Unwittingly campy, defined by hyperbolic threats and poor graphics, and presented with ironic tears of joy for a Juche ideology that has starved millions, North Korean propaganda is unique. But this week, the North endorsed its choice to be the next president of the United States.
Donald Trump, claimed DPRK Today, is “far-sighted” and a “wise politician.” Here in the U.S., that comment has largely been met with amusement. But, as with our early misjudgment of Trump’s domestic appeal, it’s an error to write off North Korea’s claims as farce, because that propaganda speaks to a truth: Donald Trump is very popular with U.S. adversaries, and that popularity reflects strategic assessments.
Take North Korea. Trump suggests he would withdraw U.S. military forces from South Korea and would meet with the North’s leader, Kim Jong-un. It’s easy to see why the North likes him: Were Trump to become president, North Korea’s existential strategic objectives would move from the realm of dreams to the realm of reachable reality — these dreams being, first, a weakened South Korea vulnerable to military conquest or overt political subjugation, and second, North Korea’s unrestricted access to international markets. From the mouth of the man who may be America’s next president, North Korea has reason to believe that Trump offers something that 60 years of war-footing preparation and hundreds of billions of dollars could not: A dynastic throne for the Kim family in perpetual dominion over the Korean peninsula.
Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, is equally fond of Mr. Trump. In part, that’s because Trump frequently states his admiration of the Russian leader. And while some might say there is an almost sexual quality to Trump’s praise, it’s clear also that Donald is enamored by Vladimir. Again, it’s not hard to see why, for Putin represents Trump’s ideal of a leader. While Trump is infuriated by our free press, he sees Putin turn critics into corpses, then use them to deter future scrutiny. While Trump is disgusted by claims he’s an idiot, he sees Putin respond to similar descriptions by humiliating the West. While Trump wants to build a wall, he sees Putin building a half-mercantilist/half–Iron Curtain system of Russian imperialism. While Trump is astounded by those who reject his personality cult, he sees Putin broadcast global messages from his own mind’s eye.
In Iran’s pursuit of theological hegemony in the Middle East, and in China’s pursuit of a Pacific imperium, Trump would be a useful partner.
Trump, in short, sees Putin as his daddy. And, disliking what he regards as weak, small, and insignificant U.S. allies in Eastern Europe, Mr. Trump signals that those losers are negotiable. To President Putin, Trump’s delusions are thus an opportunity of his dreams. In turn, Putin’s targeting-recruitment strategy for Trump is clear. Offering praise for the man Putin knows adores him, the KGB colonel shapes himself as a honey trap for the billionaire businessman. In return for whispering soft (and perhaps hard) words of praise into the sociopath’s ear, Putin hopes to manipulate Trump in service of his legacy project to bring America’s allies and global order under Russian dominion. Think this assessment of Putin’s ambitions is an exaggeration? Then consider the details of Trump’s foreign policy, because those details suggest Trump is not a clown, but rather a fool.
As an extension, it’s equally possible to understand why other U.S. adversaries, like China and Iran, and semi-adversaries, like Pakistan, would also welcome a Trump presidency. In Iran’s pursuit of theological hegemony in the Middle East, and in China’s pursuit of a Pacific imperium, Trump would be a useful partner. In Pakistan’s complicated flirtation with terrorists, Trump might be distracted. These nations would consider President Trump as likely to be uninterested in the minutiae of global politics. Instead, they would see Trump as a man who could be purchased by simple praise. It’s a psychological assessment as much as anything else. After all, whether Khamenei or Putin or Xi, these U.S. adversaries know Mr. Trump as one of their kind. Egomaniacs on missions of destiny, they see Trump as their lesser, but theirs nonetheless, a known quantity to be corralled and then paraded.
What then for the Republic? Our endorsement of Hillary Clinton?
Forget it. Mrs. Clinton’s foreign-policy record isn’t just one of unmitigated failure; she actually believes her failures are successes — she says the Russian reset was a “brilliant stroke.” Oh, and via her e-mail server, Clinton likely spent her tenure as secretary of state as an unwitting, unpaid intelligence asset for the aforementioned nations. In short, for U.S. adversaries, this election offers great promise.