US PRESIDENT Donald Trump has been anything but presidential in his first year in office. Outside his racist/alt-right base, very few have given him any credit at all for doing anything worthwhile or good during his first year in office. Not one US president in history has been subjected to the type of criticism to which he has been and mostly for the right reasons. A book entitled Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House that the president’s lawyers unsuccessfully tried to stop from being published, depicts him as mentally unstable to remain the president based on sources, mainly his aides in the White House.
The president as expected trashed the book calling it ‘fake’ and ‘full of lies’ and based on ‘sources that did not exist.’ He predicted that the fate of the author Michael Wolff would be the same as ‘sloppy Steve’, his former chief strategist Steve Bannon who ‘has now been dumped like a dog by everybody’ and who had ‘begged and cried’ to remain in his job’ when he had decided to sack him. At the same time when the president faced this latest public relations crisis with Fire and Fury, Yale University psychiatrist Dr Bandy Lee briefed lawmakers in Washington, mostly Democrats, on the mental state of the president that he termed as ‘dangerous.’
Notwithstanding all the above, president Donald Trump has unwittingly perhaps done a big favour or so it appears at this stage during his first year in office to North Korea and its president Kim Jong-un. Thanks to the US president, the latter is now talking of peace and at least one neighbour South Korea is listening. Before he had become the president, Kim Jong-un was universally considered to be dangerous and unstable, a pariah to the international order and a danger to world peace because of his threat to use the nuclear weapons at his disposal on his adversaries.
President Kim Jong-un was a major issue of the 2016 US presidential election. US voters were very eager to learn how the two candidates would deal with the North Korean leader’s nuclear threat. As the candidate, president Trump had dismissed the North Korean nuclear threat nonchalantly and the North Korean leader as someone who would dance to his tune when he became the president. His tweets on North Korea and its leader were a mixed bag, sometimes threatening and more often, full of sarcasm and mockery.
While the US president threatened, mocked and joked about the North Korean leader, North Korea tested its final ICBMs and completed its ICBM programme successfully right under his nose. North Korea now has attained capability of hitting any part of the United States with nuclear weapons where its earlier ICBMs could reach only as far as Alaska at the time president Trump had assumed office in January 2017. In his New Year’s address, the North Korean leader announced that his country would, henceforth, concentrate on production of more nuclear bombs as it would no longer have to spend time testing ICBMs.
That was chilling news for South Korea and Japan. It should have been the same and additionally, also embarrassing for the US president because North Korea had become a greater threat for all three under his watch when he had promised and tweeted to the contrary. But then president Trump is not the usual president, not by any stretch of the imagination. He has the unique ability to block himself totally from anything that he does not like or not to his advantage. He can easily dismiss anything that goes against him as untrue and fake. In fact, he has created for himself a fake world of his own where he reigns supreme as in the fairy tale ‘The Emperor’s New Dress’ where like the emperor, he stands naked before all but thinks to the contrary.
Surprisingly, however, Kim Jong-un has not used his country’s newfound power with the successful ICBM tests to threaten his neighbours on the Korean Peninsula or the United States. Instead, he has used it to make positive advances towards South Korea. In his New Year’s address, he responded positively to the offers of the South Korean president Moon Jae-In that the latter had made soon after becoming the president in May 2017. Those offers were, first, to start negotiations to ease military tensions that had been stalled for last two years while president Moon’s conservative predecessor was in office and, second, to send a delegation to the Winter Olympics scheduled to be held in February 9–25 in Pyeongchang in South Korea.
President Moon said the following on the North Korean response on the Olympics: ‘I appreciate and welcome the North’s positive response to our proposal that the Pyeongchang Olympics should be used as a turning point in improving South-North relations and promoting peace.’ The two sides are in high-level contact at present to ensure that a delegation from North Korea would be in Pyeongchang. The two sides also agreed last Friday, January 5, to meet this week to start talks for easing military tensions in which North Korean participation in Pyeongchang Games would also be discussed.
The decision for the two Koreas to meet next weeks to start stalled talks for easing military tension came after Seoul and Washington agreed to postpone joint military exercise in deference to the demand from the North Korean side. These developments on the Korean Peninsula were a dramatic turnaround after the insults and threats that president Trump and president Kim Jong-un had hurled at each other that had heightened tensions that have eased for the time being considerably with the US president standing on the sidelines, defeated for the present in his game of tweets and insults, with the leaders of the two Koreas taking the centre stage.
It is, in fact, a pity for the US president that with the two Koreas going ahead with negotiations for peace on the Korean Peninsula, he offered on his own behalf, unsolicited, to talk with the North Korean leader on phone to welcome the talks. There has been expectedly no response thus far from North Korea to the unilateral offer of president Trump. This latest development on the Korean Peninsula has come at a time when the US president’s standing in his own country is under a dark cloud with the publication of Michael Wolff’s book that has articulated what most Americans today believe to be true, that their president’s mental state is not fit for him to continue in office.
There is still little valid reason to trust the North Korean leader. The South Koreans are aware of that better than any other power except perhaps Japan because while making the overtures for peace with his new year’s address, Kim Jong-un has also mentioned that his country would, henceforth, build more nuclear weapons with its ICBM tests over successfully that is a threat intended for South Korea (as well as Japan). Nevertheless, the South Koreans have decided to respond to Kim Jong-un’s New Year’s overtures because it now realises that it cannot depend on the United States with an unstable president in office for seriously dealing with the dangers emanating from North Korea.
The situation on the Korean Peninsula is still fluid and dangerous, the olive branches being exchanged by North Korea with South Korea notwithstanding. Nevertheless, the North Korean leader has not only successfully ignored president Trump’s empty threats, he has also successfully steered his country’s course to a position where when sanity would return to the White House and the US would again become capable to lead the world that the US president has wasted away considerably in just one year, North Korea would be a more powerful adversary than it was when the US president had thought his tweets and taunts would be enough to humiliate and humble the North Korean leader and his country.
Postscript: Michael Wolff’s book is becoming a massive bestseller leaving the president to defend himself to ‘dispel claims of his deteriorating mental fitness.’ His tweet in defence that he is a ‘very stable genius’ raised more concerns about his sanity. Where is the US headed where an elected president is defending his sanity with such an absurd tweet?
M Serajul Islam is a former career ambassador.
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