The Corner


North Korea and America

North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un and U.S. president Donald Trump at their summit in Singapore, June 12, 2018 (Jonathan Ernst / Reuters)

Kim Jong-nam was the eldest son of Kim Jong-il, the second North Korean dictator. (Jong-il falls between his father, Il-sung, and his youngest son, Jong-un.) I wrote about this family, among others, in my 2015 book, Children of Monsters. Jong-nam was assassinated at the Kuala Lumpur airport in February 2017. It was surely a hit ordered by his half-brother, the dictator.

According to a new book by Anna Fifield, the Washington Post’s Beijing bureau chief, Jong-nam was an informant for the CIA. The Free World is desperate for information on North Korea, the “Hermit Kingdom,” the most closed and isolated country in the world. Every bit of information helps.

Do you want to know something funny? Here is a tidbit from my book: The world learned about Kim Jong-un’s first child — her sex and her name — not from the CIA, not from any other intelligence service, but from Dennis Rodman, the dictator’s friend. (Miss Kim’s name is Ju-ae.)

On Tuesday, President Trump was asked about Kim Jong-nam as a CIA asset. He said, “So I see that, and I just received a beautiful letter from Kim Jong-un, and I think the relationship is very well, but I appreciated the letter. I saw the information about the CIA with respect to his brother or half-brother, and I would tell him that would not happen under my auspices, that’s for sure. I wouldn’t let that happen under my auspices. But I just received a beautiful letter from Kim Jong-un. I can’t show you the letter, obviously, but it was a very personal, very warm, very nice letter.”

In light of the president’s comments, it is unlikely that any North Korean would risk his neck to help us now. This is unfortunate, in that information out of North Korea is vital. For a long time, we have been working in the relative dark.

For the next National Review, I have written a piece about Thae Yong-ho, one of the highest-ranking people ever to defect from North Korea. (He was deputy ambassador in London.) He is a man of almost unbelievable courage. He believes he is now No. 1 on Pyongyang’s assassination list. I spoke with him at the Oslo Freedom Forum, and if you’d like to hear the relevant podcast, go here.

I asked him about the relationship between Trump and Kim. He said that he understood the need to negotiate nuclear issues. But he could not understand why Trump depicts Kim as a “nice guy” or even a “normal person.” “Kim Jong-un is a tyrant, a dictator, and a criminal.”

Last September, Trump confided to a rally in Wheeling, W.V., about his relationship with Kim: “We were going back and forth, and then we fell in love, okay? No, really. He wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters. We fell in love.”

Trump has often effused about Kim Jong-un: “Really, he’s got a great personality. He’s a funny guy, he’s very smart.” “He is very talented. Anybody who takes over a situation like he did at 26 years of age and is able to run it, and run it tough . . .”

Kim does indeed “run it tough.” Gulag survivors, few as they may be, confirm it. (For an interview I did with one in 2016, go here.)

Trump said of Kim, “He loves his country very much.” The North Korean escapees and defectors I have talked to beg to differ. They say that he loves his absolute power, not his country, which he enslaves and pulverizes, as his father and grandfather did before him.

More from Trump on Kim: “His country does love him. His people, you see the fervor. They have a great fervor.” So it has always been with totalitarian monsters, such as Stalin and the Kims. It is up to others to see beyond the Potemkin. Most people do, I think.

Last month, President Trump wrote the following: “North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me. I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe  Bidan a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?”

This brief statement says a great deal. First, there is the credulousness. Then there is the chortling with a Communist dictator over a political rival in the United States.

Personally, I have been against Joe Biden since at least the early 1980s (back when Trump was a Democrat). But I will certainly side with him over an anti-American dictator who runs a gulag (tough). It used to bother me when Democrats sided, or seemed to side, with Fidel Castro, say, over Reagan or George W. Bush. In fact, I cried against it. But even Charlie Rangel defended Bush when Hugo Chávez denounced Bush at the United Nations.

Can you imagine what we conservatives would say if a Democratic president chortled with a Communist dictator over some Republican back home? Calling him “low IQ”? We would be howling at the White House gates, rightly.

President Trump frequently calls his critics “low IQ.” It is a go-to move. I have been around some smart people in my time, lucky me. (Bill Buckley was one of them.) I have never heard them disparage the IQs of others. Ever. They just don’t do it.

Earlier this week, I received a letter from a college student, which made my day. He is president of his College Republicans group. He had read my dispatches from the Oslo Freedom Forum. He said, in part,

Some of my club members will stand by what President Trump says about Chairman Kim, despite what the Chairman inflicts on the North Korean people, but I want you to know that some of us are still holding the line and fighting the good fight.

Though you are not a Republican anymore, I figured you would take a little encouragement in knowing that there are some Young Republicans trying to hold the line, despite the pressure to capitulate.

All life long — at every stage — there is pressure to capitulate, wrongly. And those who withstand it are great assets to the world.

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