Trump Praises Kim Jong Un, Dismisses Concerns About Human Rights Abuses
President Trump continues to dismiss concerns about Kim Jong Un's brutality, and to lavish praise on a man who has a considerable amount of blood on his hands.
Days after his Photo Op Summit in Singapore, President Trump continues to lavish praise on Kim Jong Un, a marked contrast to what he was saying a year ago and a strategy that essentially ignores the brutality of that Kim, his father, and his grandfather have unleashed on the North Korean people for the past seventy-three years:
Almost exactly one year ago, North Korea returned an imprisoned 22-year-old American college student to his family in the United States. It was not a happy reunion.
Otto Warmbier, whom the North Koreans had imprisoned for more than a year, arrived in a coma and died a few days later — spurring President Donald Trump to rail against the “brutality” of a North Korean government that lacked “basic human decency.” Trump gradually focused his attacks on the regime’s leader, Kim Jong Un, calling him a “sick puppy” and a “madman who doesn’t mind starving or killing his people.”
In Singapore this week, Trump warmly embraced that so-called madman.
He called Kim a “smart” and “funny guy” who “loves his people.” He predicted the two of them would have a “terrific relationship.” Trump told reporters that human rights had come up only briefly, but he gave no indication that he had confronted Kim about Warmbier’s death, whose precise cause remains unclear.
Still, Trump described what happened to Warmbieras a catalyst for the sudden, if uncertain, rapprochement between America and North Korea, saying the University of Virginia student “did not die in vain.”
Trump’s public turnabout on Kim and his regime’s atrocious human rights record was among the most dizzying developments of the past 48 hours, which saw the two leaders meet in Singapore for an unprecedented nuclear summit. It dismayed lawmakers, human rights activists and others who — while supportive of diplomacy — fear that Trump went overboard in his flattery of Kim to the point of normalizing his rule.
“Kim’s gulags, public executions, planned starvation, are legitimized on the world stage,” Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut raged on Twitter. “What the hell?”
“Talking to dictators is one thing; embracing them is another,” former Vice President Joe Biden said in a statement, denouncing “the horrendous human rights abuses North Korea’s leaders perpetrate against their own people.”
“It was really over the top and excessive,” added Sarah Margon, Washington director for Human Rights Watch.
Kim’s totalitarian regime may be the world’s cruelest, with practices reminiscent of the Nazis and the Soviet Union under Josef Stalin. The government, run by Kim’s father and grandfather before him, is believed to keep as many as 100,000 people— quite possibly more — in gulags and other detention sites, many in slave-like conditions. Defectors describe a terror state with zero tolerance for dissent, in which entire families are often punished for the actions of one member.
The young Kim — thought to be in his early- to mid-30s — has ruled just as ruthlessly as his father, who died in 2011. He’s alleged to have consolidated power by having an uncle executed — reportedly by anti-aircraft guns — and ordering his half-brother’s murder with nerve agent in a Malaysian airport.
When asked by Voice of America’s Greta Van Susteren how Kim reacted when Trump raised human rights, Trump said: “Very well,” before acknowledging it was only a small part of the conversation. Trump went on to indicate that the reason Kim has been a “rough guy” is because that’s the only way his family has known how to rule.
“He’s doing what he’s seen done,” Trump said, suggesting that Kim can change. “He’s smart, loves his people, he loves his country. He wants a lot of good things, and that’s why he’s doing this.”
As if that weren’t bad enough, in an interview on the long flight home with Fox News Channel’s Brett Beier, Trump essentially dismissed the Kim regime’s brutality:
President Donald Trump sat down with Fox News’ Bret Baier for a one-on-one interview aboard Air Force One.
During the interview, the president praised “President for Life” Xi Jinping and pointed out North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Trump also said he and the North Korean despot “understand each other.”
POTUS’s praise of Kim prompted Baier to ask why he would say such nice things about a “killer.”
“You were asked in the press conference a number of different times and in different ways about human rights and that you that call this relationship ‘really good’ and that he was ‘very talented person.'” Baier said.
Baier then continued on, “You call people sometimes killers. He is a killer. He’s executing people.”
Trump dodged trying to say North Korea was a “tough country” with “tough people.”
“You take it over from your father–I don’t care who you are, what you are, how much of an advantage you have. If you can do that at 27 years old, that’s one in 10,000 that could do that,” Trump claimed, continuing to praise Kim. “So he’s a very smart guy. He’s a great negotiator, but I think we understand each other.”
Baier then pressed further, adding, “He has still done some really bad things.”
“Yeah, but so have a lot of other people done some really bad things,” Trump said, dodging again. “I could go through a lot of nations where a lot of bad things were done.”
Here’s the video:
BAIER: Kim Jong Un is “clearly executing people.”
TRUMP: “He’s a tough guy. Hey, when you take over a country, tough country, tough people, and you take it over from your father … if you could do that at 27-years old, I mean, that’s 1 in 10,000 that could do that.” (via FOX) pic.twitter.com/R8FfkREDYX
— Kyle Griffin (@kylegriffin1) June 13, 2018
And here’s the full interview as it aired:
Of course, this isn’t the first time that Trump has dismissed acts of brutality by an authoritarian ruler. Back in December 2015, then-candidate Trump was asked about the praise he was routinely lavishing on Russian President Vladimir Putin by MSNBC morning show host Joe Scarborough, who pointed out that Putin ”is a person who kills journalists, political opponents and invades countries.” Trump responded by saying that Putin is a person who is “running his country, and at least he’s a leader, unlike what we have in this country.” When Scarborough pointed out that Putin “kills journalists that don’t agree with him.” Trump responded by saying, ”Well, I think that our country does plenty of killing, too, Joe.” Trump again dismissed Putin’s brutality in a pre-Super Bowl interview in 2017 with Bill O’Reilly by saying ”There are a lot of killers. We’ve got a lot of killers. What, do you think our country’s so innocent?”
All of this is consistent, of course, with the history of what we’ve seen from Trump since he has become President. Time after time, and it follows a script that he has followed to the letter since the Singapore Summit ended. In other interviews after the summit, the President said Kim was a funny guy who “loves his people.” This is the same person who stands at the top of a regime that has held the North Korean people in bondage for the past seventy-three years, has locked dissidents into concentration camps, and has executed people on a whim, including members of his own family. When he was specifically reminded of the crimes against humanity that Kim has committed, the President said that Kim was “tough” and “smart” and essentially dismissed the fact that he had shook hands with a man who has the blood of millions on his hands, including the blood of Otto Warmbier, whose torture-induced death he bizarrely claimed led to his Photo Op Summit. While this is consistent with Trump’s admiration for other dictators such as President al-Sisi in Egypt, the Saud family in Saudi Arabia, President Rodrigo Dueterte of The Philippines, Xi Jinping, and, of course, Vladimir Putin, it is nonetheless absolutely sickening to see a President of the United States so dismissive of human rights abuses and the reality of dictatorship.
All of this comes, of course, at the same time that this same President continues to spit in the face of the leaders of our closest and most loyal allies. Before he flew to Singapore, Trump attended the G-7 Summit, which went about as badly as you could expect, and by the time he left it was clear that he had created even more distance between himself and people such as British Prime Minister Theresa May, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Emmanuel Macron, with who had previously at least had something of a cordial relationship. On the way to Singapore, Trump lashed out at Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau over a perceived slight, continuing a feud that had begun when Trudeau expressed befuddlement over the idea that the President had used national security as an excuse to impose aluminum and steel on Canada as well as Europe and Mexico. In any case, it was yet another example of this President speaking worse about democratically elected leaders than he does about authoritarian dictators.
On some level, of course, it’s understandable that an Administration engaged in high-stakes negotiations with a nation such as North Korea would tone down rhetoric at least to some extent. It’s unlikely after all, that much diplomatic progress would be made if the President were continuing with the “fire and fury,” “[bigger] nuclear button,” and “Little Rocket Man” rhetoric that we saw last year. That being said, though, this does not mean that the President needs to abandon this nation’s tradition concern for human rights abuses and trampling on a record that had been consistent since the end of World War II of speaking out against such abuses when they occurred. Indeed, as several American Presidents showed us during the Cold War, it is possible to make diplomatic progress with dictators while still maintaining a record of speaking out against human rights abuses. Presidents Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan, for example, were all able to make real substantive progress with the leaders of the Soviet Union and China while at the same time calling those nations out in public and private for their appalling human rights records.
The only explanation for Trump’s failure to do this is that it’s clearly something that he doesn’t care about very much. As long as he can be seen as making a “deal,” no matter how empty that deal actually is, he’s happy. Additionally, it seems clear that Trump really does prefer authoritarian leaders to the democratically elected leaders of our allies. This can perhaps be seen in the fact that, on numerous occasions, he has acted as President in a manner that makes it clear that he has disdain for things such as the rule of law and freedom of the press. Given that, the fact that he apparently doesn’t think Kim’s brutality is a big enough deal to speak out against isn’t surprising at all, it’s just another thing to add to the list of things that make the man utterly deplorable.