This reckless man is a danger to the free world

Published by The Mail on Sunday (13th August, 2017)

Kim Jong-Un is leader of the world’s most repressive nation, the third generation ruler of a dynastic dictatorship that terrorises 25 million unfortunate subjects into submission. He is utterly ruthless, even slaughtering family members to retain control over his secretive state. His regime is founded on blood and fear, backed by death camps that hold perhaps 200,000 people.

I have travelled inside North Korea. And I have spent time over the southern border with survivors of those slave camps, listening to spine-chilling stories of mass murder, starvation and torture.

So I am under no illusions about the portly young despot in Pyongyang. Indeed, I sympathise with President Donald Trump’s desire to restrain the Kim dynasty and stop it developing nuclear weapons that can reach his nation.

Yet right now there is no doubt which of these two maverick leaders is the world’s biggest danger. And it is not the black-clad ‘Supreme Leader’, so desperate to develop atomic weapons he believes are key to his cruel regime’s survival.

It is the president of the planet’s greatest power, the supposed leader of the free world, whose impetuous behaviour has lifted the threat of nuclear war to levels not seen for decades. Here in the nation’s capital I woke up to The Washington Post’s dramatic headline ‘World holds its breath on N. Korea.’

Such is the raised temperature that residents of Guam, a Pacific island that is part of the United States, have been issued with tips on surviving nuclear attack. This followed Trump’s threats to rain ‘fire and fury’ on Pyongyang, feeding Kim’s paranoia, then ramping up the rhetorical brinkmanship still further by tweeting that the US military was ‘locked and loaded should North Korea act unwisely.’

There is a sense in Washington his week that America finds itself engaged in the most perilous game of political brinkmanship since the Cuban missile crisis. Yet the irony is many insiders fear the biggest threat comes from their own president.

As if his bellicose rhetoric towards North Korea were not reckless enough, on Friday he also raised suggestions of military response to the Venezuela crisis.

Whatever happens over the coming days,  the episode has served to underscore that Trump is not some straight-talking outsider shaking up the elite but a deluded president out of his depth whose foolish outbursts are demeaning to his nation.

This was always the fear when this narcissistic reality television star moved into the White House. Not his bigotry, his lying, his nepotism and his pathetic self-promotion, although these were bad enough. It was the concern that Trump is simply not fit to become US Commander-in-chief and to hold the world’s future in his (small) hands.

So it has proved.

Could the tweets and loose talk will ratchet up tensions so high that one slip – or misread tweet – sparks apocalyptic confrontation? The best hope of resolution is if China gets so alarmed by Trump’s talk of war it stops propping up Kim’s regime – or at least persuades Pyongyang to curtail nuclear weapons development.

Yet even if military action is avoided, the political fallout should not be underestimated. Inside Washington’s corridors of power there is concern that Trump’s loudmouth tactics will have severe consequence for US leadership, unsettling allies and weakening democratic values that, for all its faults, Washington aims to promote.

‘Tough talk only works if there is an endgame,’ said Joshua Walker, an expert on Asia and former state department adviser. ‘I’m worried this is all reactive policy, not proactive – and I’m scared.’

Jamie Fly, former foreign affairs aide to Republican Senator Marco Rubio, told me he was surprised Trump moved so fast to talk of military solutions. ‘This is raising concerns among our allies and partners in Asia as well as Europe,’ he said. ‘Repeated threats followed by lack of action would make it look like the President fails to follow up his talk.’

Should we be surprised by this lack of strategy having learned Trump is so insecure and vain that National Security Council officials put his name in as many paragraphs as possible to ensure he keeps reading their intelligence briefs?

Another disconcerting glimpse came last week when he thanked his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for ordering the US to cuts 755 diplomatic staff in response to fresh sanctions. ‘I’m very thankful that he let go of a large number of people because now we have a smaller payroll,’ Trump told reporters.

These are not the actions of a President, but of a split man-child. Every day, it seems, has brought fresh controversy with revelations about his family’s dealings with Russia rebutted by attacks on the media and accusations of ‘fake news.’

Already there is clear evidence of dodgy regimes echoing the American president to excuse repression, justify nepotism and undermine the fight for liberal values.

If there is any method behind such madness, it may be that Trump’s bombast and Twitter barrage are designed to disguise his dismal show on the domestic front, including the failure to repeal Obama’s health reforms.

If that is the case, then it is placing political expediency above national security to quite unprecedented degree. Even the disastrous invasion of Iraq by his Republican predecessor George Bush was, after all, a daft attempt to spread democracy by military means.

‘No-one has ever seen anything like this,’ said Steffen Schmidt, the professor of political science at Iowa State University who foresaw Trump’s electoral success. ‘It is either an innovative approach or astonishingly scary.’

Most likely the later. And it is to the Republican Party’s shame that it has engaged in a Faustian pact with this devilish demagogue. They sold the party’s soul in pursuit of power rather than trying to understand the electoral discontent that drove a spoiled billionaire property developer into power.

Alarmingly,Trump’s dreadful poll rating rebounded last week after all his sabre-rattling. But it will take more than tweets and tantrums to salve his wounded nation and solve the problems of a combustible planet.


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