it are reached in the negotiating process. Every country has lines that it simply will not cross. If anything, those small steps that might be achieved should serve to build confidence on other matters as the negotiations continue. If one country feels unduly pressured or imposed upon, some capitals could react in a disproportionately negative way. One-sided outcomes successfully forced down one party’s throat will not last.  One-sided outcomes, even if consented to by the initiating party will rarely survive over time. This was recently observed with regard to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action; the North American Free Trade Agreement, and the Paris Agreement of Climate Change.

Months have passed since Singapore. Any initial second-guessing Kim may have had about Trump may have possibly morphed into considerable apprehension. The foreign and national security policy machinery of the DPRK, mulling over a new approach on a matter in negotiation with the US, is moving very slowly. Self-interested bureaucracies will champion their points of view on a matter and guard their turf. Their devotion to ensuring the primacy of their organizations’ partisan positions undoubtedly far surpass their “enthusiasm” over denuclearization. 

For Trump, as would be the case for any US president, success in such an endeavor would also depend upon the ability to create an outcome that supports balance in the international order; that is compatible with US values and interests. If the matter at hand is urgent enough, substantial resources and energy will be speedily directed to it. That has been the case with DPRK denuclearization; trade with China; and the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement. For Trump specifically, there would most likely be a determination to remain stalwart at the side of the US public. Without deviation, he will keep the US public first and firmly in mind as he considers how he will encourage and initiate the changes he desires. He will also keep the US public first and firmly in mind as he considers withdrawing from US military commitments overseas. While reelection in 2020 is certainly the goal and the plan, Trump is not in a popularity contest to the extent that he only wants to make the US public happy or get the people to like him. (Many do already.) He wants to do what is best for their true interests, both for the short-term and the long-term. In that respect, Trump cannot always, metaphorically, serve dessert first, but there is always something better coming.

Omnis nimium longa properanti mora est. (Every delay is too long to one who is in a hurry.) As a caveat, one should not become so steeped in the effort to encourage and draw the response from the other side that one would be willing to make concessions that were never even imagined before the negotiation process began. Trading off something a country’s negotiators would prefer not to relinquish, a major concession, may very well be required at some point. It is almost an immutable part of the process of negotiating at the international level. Still, a line must be drawn along the measure at which nothing beyond would be acceptable. To lessen the pain of giving up anything, whatever one might be willing to part with must be determined and enumerated before any diplomatic negotiations begin. When mulling over what to give up, one must use reason to determine what it’s relative value might be to the other side. It must be useful enough to create some sense of equity, balance, and perhaps if a side is lucky, it might represent some real gain. (In that process of determining what would be best to trade versus what might be gained, difficulties can arise internally in many national governments’ foreign and national security bureaucracies.) Concerning the DPRK and denuclearization, the Trump administration certainly does not want to give up the strengths and equities of its alliances with allies. Those ties that bind allies in the region are the same ties that assure unity when dealing with China.

The Trump administration officials, particularly US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have sought to engage in very open, honest, and frank communications with their DPRK counterparts. That would include making inquiries regarding what is happening within the chambers of decision making of the DPRK. From that information, the administration has been able to proceed with a good idea of whether success is possible. There have also been letters from Kim to Trump that have provided a sense on where things stand in the DPRK regarding denuclearization. Where explanations are somewhat unclear, there becomes the need to ascribe the probability of success from the interpretations of what has said and even what has not been said during negotiations and in the briefest communications to include pull asides and other less formal discussions away from the negotiating table. Attention would also need to be placed on what is said contemporaneously among officials from the respective countries who may have met on unrelated matters. That would include theories, surmisals, and any offhand comments. When negotiators get beyond their own wits as to what may come next from the other side, or are unable to decipher what type of obstacles may be delaying or blocking a favorable decision, it is the best time to seek greater assistance from the intelligence services.

US Air Force U2 Surveillance Plane (above). When negotiators get beyond their own wits as to what may come next from the other side, or are unable to decipher what type of obstacles may be delaying or blocking a favorable decision, it is the best time to seek greater assistance from the intelligence services. In Western countries, particularly the US, substantial information is also collected by electronic surveillance, typically obscure, clever ways to collect what is happening over the horizon via satellites and special aircraft from above.

As greatcharlie explained in its May 31, 2018 post entitled, “An Open Mind and Direct Talks, Not Reports Developed from Overt US Sources, Will Best Serve Diplomacy with Trump”, for intelligence services, getting to know what is happening in a country, regarding a particular event or issue will invariably require having agents who are in the right place, are articulate, can answer questions, and receive instructions. In Western countries, particularly the US, substantial information is also collected by electronic surveillance, typically obscure, clever ways to collect what is happening over the horizon via satellites and special aircraft from above. Electronic collection, although very costly, has brought many benefits, by allowing for the monitoring of all manner of communications, discovering plans, patterns of activity and locations of targets. Many have grumbled for years in the intelligence industry that increased use of such surveillance and reconnaissance systems has resulted in the disappearance of the sure-fire agent on the ground with his string of spies and informants and with a willingness to travel the danger route. When this issue became most apparent in the US in the late 1970s and the 1980s, there were efforts to make adjustments, but it is still posited that human intelligence has taken a back seat in favor of technology.  Illud autem ante omnia memento, demere rebus tumultum ac videre quid in quaque re sit: scies nihil esse in istis terribile nisi ipsum timorem. (Remember, however, before all else, to strip things of all that disturbs and confuses, and to see what each is at bottom; you will then comprehend that they contain nothing fearful except the actual fear.

Trump has no intention of moving down a blind alley. Regarding the use of his “gut feelings”, intimations backed up with the strength of reports and briefings from intelligence community, military, and diplomatic professionals. Supported in that way, such feelings are less guesses than judgments based on the aggregate of all the information received, tied in with an awareness of seemingly abstract pieces of information to form an orderly and coherent perception. During World War II, German military commanders were known for relying on intimations based on what was occurring on the battlefield and perceptions of what the thinking and planning was in the opponent’s command center. Still, in contemplating what Kim might do, the US will do much more than rely on such hunches. The administration cannot afford to become complacent even to the slightest degree. It will remain vigilant and cautious. Resources have been dedicated to surveilling developments at North Korean nuclear sites. As many analytical resources as possible should also be dedicated to the discernment of signs of a reversal in Pyongyang.

Il ne fait pas l’ombre d’un doute que Trump and his advisers and sides will seek to be read-in on daily assessments, appraisals, and conclusions. Concrete facts, inference, interpolations from data, intimations, hunches based on experience, will all be heard and considered when senior US foreign and national security policy officials meet. Leg work by a secret grey army of US intelligence officers in the region and confirmed reports from agents ensconced naked where detection could mean certain death, serve to confirm possible actions or unsettling activity, even if not immediately threatening, would be rapidly synthesized and provided to decision makers. Those consumers may also have an interest in reading reports from intelligence officers of regional allies and their agents, as well as data streams from technical collection systems of those allies. US allies just might discern something the US might have missed. Despite the most optimistic hopes and projections on the DPRK, Trump remains ready to process in his mind what he sees to surmount what he is hoping for. Looking deeper allows one to see what is lacking. The diplomatic process with the DPRK cannot sit between success and failure in a figurative foreign policy halfway house. Previous administrations submitting to the fantasy that the DPRK wanted peace allowed Pyongyang to establish a pattern of success that very likely helped build Kim’s self-confidence in dealing with US. One can be assured that Trump will not base his decision on an emotional response, and bend too much in an effort to understand the uneasiness of Kim’s position. It is most important for Kim to know that.

Trump (right) and former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (left). The efforts of Russian operatives were too unnatural, too unusual. Their focus was primarily on the unconstructive and destructive aspects of US political activity, and were detected. The fact that Clinton, Trump’s opponent in the 2016 Presidential Election, won the popular vote, evinces that the degree to which Russian efforts failed to sway the US public was disproportionate to the degree of risk involved with undertaking a political manipulation effort of such magnitude in the US.

Russia’s Ongoing Election Interference

The unique qualities and character of each US President in great part impels the US public to select them on election day. As chief executive of the US Government, the president is required to take certain positions and actions in accord with US values and interests. Yet, it is the unique qualities and character of each which causes the choices of each to diverge a bit or a lot from those of their predecessors. How a president will act on certain foreign and national security policy issues will typically be outlined during an election campaign for the public to read and hear. From what is enumerated, the public will form an opinion on a candidate. Indeed, in the end, it is not what is wrong with a candidate that sticks in the mind of a voter that is so important. It is what is right for the voter which makes the difference. The thinking of the US public generally moves in that direction.

To clarify further on the perception of how a candidate will perform differently to satisfy the voter, there must be the belief that the candidate will make a positive difference in their lives personally such as making them financially better off and more secure, allowing for improvement to their communities by making more services available and life better in general, and in the country by improving its condition, guiding it in a positive direction, and ensuring its status as a world leader and force for good. Negative ideas that might to orbit around a preferred candidate and even a rival candidate, while seemingly important in campaign efforts–every campaign has elements that focus on those matters and to an extent promulgate negative information on an opponent–and in news media stories broadcasted, published, and posted, may remain correlative, even de minimus, in the minds of many voters. In some cases, the negative information about a preferred candidate may drive voters to the polls to ensure their candidate wins.

Although Russian Federation intelligence services may pride itself in having what it believes to be considerable expertise on the US affairs, it surely is not up to snuff when it comes to understanding US politics. While their studies and observations of the US may have appeared to yield a genuine picture of the broad US political scene, certainly when it came to understanding what was happening in the lead up the 2016 Presidential Campaign and the Presidential Election, they completely missed the mark. An immediate impression is that since Russian analysts lacked points of reference within their own society that resembled what was happening in the US, there was really nothing upon which they could found their interpretations and conclusions. As social media was a main focal point on which Russian operatives sought to inflict considerable damage during the 2016 US Presidential Elections, it appears that much of what was collected and extrapolated about the US political scene came from popular, yet incredibly hostile commentaries propagated on social media by emotional individuals across of the political spectrum, political activists, and fringe elements who simply attack and lack boundaries. The Russians analysts could not discern that what was on social media did not reflect what was going on in the mind of the US public. Basing the interference operation on that sort of failed interpretation of US political activity, meant it was doomed from the start. Essentially, it was sabotaged by ignorance. As they performed their mission, the efforts of Russian operatives, being too imitative, too unnatural, too unusual, stood out. It was all nothing more than  a soupy simulacrum of the real thing. Their focus was almost solely on the unconstructive and destructive aspects of US political activity. Their efforts  were out of rhythm and rhyme with the stylings of authentic political message of mainstream US political parties. No matter how well Russian operatives may have believed their operation was cloaked, executed, and managed, those who began investigating what was going on could flag their burlesque without too much difficulty. The fact that Trump’s opponent in the 2016 Presidential Election, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, reportedly won the popular vote, evinces that the degree to which Russian efforts failed to sway the US public. The operation’s modicum of success was disproportionate relative to the degree of risk involved in undertaking an extensive political manipulation effort in the US. The interference operation really appears to have been an act of vengeance more than anything else. Passion did not obey reason in the Kremlin.

Added to that, the US intelligence community and law enforcement had the technological means to trace the efforts of Russian operatives all the way home to their headquarters. So successful were the counterintelligence efforts of the US intelligence community and law enforcement that they could determine when and how things happened and who was involved. For example, they acquired complete profiles of those members of the Russian Federation’s Glavnoye Razvedyvatel’noye Upravleniye Generalnovo Shtaba (Main Intelligence Directorate of the General Staff-Military Intelligence) or GRU involved with the interference operation. They were able to determine the particular role each played in it. Recall that Putin reached the rank of lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Union’s Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti (the Committee for State Security) known better as the KGB—the agency responsible for intelligence, counterintelligence, and internal security. Once on the right path, he broke all sorts of records on his way to the top. In 1997, he served as head of the Main Control Directorate. In 1998, he was named first deputy head of the Presidential Administration, responsible for the regions, he was ordered to serve as director of the Federal’naya Sluzhba Bezopasnosti Rossiyskoy Federatsi (Russian Federation Federal Security Service) or FSB, and he was named Secretary of the Security Council. Having observed the US collect such granular information on the operation, it is very likely that Putin had parsed out that someone in Russia’s intelligence services pointed the US in the right direction. He likely began to believe that there was a rotten apple buried somewhere at the bottom of the Russian intelligence apple barrel. One might informally speculate that anger, even rage over the the ability of the US to discover so much might have been one more straw on the pile that has caused Russia to lash out at the West, and those in West’s fold, in ham-handed ways since. Ira furor brevis est; animum rege. Anger is a brief madness; govern your soul (control your emotions))

The fact that Russia sought to disrupt the democratic process of the country is what makes the interference in the 2016 US Presidential Election so insidious. A long espoused criticism of Trump is that he is enchanted with tyrants, strongmen, rogue leaders such as Putin. His comments about Putin have been decried by critics as being unduly pleasant and oleaginous. This tenuous notion became a story was heavily covered even before Trump’s inauguration, and has received even greater coverage since. The story considered in light of reports from the US intelligence community that Russia interfered in the 2016 US Presidential Election, has been posited as the causality for the investigations of the Office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The reality is that rather finding a national leader as Putin intoxicating, Trump has his own considerable reservations about them. In the past year, Trump observed Putin behave in a very disappointing manner. Indeed, while engaged in diplomacy, the Trump administration has closely monitored hostile Russian moves, not only the continued interference in US elections, but also: Russia’s continued interference in the election processes of countries other than the US; Russia’s efforts to support Syrian President Bashar al-Assad; and, Russia’s efforts to tighten its grip on Crimea and the Donbass. As it was explained in the October 31, 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “Building Relations between Trump and Putin: Getting beyond the “Getting to Know You” Stage”, Trump has repeatedly gotten on Putin’s case about the matter, and has publicly insisted that he has done so. Trump also has surely shared his perspectives with him on: how reported government abuses within Russia have left the world with a very negative impression of the country as a whole; why it is difficult for anyone to see Russia as a decent constitutional society; why considerable doubt exists in the minds of top Russia hands and his close advisers and aides that Russia could ever be an honest broker and good partner in tackling transnational issues; and, how tough it will be for Russia to ever overcome such views on its own. It would seem that Trump could publicly snatch Putin’s lunch away, eat it, and pop the bag in his face, and critics would still say he too soft on the Russian leader. There could not be a worse source or gauge of Trump’s interactions with Putin than his critics and detractors.

German troops passing through Ardennes Forest on their way to France in 1940. (above). Trump knows it would be imprudent to ignore information from the US Intelligence community that confirm some action by an adversary is very likely, imminent, or has been taken. The failure of consumers to include assessments of situations in their calculations can be unfortunate. Consider how the French military high command failed their government In 1870, 1915, and 1940 by dismissing warnings about the intentions of Prussian and German Governments.

Trump knows that it would be imprudent to ignore information from the US Intelligence community that confirms some action by an adversary is very likely, imminent, or has been taken. Predictions concerning an action are made more urgent when commingled with existing impressions of a national government or national leader, specifically, based on behavior both at home and abroad. The consequence of insufficient intelligence analyses, the failure by consumers to include valuable forecasts in their appraisals of situations, can be most unfortunate. Consider for example how the military high command of France failed their government 3 times in 70 years by minimizing warnings about the intentions of Prussian and German Governments. In 1870, the Supreme Command of the French Imperial Army, with its attitude of debrouillez-vous (“We’ll muddle through somehow”), did not heed signalling that the Prussian Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. In 1918, the French Grand Quartier Général (General Headquarters) did not heed indicia signalling that the Imperial German Army, to avoid French defenses on the Franco-German border, would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. In 1940, the Anglo-French Supreme War Council, relying on the defenses of the Maginot Line, did not heed indicia signalling that the German Army would move via the Ardennes Forest through Belgium into France. Even with this history, in 1944, the Supreme Headquarters of Allied Expeditionary Forces in Europe ignored idicia signalling that the German Army might attempt to move via the the Ardennes Forest into Belgium in an attempt to reach Antwerp and cut Allied Forces into two pieces. The result was the Battle of the Bulge in which US forces suffered an estimated 75,000 casualties.

A newly discovered official US Government memorandum has revealed that intelligence collected about the activities of the Imperial Japanese Navy, led to assessments that Japan might attack the US on the West coast, the Panama Canal, and the US naval and military bases in Hawaii some time in December 1941. The Japanese Imperial Navy would eventually execute a devastating surprise, aircraft carrier-based, aerial attack and submarine attack on the US Naval Base and Headquarters of the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, and aerial attacks against the US Army Base at Schofield Barracks and the US Army Air Corps Base at Hickam Field. Most US military commanders were bewildered by the successful attack which they never would have believed Japan could execute before it actually happened. By leaning into those beliefs, they were caught flat-footed by the attack. Their immediate responses were meager and ineffectual.

There were more recent occasions when intelligence was not given primacy required and not sufficiently analysed and integrated in the decision making of a US administration. Boiled down to the bones, in the late summer of 2001, the administration of US President George Bush was remiss in not giving primacy to information indicating the leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist organization, Osama Bin Laden was determined to strike in the US. In fact, Al-Qaeda did strike on September 11, 2001. Failing to become overly concerned over warnings of an impending terrorist attack, the Bush administration did not formulate and implement an effectual response to deter or defeat the threat that revealed itself. As explained in the December 2018 greatcharlie post entitled, “Commentary: Trump Withdraws US Troops from Syria: What Considerations Impelled His Decision?”, US President Barack Obama and other national leaders poorly interpreted information concerning an opposition movement that had organised against the regime of Syria Arab Republic President Bashar Al-Assad in March 2011. They believed that opposition movement made Assad regime ripe for change, however, opportunity was seen by Obama and his foreign and national security policy decision makers where there was none. The conclusion was that with a modicum support for the right opposition groups, the Assad regime would face collapse and be forced to the negotiation table, where Assad, himself, would agree to an orderly and immediate transition of power. Among a long list of negative consequences that have resulted from that policy approach have been: a seemingly never ending civil war in which millions of civilians have become casualties, millions more have been displaced; Russia and other countries who are potential adversaries of the US have strengthened their presence in Syria and increased their influence on the Assad regime; and, extraordinarily dangerous terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS, have established strongholds.

How a US President might proceed at forks on the road on policy concerning, a countries, or group of countries will typically be based on information provided by the US intelligence community. Sometimes, that information will create a clear path on which the president can proceed with a relatively assured step. In cases in which US responses have been ineffectual or simply wrong, there may have been a failure to integrate information that warned that success was unlikely. Sometimes, “The path is smooth that leads on to danger.” If the US public were kept aware of every occasion in which Russia posed a threat or interfered with US interests, and if the US Government were to react publicly to concerns and intelligence reports about Russian activity, certainly the US would have stumbled into war with Russia long ago. Consider for example that the Russians regularly use their satellites to interfere with US satellites as they transit the Earth. That situation is made more challenging by the fact that there is considerable positive cooperation between the US and Russia on space and it would be disadvantageous to tear it apart. In that same vein, an honest assessment must be made of where incidents fit into the bigger picture of vital US interests and the maintenance of international peace and security. At best, the country must rely on a president’s experience and judgment as each incident arises.

Having been placed under the bright lights, it is hard to imagine why Russian intelligence and security services are reportedly continuing their efforts to manipulate US elections. The operation was blown. Perhaps it will end after Putin recognizes that the more his spies plug into the US system to do damage, the more US intelligence services and law enforcement is enabled to discover about Russian intelligence tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods, leadership, personnel, and resources.

Russia was wrong to act against US interests in the 2016 elections. Trump can continue to respond to its behavior by keeping the most effective punitive economic measures in place. However, he also knows that Putin, to the best of his ability has thought through the possible consequences to his actions with his advisers. He does not at least publicly appear overly concerned with retribution from the US short of acting on Russian sovereign territory or acting harshly against Russian interests and its allies. Beyond providing lip-service to Putin as suggested by critics and detractors, Trump has sought to close the door on Russian election meddling activities against the US as best as possible, build a positive personal relationship with Putin, and improve US relations with Russia. Although Trump, a patriotic US citizen, very likely feels some anger, bitterness, and resentment in his heart over what Putin and Russia have done, he knows behaving too aggressively would be short-sighted, and would only lengthen the distance he will need to travel to improve the US relationship with Russia. Trump will not sacrifice any benefits that might result from his acting in a measured way. Having been placed under the bright lights, it is hard to imagine why Russian intelligence and security services are reportedly continuing their efforts to manipulate US elections. The operation was blown, and keeping it going seems a bit barky. Perhaps it will end after Putin recognizes that the more his spies plug into the US system to do damage, the more enabled US intelligence services and law enforcement are to uncover Russian intelligence tactics, techniques, procedures, and methods, leadership, personnel, and resources. Perhaps he is on the verge of becoming conscious or accepting of that now.

According to Kiev, the confrontation in the Kerch Strait began on November 25, 2018, when 3 of its ships, travelling from Odessa to Mariupol, were intercepted by the Russian Federation Coast Guard. (The Kerch Strait is a crucial waterway separating the Black and Azov seas.) The Russian Coast Guard vessels then fired on the Ukrainian ships and also rammed one of their tugboats. Moscow says 3 Ukrainian sailors were wounded, Kiev says the number was 6. The 3 Ukrainian ships and 24 sailors are now being held in Crimea by Russia.

Russia, Ukraine and the Kerch Strait Incident

Trump came to office with the intention of assuaging the long standing tension and anger that characterized the US-Russia relations, exacerbated by the Obama administration’s poor stewardship of it. He did not begin by trying the figuratively test the water nervously with his big toe. With boldness, he jumped right in, attempting to find a way to create a genuine connection with Putin in order to establish a stronger bond bofh between themselves and their two countries and hopefully as a result, a decent arrangement for interaction could be created. Trump has been graceful in his overtures to the Russian leader, focusing on finding ways to connect with Putin on issues, creating a unique positive connection as leaders of nuclear superpowers, and finding a chemistry between them. With any luck, Putin would understand and appreciate what Trump has been doing and recognize the great opportunity that lies before him to let Russia be seen as doing some good for the world. It has been a bedeviling process. At Helsinki, there was an incident that certainly raised Trump’s antennae. Despite his desire and efforts to make things right, Putin took the anomalous and very awkward step of presenting Trump with an official football from the World Cup saying, “The ball is in your court.” Trump stated that he would give the ball to his son Darren, and tossed it to the First Lady, Melania Trump. One could immediately observe by his visage that Trump would want answers from his team on what Putin’s move was all about.

Although, with some effort, benign intent can be posited to Putin’s presentation of the ball to Trump. The negative side of Putin may have been on full display. It was clear to all who observed closely that Trump’s reaction to the presentation was negative. His countenance revealed disgust and disappointment in Putin. It may very well be that Trump felt vibrations about trouble ahead with him. It was also very surprising because Putin, an acute watcher and listener. should have known by the time he met with Trump in Helsinki that the presentation of the ball would have created more difficulties than inroads with him. Critics and detractors of Putin would surely explain that he did not seek to gain anything from doing such an unorthodox thing and that it was all very characteristic of the Russian President’s churlish thinking. Si animus infirmus est, non poterit bonam fortunam tolerare. (If the spirit is weak, it will not be able to tolerate good fortune.)

The clash between Russia and Ukraine in the Kerch Strait makes plain the reality that problems between the two countries are deepening. According to Kiev, the confrontation began on November 25, 2018, when 3 of its ships, travelling from Odessa to Mariupol, were intercepted by the Russian Federation Coast Guard in the Kerch Strait. The Russian Federation Coast Guard vessels then fired on the Ukrainian ships and also rammed one of their tugboats. Moscow says 3 Ukrainian sailors were wounded, Kiev says the number was 6. In addition, Russia scrambled jets and helicopters, and even blocked the Kerch Strait with a barge, closing access to the Sea of Azov. Russia claims the Ukrainian ships violated territorial waters. The 3 Ukrainian ships and 24 crewmen as have been held as of January 2019 by Russia in Crimea. The Kerch Strait is a crucial waterway that serves as the gateway from the Black Sea into the Sea of Azov, which borders both Russia and Ukraine. From Moscow’s perspective, it is most importantly, the waterway between mainland Russia and Crimea which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014. Both countries have the right to patrol the waters in accord with a bilateral treaty. However, the strait is also the site of a new 12-mile bridge built by Russia that cost an estimated $4 billion. Russia has significantly built up its military presence in the region since 2014.

Russian Federation FSB officer (left) escorts Ukrainian sailor (right). Trump indicated to reporters as he left the White House to travel to the G-20 Summit in Argentina that he intended to be read-in on a finalized report” on the Kerch Strait incident on Air Force One. In flight, Trump tweeted: “Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin.”

The incident in the strait alarmed senior US officials. Sharp criticism of Russia’s actions were immediately voiced. For US allies in Europe, the incident was edge of the seat stuff. There were widespread calls for Russia to immediately release the 24 Ukrainian sailors it captured, and some European leaders called for fresh sanctions against Russia. Kiev put martial law in effect for 30 days in Ukraine. The Kremlin scoffed at an appeal by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko for NATO to reinforce the Azov Sea with naval ships. Russia shrugged off Western pressure. Moscow maintained that the crisis was created by Poroshenko for political gain. When Trump commented on the matter right after occurred, his words fell short of condemning Russia directly by stating: “I don’t like that aggression.” While there was nothing irregular about that, Trump’s critics and detractors, in response, characterized him as being too reticent on the matter. However, the situation was fluid, and Trump wanted to collect all the information available before taking any steps. So profound was his reaction that he reportedly signalled to the Washington Post that he would consider forgoing the meeting with Putin after the incident in Kerch Strait and escalating tensions between Russia and Ukraine. Trump then indicated to reporters as he left the White House to travel to the G-20 Summit in Argentina that he intended to be read-in on a finalized report” on the Kerch Strait incident on Air Force One. Early in the flight, however, Trump tweeted: “Based on the fact that the ships and sailors have not been returned to Ukraine from Russia, I have decided it would be best for all parties concerned to cancel my previously scheduled meeting in Argentina with President Vladimir Putin.” He added: ““I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!”

Likely swept off their feet over “how well” they were managing their interactions with US and believing that they had a handle on the highly publicized meeting with Trump at the G-20 Summit Meeting in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Putin and his whole cabaret of acolytes were caught completely off guard by his decision. Coming down from their overdose of confidence, their immediate concern would reasonably have been what Trump’s move would mean in terms of future Russian interactions with the US. The Kremlin’s worry seemed to be manifested in the attitude and behavior of Spokesperson Dmitry Peskov. At the time, his works lacked a usual sense of certitude. There was a noticeable absence of his normal swagger. He presented a less impressive substitute of himself. Early on November 29, 2018, Peskov told reporters in Moscow that the meeting between Trump and Putin would take place December 1, 2018 around noon. He explained, “We are expecting the two presidents to speak briefly at first, but everything is left to the discretion of the heads of state.” He added that “Washington has confirmed.” Agitated by Trump’s tweet, Peskov told TASS Russian News Agency that the Kremlin had not been informed separately by the White House of the cancellation. He made the necessary correction by stating, explained, “If this is indeed the case, the president [Putin] will have a couple of additional hours in his schedule for useful meetings on the sidelines of the summit.”

Whatever could have led the Kremlin to think for a moment that they ever had a firm handle on Trump is a bit of a black box. Among the basket of possibilities, one might hypothesize that the vengeful thinking the prevailed during Russia’s struggles with the Obama administration is now insinuating itself into the Kremlin’s planning and actions concerning the Trump administration. (Many of former Obama administration officials successfully needle Kremlin’s officials by presenting acidic analyses of Putin’s behavior, antagonistic critiques of Russian foreign and national security policy, and make warlike recommendations on handling Russia for the Trump administration.) There is the possibility that Putin and Kremlin officials, being vexed by Trump’s willingness to bargain on the basis of fairness with them, chose the easy answer of simply continuing to do what they had been doing in response to Obama. There is also the possibility that being unable to understand Trump, and believing that his range of action, ability to do big things, and take on real challenges, was likely restrained somewhat by his domestic political struggles, which they doubtlessly perceive as amusing. If that perchance is the case, there is the possibility that Russian intelligence analysts covering the US political scene have been remiss by conceivably allowing highly politicized commentaries from Trump’s critics and detractors and iniquitous reports in the US news media insinuate themselves in their assessments. It is possible that any penetration by the GRU and the Sluzhba Vneshney Razvedki (Foreign Intelligence Service) or SVR in the US may simply be collecting: chicken feed; misleading information grabbed because it was within easy reach of officers, sounded plausible, and would look good in Moscow; or, false reports conjured up by delinquent officers just to look good or prolong their postings in the US. (It can happen even in the best intelligence services.) Additionally, Kremlin officials may have decided to simply leave well-enough alone and remain satisfied with stale, derivative analyses that would serve the bureaucratic requirement of producing some product, but inhibits the exploration or exploitation of opportunities for positive engagement with, and actions toward, the US.

Trump did not make contact with Putin on December 1, 2018 at the G-20 Summit. Reportedly, Trump walked by Putin as if he were a stranger when the leaders stood for a group photo. Still, having studied the the Obama administration responses to very questionable moves by Putin, Trump doubtlessly reasoned that he should not resort to taunting or pressuring him with slights. A conversation finally occurred at a cultural dinner in Buenos Aires, organized for the national leaders and their wives. Putin told reporters later that they discussed the “Black Sea situation.”

Having studied the Obama administration’s responses to contentious moves by Putin, Trump doubtlessly reasoned that he should not resort to taunting or pressuring him with slights. Putin’s reaction to that approach was adverse and disproportionate. Sensing that Putin may actually have a penchant for destroying progress made with the US, Trump would not set him up with the opportunity to do so again. Moreover, Trump saw no need to move up the ladder of escalation for no benefit, for no purpose. Apparently as an expression of his disappointment with Putin over Russia’s actions in the Kerch Strait, Trump did not make contact with him for most of the day, December 1, 2018. Reportedly, Trump walked by Putin as if he were a stranger when the world’s leaders stood for a group photo. Kremlin officials insisted throughout the day that the two leaders would ultimately meet. Finally, the two leaders had an “informal” conversation. According to White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders, the conversation occurred at a cultural dinner in Buenos Aires’ famous Teatro Colón, organized for the national leaders and their wives. As for its content, Saunders stated: “As is typical at multilateral events, President Trump and the First Lady had a number of informal conversations with world leaders at the dinner last night, including President Putin.” Putin told reporters afterward that he indeed met with Trump briefly at the event and they discussed the situation in Ukraine. Putin further explained, “I answered his questions about the incident in the Black Sea. He has his position. I have my own. We stayed in our own positions.”

As mentioned earlier, Trump’s patience has limits. However, he will at least make the effort manage contact with Putin as best as possible to get a successful result. If it should all fall apart, it will not be because of a silly move or the failure to do everything feasible within reason to promote it. Again, Trump is not doing any of this for himself; he has committed himself to this process for the sake of his country and the US public in particular. He will not allow his personal feelings about those he may deal with to get in the way.

Jamal Khashoggi (right) entering the Consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, Turkey. On October 2, 2018, Washington Post columnist and Saudi Arabian national, Jamal Khashoggi, went to the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul, Turkey to obtain a document certifying that he was divorced to enable him to marry his Turkish fiancée. Based on information available to them, Turkish officials said Khashoggi was killed inside the Consulate, his body was dismembered, and then likely disposed of elsewhere.

Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Khashoggi Matter

On October 2, 2018, Washington Post columnist and Saudi Arabian national, Jamal Khashoggi, went to the Consulate of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul, Turkey to obtain a document certifying that he was divorced to enable him to marry his Turkish fiancée. Based on information available to them, Turkish officials said Khashoggi was killed inside the consulate, his body was dismembered, and then likely disposed of elsewhere. Before the murder, the Turkish Government had been monitoring a 15-person team that arrived at the consulate on October 2, 2018. That team returned to Riyadh the same day. The Turkish Government reportedly provided US officials with both audio and video recordings that confirm Khashoggi was killed inside the Saudi Consulate.

Omnis enim ex infirmitate feritas est. (All savageness is a sign of weakness.) The murder of Khashoggi certainly has not made Saudi Arabia appear as an attractive country. In fact, it has brought views of it worldwide more in line with that of its harshest critics and detractors, particularly those focused on its human rights record and the governance of the House of Saud. With the advantage of hindsight, it would appear that the assassination plot was formed at the behest of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, first in line to King Salman. His fate is all over the matter. On dit, the Khashoggi assassination has also allegedly provided a candid look at how the Saudi Arabian Government has typically quieted voices of perceived adversaries both at home and abroad.

When the furtive “wet work” of an intelligence services is uncovered, the consequences for the national government that sanctioned the mission and it’s operatives, even if they avoided detection and capture if acting in another country, can be severe. This is a unique and not so often discussed area of commonality among national leaders. An affinity could surely develop for others in that same circumstance. Attendant to that affinity is a type of empathy that may insist the one should not be too judgmental or harshly slam another leader, particularly over an intelligence misstep or disaster. That empathy may obviate efforts to claim the moral high road and false claim of innocence after perhaps having similar experience. In international affairs, much as in “ordinary life” only partial version of oneself is offered. The priority of coexistence must be considered in what one might say or do versus what might be gained or lost. Countries may spare the feelings, national pride, or honor of allies and friends or even or avoid provoking or inciting adversaries. To that extent, acting in that way requires a country to circumscribe itself. Typically, a national leader who might sign off on any covert operation will be provided with the ability to plausibly deny knowledge of it. Yet, on top of that, secrecy, albeit deceit, might be used to protect relationship with an ally or friend and to make any act of circumscription by that ally or friend a bit easier.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (above). The murder of Khashoggi certainly has not made Saudi Arabia appear as an attractive country. In fact, it has brought views of it worldwide more in line with that of its harshest critics and detractors, particularly those focused on its human rights record and the governance of the House of Saud. From all news media reports, it would appear that the assassination plot was executed at the behest of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, first in line to King Salman. His fate is all over the matter.

Any harsh criticism and expressions of deep disappointment conveyed by the US to Saudi Arabia–which most likely have been made by Trump in his telephone contacts with Riyadh early on during the matter–would never be explicit with an ally of such stature. Certainly, Trump did not shy away from the beastiality of the crime. What Trump and senior administration officials tried to do is bring perspective to the matter. On November 28, 2018, then US Secretary of Defense James Mattis at the Pentagon reminded reporters that as of the moment he was speaking about the Khashoggi matter: “We have no smoking gun the crown prince was involved, not the intelligence community or anyone else. There is no smoking gun.” He further explained that the US still expected those responsible for the killing to be held accountable. In a November 28, 2018 Wall Street Journal Op-Ed piece, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo expatiated on the matter, summarizing the position of the US Government as follows: “The US doesn’t condone the Khashoggi killing, which is fundamentally inconsistent with American values—something I have told the Saudi leadership privately as well as publicly. President Trump has taken action in response. Twenty-one Saudi suspects in the murder have been deemed ineligible to enter the US and had any visas revoked. On Nov. 15, the administration imposed sanctions on 17 Saudis under Executive Order 13818, which builds on the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. We’ve worked to strengthen support for this response, and several countries, including France and Germany, have followed suit. The Trump administration will consider further punitive measures if more facts about Khashoggi’s murder come to light.” Pompeo went on the explain the importance of Saudi Arabia as a regional ally, by additionally stating: “The kingdom is a powerful force for stability in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is working to secure Iraq’s fragile democracy and keep Baghdad tethered to the West’s interests, not Tehran’s. Riyadh is helping manage the flood of refugees fleeing Syria’s civil war by working with host countries, cooperating closely with Egypt, and establishing stronger ties with Israel. Saudi Arabia has also contributed millions of dollars to the US-led effort to fight Islamic State and other terrorist organizations. Saudi oil production and economic stability are keys to regional prosperity and global energy security.” Yet, once Trump and his senior officials sought to explain the importance of Saudi Arabia as an ally when discussing the Khashoggi matter, a knee-jerk response of critics and detractors was the hackneyed claim that the US President placed a pecuniary interest in its Middle East ally at greater value than the life of journalist. That claim was stated so often that it became a common observation.

wTrump (left) and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (right). An intriguing type of leadership could be seen from Trump on the Khashoggi matter. A US President must keep in mind that the US, as a leader on the international stage, is a role model to much of rest of the world. It is in a unique position of being able to promote peace and security worldwide. If the US had officially concluded that Saudi Arabia was responsible for the murder and that a strong response was in order, the country offended most, Turkey, might have taken tough steps against it. 

Through Trump’s decision making regarding the Khashoggi matter, an intriguing type of leadership could be seen in him. A US President in considering how to proceed on a matter, must indeed keep in mind that the US, as a leader on the international stage is a role model to much of rest of the world. As such, the US is in a unique position of being able to promote peace and security worldwide through its actions. The values and interests of the US, of course, will hold primacy in decision making on a matter, the interests of allies and partners will also be taken into account. In the Khashoggi case, the reality is that the murder occurred in Turkey (although the Saudi Arabian Consulate is technically the sovereign territory of Saudi Arabia). As reported, the assassination team that killed Khashoggi came into Turkey through Istanbul Airport and a number of the co-conspirators moved in and around the streets of Istanbul before and after the killing. If the US had immediately and officially concluded that Saudi Arabia was directly responsible for the murder and that some form of retribution was in order, the country offended most, Turkey, might have taken some type of steps against it. Turkey may very well have acted unilaterally and swiftly, utilizing its military or intelligence services, to punish those who used its country as the site to slaughter an esteemed and welcomed journalist. Turkey would have unlikely felt that it needed the permission of the US to act, just as Saudi officials, at some level, doubtlessly felt that they did not need to confer with or ask the permission of the US to act against Khashoggi.

As for the US role in mitigating Turkey’s likely desire for retribution, it offered not only words exhorting restraint, but also served as an example of restraint. Consider that there was a preexisting animus between Turkey and Saudi Arabia before the Khashoggi murder. Reportedly, Saudi Arabia was angered over Turkey’s support to Qatar and withdraw its troops from the country. That demand caused Turkey to perceive Saudi Arabia as a threat to Turkey’s interests. In Riyadh, Turkey was on the top of its list of enemies. Khashoggi’s murder brought tensions to new heights. Knowing this, Saudi Arabia, days after the murder, made a secret offer to pour billions of dollars into Turkey’s economy and ease its hard-line stance on Qatar if Ankara helped whitewash the scandal. Turkey rejected the proposal. Afterward, Turkey allegedly began producing evidence that indicated Mohammed bin Salman was involved. Nevertheless, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan did stop short of accusing Prince Mohammed directly. He would only posit that responsibility for Khashoggi’s death lied at “the highest levels” of the Saudi Arabian Government. Turkey’s fresh anger against Saudi Arabia also added to decades of animus toward the Arab World ignited as a result of battles of the Ottoman Empire to maintain order. What happened so long ago remains a big part of Turkish history, culture, and psyche. Indeed, the loss of many young Turkish soldiers in Arabia still touches the hearts of many Turkish families. None of this is to suggest or imply that an anti-Arab strain runs through Turkish thinking today. Nonetheless, given that memories of past wars persist, and the fact that emotions were running very high after the Khashoggi murder, convincing Turkey, free to act on its own, not to act, was not an easy thing to do. Turkey, as the guarantor of its own national interests, made the choice to cooperate effectively with US diplomatically, outside the auspices of an international institution.

Trump has made shrewd, empathetic considerations whenever acting on foreign and national security policy. His judgments have been made with circumspection, and are pollinated by US values and interests. With information available and the benefit of experience, he develops his own situational awareness. Taking account of geostrategic realities in a region, he measures what might be lost versus what might be gained short-term and long-term. A great portion of the US public, watching him, feels assured that all will be fine.

The Way Forward

In Act 3, scene 3 of William Shakespeare’s play, Cymbeline, King Cymbeline of Britain has married a woman who has made him her puppet. Cymbeline arranges for his beautiful daughter, Imogen, to marry his new wife’s son, Cloten, but she instead marries the poor but worthy Posthumus Leonatus. Angered, Cymbeline banishes Posthumus. Before he leaves for Italy, Imogen gives him a diamond ring and he gives her a bracelet. In Italy, Posthumus encounters a Iachimo, who vacuously argues all women are naturally unchaste, and bets Posthumus that he can seduce Imogen. Yet, once at the British court, he fails to seduce her. Full of tricks, Iachimo hides in a large chest he has sent to her room; slips out at night while Imogen slept, and steals the bracelet Posthumus gave her, Iachimo returns to Italy and uses both the bracelet and knowledge of the details of Imogen’s bedchamber, to convince Posthumus that he won the bet. Posthumus, furious, sends a letter to his servant, Pisanio, in Britain, ordering him to murder Imogen. Pisanio, believing in Imogen’s innocence, gets her to disguise herself as a boy and get to Posthumus while he would report to him that Imogen was dead.  On the run, Imogen becomes lost in the wilds of Wales, where she meets Belarius, a wrongfully banished nobleman, and his sons, Guiderius and Arviragus. Unbeknownst to them, both were actually Cymbeline’s sons. They would later come to the aid of Imogen and to the aid of Britain against the Romans. The audience first meets Belarius, Guiderius and Arviragus as their “father”, instructs them on the nuances of a calm life while climbing a mountain. Belarius states: Now for our mountain sport: up to yond hill; / Your legs are young; I’ll tread these flats. Consider, / When you above perceive me like a crow, / That it is place which lessens and sets off; / And you may then revolve what tales I have told you / Of courts, of princes, of the tricks in war: / This service is not service, so being done, / But being so allow’d: to apprehend thus, / Draws us a profit from all things we see; / And often, to our comfort, shall we find / The sharded beetle in a safer hold / Than is the full-wing’d eagle. O, this life / Is nobler than attending for a cheque, / Richer than doing nothing for a bauble, / Prouder than rustling in unpaid-for silk: / Such gain the cap of him that makes ’em fine, / Yet keeps his book uncross’d: no life to ours. These words, which may appear somewhat cryptic to modern readers, essentially explain that maintaining a balanced, rational view is the best way of examine a situation and will allow for a rational analysis of it. In each foreign and national security policy issue examined here, evidence indicates Trump made shrewd, empathetic considerations as he acted. His judgments were made with circumspection, considering what precedes and what follows, are pollinated by US values and interests. With information available and the benefit of experience, he developed his own situational awareness. Taking account of geostrategic realities in a region, he measured what might be lost versus what might be gained in both the short-term and the long-term. When moving to make changes in the status quo, Trump typically assessed the situation before him much as a half-back in US football searches for openings in the line that may allow him to breakthrough and do some open field running. Trump has also exuded a confidence on the world stage. Trump knows where he is and what he is doing, and a good portion of the US public, watching him work, feels assured that everything will be alright. Presenting oneself as confident and assured in itself is an art of leaders. When taking risks one naturally feels risk. The French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte explained of himself: “There is no man more pusillanimous than I when I am planning a campaign. I purposely exaggerate all the dangers and all the calamities that the circumstances make possible. I am in a thoroughly painful state of agitation. This does not keep me from looking quite serene in front of my entourage; I am like an unmarried girl laboring with a child. Once I had made up my mind, everything is forgotten except what leads to success.”

In each case presented here, Trump, in seeking to manage and influence the actions of other national leaders, was allowed the freedom to act in his own way, and unshackled by what administration officials might call the limitations of an international institution managing some collective action under its auspices. Countries that would like to work effectively outside of international institutions should feign nothing, and make a wholehearted effort at it. As Trump continues to evolve as US President, other national leaders are provided with an example on how they might approach foreign and national security policy decision making for their own countries. Perhaps most leaders would have small interest in the ministrations of greatcharlie on this matter. Of course, there are rarely situations that arise that are so uniform in nature that lessons from one leader would allow a cookie cutter approach to resolving them. However, smart people are able to find solutions to problems. If national leaders would like to work outside of international institutions more frequently, new more thoughtful and empathetic perspectives must be allowed to arrive in their thinking on their diplomacy with other countries.

Commentary: Too Much for Too Long?: Critics’ Attacks on Trump’s Foreign Policy and the US News Media’s Attendant Self-Destruction

US President Donald Trump (right) has had many foreign policy successes. His diplomatic efforts with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) would be among them. Using a maximum pressure campaign of sanctions, coordinating with South Korean and Japanese allies, and garnering help from China and Russia, Trump got North Korea to suspend nuclear and missile testing, brought home three US prisoners, and convinced North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un (left) to meet for denuclearization talks. Trump said the talks achieved much. Critics opined widely in the US news media that Trump accomplished nothing.

A significant segment of the US public, with a sense of trust, although somewhat diminished over recent years, still avails itself of the news media to understand what is happening in their world, internationally, nationally, and locally. Journalists cover areas across a gamut within those sets of the news to include: business and finance, sports, weather, science, education, fine arts, literature, style and fashion, entertainment and celebrity, food and wine, and travel. (It is possible that some areas were missed off the list.) In news related to foreign affairs and diplomacy, national security and defense, international and national, the news media serves as the eyes and ears of the US public in realms that are generally inaccessible. What is immediately apparent in the way in which stories are being reported and commented upon lately is the great degree that it deviates from well-established standards of professional practice of the past. That would include informing truthfully about people and events, reporting facts and not simply offering opinion. In particular, the quality of mainstream news media efforts devoted to foreign affairs and diplomacy, national security and defense, has degraded significantly. That change has especially been apparent during the administration of US President Donald Trump. There is an “us-them” approach to taken toward anything the Trump administration does. Reporters and pundits in the broadcast media have gone beyond the point of being gadflies. Primacy is given to an effort to shape the thinking of the public, as well as provoke Trump, with daily stories that harshly criticize him, gainsay his administration’s decisions and actions, and chastize administration personnel from senior advisers to middle level staff. Words used are beyond hostile and aggressive. The distance that many journalists are willing to travel away from past norms is unknown. Into the second year of his first term in office, the news media remains all Trump, all the time. Journalists discuss hypotheticals sometimes with only a tenuous connection with the realities to ongoing events instead of informing the US public of facts from solid reporting and analysis based on studied patterns of decision making. The facts offered are more often bleached to the point of being superficial. Deeper dives into facts are avoided, and gaps are filled with opinions. The conclusion of an empirical analysis by discerning, reasonable laymen. who have kept close track of news media coverage over the past decade or longer, would undoubtedly be that there has been a sea change in the way things are done. Recall how US news media reports during the 2016 Presidential Election Campaign were filled with opinions on how Trump would lose the race, while facts correctly pointing to the real potential of his victory were set aside for the most  part.)

As Trump is attacked repeatedly without relief, one wonders what are the genuine ends that his critics seek to reach. They could easily critique Trump. without being so destructive. It would seem that there is some collective understanding by journalist that since Trump is allegedly such despicable a person, so unfit for the presidency that as members of the “Fourth Estate”, the guardians of democracy, it is their duty to protect the US public, the society, by hindering his path. With that concept and intent, the news media has gone about using its position in the society to set the agenda for the national and international discourse on Trump. That type of haughtiness makes the whole cabaret of news media behavior toward Trump more disconcerting. Perhaps the preponderance of those working as journalists remain so against Trump’s election victory that they continue fight against him, forming a resistence, completely contrary to the purported duty of those in the profession to report the news and not make it. The words “resist” and “resistance” have been uttered by broadcast news reporters and anchors more than once in recent times. The phrase “all the news that is fit to print” still holds. However, the definition of what is fit has clearly changed. The entire movement in a new direction could be a reflection of a more understanding that the news media is an industry, engaged in business. The pursuit and high tempo production of juicy, high-value stories that decry Trump, appears designed to glean a significant audience, and make news programs, newspapers, journals, more attractive for paid advertising. Est omnino iniquum, sed usu receptum, quod honesta consilia vel turpia, prout male aut prospere cedunt, ita vel probantur vel reprehenduntur. (It is the usual though inequitable method of the world, to pronounce an action to be either right or wrong, as it is attended with good or ill success.)

What is also being witnessed is a self-destructive act. Journalists and news media outlets reduce themselves to a status so low that, despite their ability to sway opinion, they become supernumeraries in the larger story of the Trump administration’s progress. The once great leviathans of the deep that US news media outlets have reduced themselves to goldfish in an aquarium. It would be hard to argue that the mantle of being the impartial reporters of people and events has not been surrendered by journalists. Readers and viewers are told, with half-concealed pathos, that the news media is still a neutral voice. That may very well remain the overt policy at most US news media outlets and the guidance most journalists claim to follow, but in both cases, it is regularly ignored. Under the older way of doing things, personal opinions of journalists on Trump and his administration’s actions would be kept personal unless those opinions were published on opinion pages or in editorials or broadcasted as specifically commentaries. In a previous post, greatcharlie essentially called for the wholesale rejection of US news media as an overt sources of intelligence for foreign diplomatic and intelligence services attempting to better understand Trump as it would cause more confusion than order in analytical processes that could support more effective diplomacy with the administration. In this post, greatcharlie takes a brief look with some despair at the issue and offers some understanding of the slow, downward spiral of standards in journalism and the US news media and an understanding why many journalists no longer report and editorialize on Trump from a neutral perspective, but from a popular counter-Trump point of view. Multi famam, conscientiam pauci verentur. (The truth is, the generality of mankind stand in awe of public opinion, while conscience is feared by the few.)

Trump and the US News Media

After Trump won the 2016 US Presidential Election, Trump, forever the optimist, expected much from the presidency. Among those things, he would have liked to have been embraced by the country. However, he was rejected by an endless list of critics. As critics’ attacks hold the US public’s attention day after day, managers and producers in newsrooms insist that reporters and anchors push even harder to garner even more attention. To the extent that the public has been captivated by stories about Trump, he might be called the luckiest thing to come the way of US media outlets. Some of Trump’s critics are convinced that he does not really want to do well for the US public or the world. Trump is depicted more and more as the ultimate and absolute evil. Against Trump, more critics than not engage in “violent and disorderly forms of speaking: slander, defamation, insult, vituperation, malediction, and curse.” In doing so, critics transmit pessimism. However, they abuse the privilege of their position in the society to display a type of recklessness and irrationality. It certainly is nothing smooth, elegant, beautiful, or classy about it. It is very unattractive. As greatcharlie has asserted often in its posts concerning the news media, this would all prove to be very destabilizing for the society as whole. They make very unconstructive statements being fully aware that the consequence of them might be to harm the trust that many in the US public have in Trump. They may have even infiltrated and despoiled the psyche of quite a few, and perhaps may have even destroyed the possibility for some to have confidence in future US administrations. Indeed, if it were only a select few critics, perhaps it could be presumed that some strong psychological disturbance was the cause for their reports and commentaries. Their words could be dismissed. However, the number of critics is great, and there are far more than a few attacks. The onslaught of attacks against Trump are so intense that critics can step away from the firing line and allow others carry on the attack. They can then return later, rested, re-energized, and ready to unleash more destructive attacks on the US President. The ranks of Trump’s critics actually extend beyond the US news media to include: think tank scholars, other policy analysts, particularly former officials of the administration of US President Barack Obama. Still, it is via the news media that all of the critics views are transmitted.

While it may appear at times that many journalists and other critics are developing their attacks on Trump by building whimsy upon whimsy, they would vehemently deny that. Indeed, they would explain that certain “data points” have lead them to reach negative conclusions about him, reveal dangers that he poses. Of course, the critics, themselves, determine what data points are important enough to look at. Despite their insistence, experienced analysts would recognize that even with the often cherry picked facts of critics’ data points could certainly mean many other things. Other, more developed conclusions could be reached if those data points were studied more intently. Critics’ reactions to Trump remind one more adolescent rebellion than more edifying, staid efforts of journalists not so long ago. Pressured to provide in depth, constructive analysis and options on policy issues in a challenging, consequential setting, the honest among them would very likely admit that they could not do it. Although many critics may not be able to truly shed light on matters, they can still cast a shadow through their reports, commentaries, broadcasts, and blog posts Homines enim cum rem destruere non possunt, iactationem eius incessunt. Ita si silenda feceris, factum ipsum, si laudanda non sileas, ipse culparis. (Such is the disposition of mankind, if they cannot blast an action, they will censure the parade of it; and whether you do what does not deserve to be taken notice of, or take notice yourself of what does, either way you incur reproach.)

Trump did not ascend to the presidency only to have the US simply to sit back and hope only a well-heeled, politically “useful” segment of the society prospered. That was the pattern in previous administrations. When they tried to be proactive, they failed. After September 11, 2001, there was the necessary but poorly prosecuted military intervention in Afghanistan where initial success was squandered, and years with little genuine efforts by the administration to achieve victory. There was a non-judicious use of US power based on the silly notion of using a Western model to transform societies in the Middle East, marked by the disastrous Iraq War. Sizing up the competence of US decision makers, Russia moved forces into Georgia, and inroads were made in pulling some former Soviet republics back to Moscow’s control. There was a poorly conceived plan for nuclear arms reduction and an attempted pivot to Asia based on the flawed belief that the Russian Federation under President Vladimir Putin was no longer a threat to the West. Russia wholly rejected the notion of cutting nuclear arms and when he found the doors of Eastern Europe open, he decided to walk right into Ukraine. Russia directed threats at the Baltic States, conducted hybrid warfare campaigns against other former Soviet republics and Eastern European countries, and undertook the bold move of meddling in the 2016 US Presidential Election Campaign. Trump will not allow the US to sit and atrophy. He wants to take on the unfinished business of the US concerning foreign policy. He has had a number of objectively recognized successes. Perhaps first among was his efforts on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea). Trump managed to cause North Korea to suspend its nuclear and missile testing, release three US prisoners, and bring the Supreme Leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Kim Jong-un to a summit meeting in Singapore on denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula. It was mainly the result of maximum pressure campaign that included harsh economic sanctions, close coordination with South Korean and Japanese allies and apparent help from China and Russia. On NATO, Trump encouraged Member States to increase spending following harsh admonishments of them for being delinquent in keeping their forces strong enough to field an effective defense against its most likely adversary, Russian. On March 5, 2018, NATO allies reported an increase in their overall military spending for a second straight year to 2.42 percent of gross national product. On ISIS, it was reported on April 5, 2018 by US Marine Corps Lieutenant General Kenneth McKenzie Jr., Director of the Joint Staff, that the US and its coalition partners in Iraq and Syria has led to near defeat of the so-called “Islamic Caliphate” and the methodical reduction of the massive swath of territory it grabbed in Iraq and Syria during the Obama administration. Chief Pentagon spokesperson Dana White explained further that “(We are) very close to reaching an end state against the caliphate.” These accomplishments are only a few from long list of successes.

Initially for Trump, there was undoubtedly some hurt as he likely felt attacks were coming from all sides; and they were. Indeed, the intention of critics has been to hurt Trump. Psychological torture is always the most successful and painful for the individual. There was always the danger that as a normal human being, he could have become a misanthrope, so angered by what was being said. It is difficult to imagine critics did not know Trump would have been made to feel cornered, cut off, isolated. Trump was depicted within the society by critics as something wrong, abnormal, an untouchable. To maintain his balance, Trump appears to have engaged in an internal juggling act. The military would call it economy of force, bringing up strength when and where he needs it, and devoting less energy where it is not needed immediately. He apparently manages to find some peace and calm in his quarters at the White House. It is an environment of “friendly superiority” away from the savagery of critics, even if only for brief moments. He has occasionally found other opportunities for relaxation through visits to Mar-A-Largo, Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, Trump National Doral Golf Club, and Trump Tower. Now, well over a year since his inauguration, the best efforts of his critics have left Trump somewhat untouched for the most part. Indeed, what critics might have noticed lately is that Trump has been reacting less to critics’ attacks, and typically responds in a way to promote his  own perspectives, positions, and policies. In addition to rallies and press conferences, he does that work on Twitter. While critics may dwell on inaccuracies or typos which are undoubtedly the result of Trump’s attempts to fit all he wants to say in limited character space, the important elements to take away from his tweets is that they represent his own unfiltered words, his direct line of communication with the US public.

To the disappointment of critics, the job of president has begun to fit Trump. It has all occurred under the persistent shadow of an investigation alleged collusion with Russia on the 2016 Presidential Election. The investigation has been insisted upon not only by critics, but also full-fledged rivals. Trump swears none of the accusations are true, and has declared the whole matter a witch hunt. Secunda felices, adversa magnos probent. (Prosperity proves men to be fortunate, while it is adversity which makes them great.)

Where Is the US News Media Headed?

In the US, the news media serves as a watchdog over government power and political activity. It is a source from which the public can inform itself on the decisions and actions of elected leaders and appointed officials. The news media is at its best when it can provide the public with a look inside government bodies and operations. Its role in the society is sacrosanct. “Freedom of the press” is one the Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments of the US Constitution listing specific prohibitions on government power. A study released by the Pew Research Center on June 18, 2018, it was concluded that the US public has difficulty sorting through fact and opinion in the US news media reports. In the study, conducted in February and March of 2018, 5,035 survey participants aged 18 and above were asked to identify statements of fact versus opinions in news stories. The research indicated that only 26 percent were able to correctly identify all five factual statements. On opinions, about 35 percent were able to correctly identify all five statements. Nearly 25 percent were incorrect most or all of the time in the identification process. Amy Mitchell, Director of Journalism Research at the Pew Research Center explained that participants’ ability to classify statements as factual or opinion varied widely based on ones political awareness, trust in the news media, “digital savviness” or degree to which one is confident in using digital devices and the internet, and “political savviness.” According to Mitchell, the study also found that when Americans call a statement “factual” they overwhelmingly also think it is accurate. They tend to disagree with factual statements they incorrectly label as opinions. Unusquisque mavult credere quam iudicare. (Everyone prefers to believe than to think.)

Taking the tack of reporting only parts of a story, promoting a particular viewpoint, hoping to shape in agreement with it, is improper. In the past, there were no special circumstances that would have made it correct to do so. It is not posited here that all journalists and all news media outlets engage in this practice. To posit that all members of any group behave in the same way would be incorrect unless they behave in the same way by design. Members of military honor guard close order drill teams, synchronized swimming teams, and some factory assembly line teams are a few examples of that. The desire here is not generalize to the point of displaying a prejudice or bias about the journalism profession or the news media or express stereotypes about both today. The purpose is to consider certain relatively new changes in standards of practice among professionals that catch the eye.

The Influence of the Internet on Journalism

On the burgeoning internet in the early 1990s, standards for presenting information were somewhat lax to say the least. That was usually the immediate perception of those who used it via the big providers at the time: AOL,Yahoo, Microsoft, and Google. Numerous grammatical errors and inaccuracies could be found on websites of all kinds, as well as the blogs, a set in which greatcharlie became a part in May 2013. There was even an understanding that one could write email messages with little concern over grammar and spelling. Things did not improve once social media arrived on the scene. Writing devolved further. Writers began using contractions, nonstandard contractions, acronyms, other abbreviations, and symbols. The danger that the loose standards of the Internet posed to conventional journalism was not recognized. As the internet gained popularity, users allowed the standards and practices of the internet found its way into communications of all types at work and at home. The ways of the internet impacted work product in mainstream media outlets. Indeed, bad writing habits could be found just about everywhere. What was also prevalent was the presentation of opinion as fact as in online studies, reports, articles, and commentaries. Some online sites did not reference sources or use any facts in their work. Opinions, themselves, were presented in the news. (Caveat: While all of this only provides the flavor of what happened, the full story is far worse.)

In its nascent stage as a media tool, the internet was viewed somewhat as novelty by professionals in all fields, to include managers of news bureaus and newsrooms and television news producers. Those senior leaders were mainly of an older generations as were the senior executives of the news media outlets in which they worked. They were all unaware of the internet and all its power and potential, did not realize what was happening. The Internet would evolve exponentially in a short period of time. To understand what the many young go-getters who were behind the evolving online services were up to in the early 1990s, US Senator John McCain formed a bipartisan “Internet Caucus” in the US Congress. The countless, quirky online news media sites of all sizes that were developed on the Internet became a real competitors for the attention of the public. A broad, diverse, but mostly youthful audience began getting its news from the Internet sources. Only so much could be accomplished by “the old guard” adhering to long held standards while hoping to hold on to their audience. Just over a decade after the online competition’s massive footprint became evident everywhere. They began making huge cuts in their workforces. Fewer reporters were kept on staff, overseas news bureaus faced severe reductions in staffs or were closed altogether. Covering the news the old way had become expensive. The possibility that  new technologies could present benefits for their field were investigated. Oportet privatis utilitatibus publicas, mortalibus aeternas anteferre, multoque diligentius muneri suo consulere quam facultatibus. (A man must rate public and permanent, above private and fleeting advantages and study how to render his benefaction most useful, rather than how he may bestow it with least expense.)

Mainstream news media outlets rushed to create places for themselves online but it was an anxiety filled effort as their sites, carrying the mastheads of their venerable newspapers of record, revered broadcast television networks, and cable news networks floated in an ocean of seemingly infinite sites. Senior executives believed a solution for the mainstream media was to acquire, merge, or enter cooperative arrangements with the online competitors thereby covering matters beyond the news. There was certainly a flap of that activity in the late 1990s. Yet, despite steps taken, senior executives of mainstream news media outlets recognized that they were fighting a losing battle. At a certain point, it appears that since the mainstream could not beat the wave of online news services doing things representative of their buttoned down way of thinking. They would dedicate a portion of their efforts on the internet to directly compete with their burgeoning technological rival for the attention of the US public. In the presentation of their website sites, blogs, and stories, the mainstream news media outlets modelled their products after the many news sites online. It was a period of confusion across the profession in which senior executives saw that their inherent uncertainty and hesitation over departing from its normal ways of doing things was in an odd way a “liability.” The resistance to change would not allow it to compete with the new online threat. The response of many forward thinking at that moment in the industry was allow some latitude for shedding its “old fashioned” identity. That identity, however, was built upon the adherence to its firm standards of professional practice.

There was opposition to what was transpiring. Although the transformation of the profession and its practices seemed inevitable, some well-experienced journalists and grizzled, seen-it-all editors and producers were not ready to toss out everything that had been established. Indeed, away from the eyes of the public there was an internal resistance by some journalists, editors, and producers to maintain the status quo and convince their colleagues that it was imperative to do so. Despite their intransigence, the winners of that apparent, yet publicly unseen Kulturkampf in the US news media were those in the profession who were ready to engage in ways that previously would have been absolute anathema in the profession. Veteran journalists might suggest that multifarious crises in leadership and changes in leadership along the way in the big US news media outlets further aggravated matters and sped the departure from old practices to the new.

The trust developed over decades with the US public, the covenant of the free press with people, not to fail in its duty to keep them informed in the way mainstream news media outlets and the renowned freelance journalists of the past, became a patrimony squandered by spendthrift heirs. The new focus would be based on narrow interest in grabbing headlines to promote readership and viewership, and to fill advertising space and increase their profits. After all, new office buildings, new technologies, and marketing cost money. Those journalists who will adhere to convention, will only report facts as they come and in rightful context, will remain neutral, and will refuse to deviate from that course, may not be able to produce reports with enough “umph” to compete with the visceral, personal opinion-laden, stories of journalists working without restraint. Wrong is wrong, even if everyone is doing what is wrong, and right is right even if no one is doing what is right. Still, some would claim that is too easy to say outside of context, and therein may lie the problem. Too many journalists are willing to engage in a type of relativism about issues. Too many who see what is wrong are willing to settle as well.

What Might Come Next?

Difficile est tenere quae acceperis nisi exerceas. (It is difficult to retain what you may have learned unless you should practice it.) Debating whether standards should be upheld, regarding Trump or any matter, would have been considered novel in the profession not so long ago. Journalist, editors, and producers knew that they were expected to hold themselves to high standards. When the news is edited for the purpose of manipulating opinion it becomes propaganda, or worse, disinformation. As the profession developed, evolved, the need to apply standards to ensure that the reported news remained authentic news had been addressed by those who were responsible for developing news reporting as a profession; the firmament of great journalists of past eras. Standards are as essential an element to reporting as knowing the who, what, when, where, why of a story. Where one might appreciate hearing the matter still hashed out are lively discussions in ethics classes at journalism departments of colleges and universities. However, once away from the safety of the halls of their schools, the gap between theory and praxis, text and the world, becomes most apparent. There was a time when journalism was a calling. For the those who accepted it as such, there was a recognition that they had to remain obedient to standards. In moments of doubt when new journalists are uncertain how to proceed, it would be great if they would acknowledge, believe, that the profession is greater than themselves.

In professions, novices or journeymen typically model themselves on their precursors. New journalists starting at the bottom of the list read, hear, watch, and perhaps even admire some long-time highly esteemed figures in the US news media. For this reason, veteran journalists must serve as examples, ready to support neophytes in how to do things right or when they have gotten things wrong. This should be done not only as part of the process of mentoring and on-the-job  professional development, but for the sake of the profession. The decision of veteran journalists to deviate from convention would certainly give new journalists the impression that they too have license to depart from the established course when covering Trump, leaving behind old standards, codes, tenets, in favor of an unrestrained, laissez-faire approach to reporting and commentary. Indeed, the professionals who came before them have made themselves most notable for their role in the disassembly of the standards of professional practice for journalism. New journalists may be agreeable to a philosophy that journalism is a business and cost benefit analysis, and knowing whether a broad audience will be reached, must be part of decision making on what stories run. Doing what feels right whether adhering to standards or not, would be fine, as long its meets business criteria. In numero ipso est quoddam magnum collatumque consilium, quibusque singulis iudicii parum, omnibus plurimum. (A certain large collective wisdom resides in a crowd, as such; and men whose individual judgement is defective are excellent judges when grouped together.)

Among new journalists willing to escape or to reject convention, there is also the impetus of trying to avoid being crushed under the weight of huge student loan payments, mortgages, college tuition, and some have expensive choices for entertainment and costly personal interests. Add to that the fact that most young journalists despite protestations to the contrary, are vertically oriented, seeing a path upward. For a young journalist, remaining part of workplace may often be just a matter of falling in line with what is expected, or acknowledging what is the style du jour. Although one may begin at the bottom of the list, once one is recognized as a team player, easy to work with, more opportunities to might be provided for one to participate in collaborative efforts. Fruitful group effort makes ones activities at a workplace much sweeter. In the era of Trump, new journalist are more likely to garner favorable attention as a team player and rise in standing, if they can manage to display some Innate sense of how to present him as a certain kind of leader. What can likely be expected in the future of the administration are efforts to create an image of Trump, much as a character in a play, with bits and pieces of fact included in their depiction. They can then convey anything negative about that character that they want.

The direction that the profession is turning toward might loosely be dubbed “Libertine journalism.” The ideals, beliefs, aims of a past era are not just being shed, but rejected, for the new. Presently, there is no evidence in news outlets that self-constraints exist on what can be said about Trump. As things continue in this fashion, the regulatory mechanism for their work will typically be open minded managers with a sedated style of supervision might be limited to meeting copy deadlines and remaining strict on word length. Peers of young tyro would certainly offer guidance to the extent that they would likely admonish and ostricize them if they failed to attack Trump thoroughly. New journalists may rarely find themselves genuinely at odds with managers on the way their stories are written as there appears to be little gap between what editors and producers they think and what US media outlets in which they have found employment have been doing. It appears at some once renowned news media outlets, particularly in broadcast media, that constraints do not exist at all.  The free press has become free wielding. Yet, it cannot called anarchic. While the creative side of the outlets may be in flux, the administrative, bureaucratic side of them remain intact. Unfortunately for the US public, the consumer, whose interests the news media purports to serve, trying to recognize the difference between fact and opinion, even what is right and wrong will become more difficult to discern. The mainstream news media will very likely be forever shaped or poisoned, depending on ones perspective, by this change. Multi famam, conscientiam pauci verentur. (The truth is, the generality of mankind stand in awe of public opinion, while conscience is feared only by the few.)

Can the Old Form of Journalism Be Resuscitated?

In the Induction of William Shakespeare’s The Second part of King Henry the Fourth, the idea of Rumour takes human form, painted full of tongues, and breaks the fourth wall by  speaking to the audience before the castle at Warkworth. He tells of his devilish work of playing on the anxieties across the known world, telling lies, generating falsehoods, encouraging guesswork, igniting suspicion, and flavoring speculation that could only mislead those aware of his presence. The result is misfortune for those fall victim to his stories. As an introduction to the play, Rumour tells how contrary to the truth that King Henry who has won the war and ended the rebellion led by Hotspur and his allies at Shrewsbury, he has spread word Hotspur has killed the King and as Prince Hal was killed, too! Rumour describes his efforts as follows: “Open your ears; for which of you will stop The vent of hearing when loud Rumour speaks? I, from the orient to the drooping west, Making the wind my post-horse, still unfold The acts commenced on this ball of earth: Upon my tongues continual slanders ride, The which in every language I pronounce, Stuffing the ears of men with false reports. I speak of peace, while covert enmity Under the smile of safety wounds the world: And who but Rumour, who but only I, Make fearful musters and prepared defence, Whiles the big year, swoln with some other grief, Is thought with child by the stern tyrant war, And no such matter? Rumour is a pipe Blown by surmises, jealousies, conjectures And of so easy and so plain a stop That the blunt monster with uncounted heads, The still-discordant wavering multitude, Can play upon it. But what need I thus My well-known body to anatomize.” The similarity in the practice of Shakespeare’s Rumor and practices of many journalists and US news media today is striking. As initially mentioned, opinion has replaced fact in news reports. Opinions themselves are not threatening. The way in which they are being used is problematic. Opinions can be developed by the interpreting facts collected and inferring things from that information. It is akin to trying to find the missing piece of ring and using facts available to conceptualize, hypothesize within reasonable probability, what that missing piece might look like. There are quantitative and qualitative means used in some fields to help one reach useful conclusions. Opinions can also be formed from prejudices, self-serving ideas, incorrect assumptions, and surmisal, and offered up much as rumors.

The US public should be deeply concerned about the collapse of standards of professional practice in journalism, particularly when it comes to covering Trump’s foreign policy. Many in the US public have become less certain that the news media serves their interests. If new and veteran journalists and senior executives of new media outlets were forced to face the reality that the news media as it is now is not serving the needs of the public, there would most likely demurrals from some and certainly hot-blooded, vehement expressions of outrage from others. Trump appears to have triggered the worst attitudes and behaviors, the worst instincts in journalists. His presidency has oddly presented an opportunity for them to cut loose, engaging in independent thinking on what is relatively right and wrong and reaching conclusions at odds with professional standards. They respond to Trump with their worst instincts. While his foreign policy successes can reasonably be seen as improving the position of the US and peace and security globally, they are reported as placing the country and the world one footstep from Hell. Trump is inspired by the challenge of dealing with what he sees as the languid condition of US foreign policy. So far, there is no indication that his work is directed at the annihilation of everything as some critics have proffered. There is perhaps little to no chance for Trump to cultivate the affections of the US news media. One may disagree with Trump, but that is no reason to tear everything apart, play a big role in sullying the office of the presidency, and disassemble all that was once special and sacrosanct about journalism profession.

The profession as it is now could serve as a metaphor for the social man who has lost his way in the society with an overt focus on wealth, power, celebrity, pleasure, immediate gratification, rather truth, beauty, and goodness. Trying to protect it may appear futile more than ever before. In his 1734 work, An Essay on Man, Alexander Pope stated that “hope springs eternal in the human breast.” Perhaps the saving grace for profession may take the form of a new movement by new journalists, themselves to restore things as they were. Perhaps the old form of journalism can be resuscitated. To reach that point, however, new journalists in particular, veterans too if they choose, must undertake journeys of introspection to understand the phenomenon of what their profession has become, who they have become as professionals, and what their priorities really are. One must not ignore the possibilities of ones own character. One can always become much more. Becoming much more may be within ones reach. With hope, there might be a check in their spirit of some journalists that might help remind them that things are being done the wrong way and a correction is needed. What is in ones heart will determine the path one chooses. Vita hominum altos recessus magnasque latebras habet. (Character lies more concealed, and out of the reach of common observation.)