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Disarming North Korea May Flummox Biden, Too

Of the many mortifying moments of Donald Trump's presidency, few can match his hopeless infatuation with an unlikely partner: North Korean Communist dictator Kim Jong Un. It is still hard to believe that the leader of the free world could stand up in public and tell an audience: "We fell in love. No, really. He wrote me beautiful letters ... We fell in love."

President Joe Biden is meeting Friday with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and Topic 1, as usual, will be that belligerent nuclear-armed regime in Pyongyang. Biden's approach to North Korea looks and sounds much different from Trump's. But his results are likely to be more or less identical.

Trump thought he was much shrewder than his predecessors in defusing this nuclear threat. "Clinton failed, Bush failed, and Obama failed," he tweeted in 2017. "I won't fail." First, he warned that if the North Koreans threatened the United States, "they will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." He tweeted, "I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his."

Then, as often happens in romantic tales, two people who start out disliking each other soon went head over heels. In 2018, Kim invited Trump to meet with him, and Trump surprised everyone by accepting. After the first meeting ever between a U.S. president and a North Korean head of state, Trump exulted. "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea," which was a charming fantasy.

The two leaders met twice more, amid similarly extravagant claims. Trump's supposed goal was "the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula." But by the time he left office, it was obvious that he had naively granted North Korea more time to do what it had been doing all along: building up its nuclear and missile capacities.

Kim's father, Kim Jong Il, had carried out two nuclear tests and 16 missile tests. The son ramped up, conducting four nuclear tests and 91 ballistic missile tests. Experts say North Korea has as many as 60 nuclear weapons and produces enough fissile material to add another dozen each year. Nothing Trump did impeded its progress.

Biden has his own strategy. One official told The Washington Post the administration will pursue a "careful, modulated diplomatic approach, prepared to offer relief for particular steps" with an "ultimate goal of denuclearization." But agreeable adjectives won't dissuade the North Koreans from proceeding with something they believe is vital to their survival.

They believe this because it's true. In 2018, Vice President Mike Pence warned that North Korea "will only end like the Libyan model ended if Kim Jong Un doesn't make a deal." The "Libyan model," you may recall, involved the U.S. and its allies using military force to topple the regime of Moammar Gadhafi, whose gruesome fate was to be captured and killed by rebels.

But Pence chose exactly the wrong analogy. Gadhafi was vulnerable because he had earlier agreed to give up his nuclear weapons program. Had he managed to assemble an atomic arsenal, the U.S. would not have tried to evict him from power. From Libya, Kim can deduce the potential downside of surrendering his nuclear weapons.

It may not be impossible for the U.S. to reach an agreement with North Korea to freeze or reduce the size of its arsenal in exchange for sanctions relief and full diplomatic relations. But even that limited task will be harder for Biden because of Trump's self-defeating policy toward another adversary — Iran.

President Barack Obama had joined with several other major nations in negotiating an agreement in which Iran agreed to give up 98% of its stockpile of uranium, dismantle thousands of centrifuges and accept stringent international inspections — all of which would prevent it from building nuclear weapons. In exchange, the U.S. and its partners consented to lift economic sanctions on Tehran.

But Trump stupidly withdrew from the accord, proving that the U.S. can't be trusted to honor its commitments. Why would Kim reduce or surrender his nuclear deterrent to get an agreement that might end up in a White House shredder? Why would he risk being naked to his enemies, as Gadhafi was?

The specter of a North Korea armed with nuclear weapons and long-range missiles has bedeviled one American president after another. Biden, the latest to confront it, won't be the last.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Woodward Book Says Mattis Feared Trump Would Start Nuclear War With North Korea

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

The coronavirus bombshells in Bob Woodward's new book, Rage, due out September 15, are so explosive that they have somewhat overshadowed other important parts of the book — for example, the veteran journalist/author's reporting on President Donald Trump's foreign policy decisions. And Woodward, according to the Guardian's Julian Borger, describes some of the ways in which Sen. Lindsey Graham, former Defense Secretary James Mattis, and others tried to rein Trump in on foreign policy.

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How North Korea’s Dictator Scammed Trump

Donald Trump had a bad week. He went to West Point to make himself look like a strong leader but raised doubts about his health when he struggled drinking water and descending a ramp. His first Supreme Court appointee wrote the opinion in a case upholding gay and transgender rights.

The court also struck down Trump's effort to deport undocumented foreigners brought here as children. His former national security advisor wrote a book painting the world's most powerful person as an ignorant sleazebag who was guilty of the impeachment charges and more.

Trump had to reschedule a Tulsa rally planned for Juneteenth, but he insisted on holding it the following day — risking lives in a state suffering a surge of the coronavirus. New polls showed him trailing Joe Biden by landslide margins.

In any other week, it would be major news that the North Korean government blew up an office building that had been used for meetings with South Korean officials. Ordinarily, Americans might have taken note that, as The New York Times reported, the regime is threatening "to extinguish the fragile detente with a new cycle of bellicose actions and military provocations."

Attention would have been riveted by disclosure in Bolton's book that Trump's get-togethers with Kim Jong Un were not about eliminating North Korea's nuclear program but merely at making himself look good.

In reference to the first meeting, in Singapore, Bolton says Trump told him "he was prepared to sign a substance-free communique, have his press conference to declare victory, and then get out of town." Though Trump cared little about nukes, making sure that Kim received an Elton John CD "remained a high priority for several months."

Trump has been a failure in many areas, but nowhere else has there been a greater distance between what he claimed to achieve and what he actually did. In his telling, he averted the war that Barack Obama had been on the verge of initiating. "You would, right now, be in a nice, big, fat war in Asia with North Korea if I wasn't elected president," he claimed last year, in one of his hallucinatory episodes.

At the outset, it was Trump who sounded ready to launch an attack. In 2017, the Pyongyang regime carried out a successful test of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. The president responded by declaring that if North Korea threatened us, "They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen." In a speech at the UN, he said, "Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime."

But soon Trump changed his tune. He dispatched CIA Director Mike Pompeo to North Korea, and soon he agreed to travel to Singapore to meet with Kim. He made this concession even though the CIA, according to NBC News, concluded that "North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons, but it may be open to allowing a western burger chain to open a franchise in the country."

In June 2018, his first summit with Kim yielded a vague joint communique and Trump's agreement to suspend joint military exercises with South Korea. But he immediately tweeted, "There is no longer a Nuclear Threat from North Korea."

In fact, Kim never gave up a single nuclear weapon. What he did instead was manipulate Trump with flattery. "He wrote me beautiful letters," the president gushed in 2019. "We fell in love."

But their love affair has not kept Kim from expanding his nuclear arsenal. Nor has he closed any of the reactors that produce weapons fuel. North Korea has gone back to regular missile tests. Last month, Kim convened his military leaders to announce "new policies for further increasing the nuclear war deterrence of the country," according to the government.

In short, Trump held three grand summits with Kim, bragged about eliminating the nuclear threat, expressed his love for the dictator — and has gotten a big fat nothing. Concludes Bolton, "We're now nearly three years into the administration with no visible progress toward getting North Korea to make the strategic decision to stop pursuing deliverable nuclear weapons."

Trump is the political equivalent of the lonely guys who get scammed by dating websites promising to connect them with hot Russian women. The promises he got from his heartthrob didn't pan out. But hey — he'll always have those letters.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

North Korea Dropkicks Trump, Vows To Expand Nuclear Arms

Two years after Donald Trump met with dictator Kim Jong Un in an effort to improve relations with North Korea and work toward its denuclearization, the regime says the diplomacy effort has turned into a "dark nightmare."

In a statement Friday, North Korea's foreign minister, Ri Son Gwon, said the country would expand its nuclear weapons program.

"Even a slim ray of optimism for peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula has faded away into a dark nightmare," Ri said.He vowed that North Korea would never again "provide the U.S. chief executive with another package to be used for achievements without receiving any returns."

Last year, Trump promised that his relationship with Kim would bring a nuclear deal.

"Anything in this very interesting world is possible, but I believe that Kim Jong Un fully realizes the great economic potential of North Korea, & will do nothing to interfere or end it," he tweeted last May. "He also knows that I am with him & does not want to break his promise to me. Deal will happen!"

That was not the only time he talked up his unique ability to improve relations with North Korea.

Last April, he said that his personal relationship with Kim "remains very good, perhaps the term excellent would be even more accurate."

Trump added that he looked "forward to the day, which could be soon, when Nuclear Weapons and Sanctions can be removed, and then watching North Korea become one of the most successful nations of the World!"

In September, he told the press, "I was given a lot of things. I was given North Korea, where, as you know, President Obama said, 'That's going to be the hardest problem.' And he said some very tough things about North Korea, that he thought it was going to be a problem. That hasn't turned out to be that kind of a problem."

In December, Trump defended North Korea's testing of short-range missiles as "not a violation" of their 2018 agreement.

"Chairman Kim does not want to disappoint me with a violation of trust, there is far too much for North Korea to gain — the potential as a Country, under Kim Jong Un's leadership, is unlimited. Also, there is far too much to lose," he wrote.

As recently as this April, Trump said that, if not for his leadership, the United States would be at war with Kim.

"Look, if I wasn't elected, you would, right now, be at war with North Korea. Okay? I'll tell you, for your people that don't understand the world and they don't understand how life works: If I wasn't elected, you would, right now — maybe the war would be over, hopefully with a victory," he told reporters.

Nuclear proliferation experts have said peace is unlikely as long as Kim remains in power.

"Despite the seeming convergence of political interests between Kim, Moon, and Trump, a fundamental remaking of the Korean Peninsula can happen only if Kim Jong Un makes a strategic decision to save North Korea by dismantling the Kim dynasty," Chung Min Lee, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace's Asia Program, wrote last November. "So long as he remains in power, however, Kim will never make that choice."

Former National Security Council member Jeff McCausland wrote last March, "One of Trump's biggest mistakes was his assumption that Kim needs the U.S. to dramatically improve its economic situation, and thus the nukes for sanctions trade makes sense. This is not accurate. An improved economy is not an ends for Kim, but rather a means."

Instead, he explained, Kim's "primary goal is to maintain his iron-clad control over the regime."

Trump's relationship with Kim has long been fraught with tension and back-and-forth insults. Trump mocked Barack Obama for not being tough enough with "the man child" in 2013 and derided Kim as "rocket man" in 2017. Kim called Trump a "dotard."

In early 2018, the two threatened each other with nuclear war: After Kim warned that he had a "nuclear button" on his desk, Trump tweeted "I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!"

Later that year, Trump appeared to soften, exchanging letters with Kim and holding in-person meetings. Despite the two signing a document at their June 2018 Singapore summit vaguely promising "to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula" and to advance a new bilateral relationship based on "peace and prosperity," little changed.

Trump's promised peace deal never materialized and, by December 2019, North Korea was back to threatening to send the United States an ominous "Christmas gift." Trump downplayed the threat, saying the present could also be "a beautiful vase."

Kim announced days later that he would end a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear weapons tests and that the world would see a new strategic weapon "in the near future."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Trump Faces Crises In Iraq And North Korea — After Alienating Allies

Reprinted with permission from Alternet.

Two separate crises roiled President Donald Trump on the first day of the year of his re-election campaign.

The U.S embassy in Baghdad is recovering from an assault that grew out of a pro-Iran protest. Some protesters stormed the grounds and set fires. Hundreds came to the facility over two days to protest American airstrikes on the Iran-supported militia group, Kataeb Hezbollah, in Iraq and Syria that killed at least 25 people. That strike came in response to an attack on an Iraqi base that killed an American contractor, according to the U.S.

And now, the Pentagon has announced it is sending 750 troops to Iraq in response to the embassy assault, and thousands more a reportedly preparing to be deployed. It is, apparently, a classic case of escalating tension, and it’s not clear where it will lead.

At the same time, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has uncorked a new round of aggressive rhetoric of his own. Kim has said he is ready to take “shocking actual action.” He has promised the release of a “new strategic weapon” in response to unproductive talks with the United States, undermining Trump’s claims that the nuclear threat from North Korea has been eliminated.

“If the U.S. persists in its hostile policy toward the [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], there will never be the denuclearization on the Korean Peninsula and the DPRK will steadily develop necessary and prerequisite strategic weapons for the security of the state until the U.S. rolls back its hostile policy,” Kim said, USA Today reported.

It’s never clear how seriously to take North Korea’s rhetoric — it’s often overblown and purposefully provocative. But it is a genuine signal that, as experts have argued since the beginning, Trump’s attempts at diplomacy with the rogue nation have amounted to very little and have done nothing to alter Kim’s strategic interests.

Likewise in Iran, Trump’s failure is also on display. He tore up the Iran deal President Barack Obama had established with no good justification, insisting that being tough on the country could induce it to accept even more punishing terms. But the international community largely rejected Trump’s abandonment of the deal, leaving the United States isolated on the issue. And Trump seems no closer to a new deal with the country than he ever was.

Now we find ourselves in yet another series of escalating punches and counter-punches with Iran, and the body count is rising. When tensions rose with Iran earlier in 2019 over attacks on an oil tanker and a U.S. drone, I feared that then-National Security Adviser could use the situation to engineer a full-scale conflict with Iran. That fate was avoided, and Bolton has since been ousted, but the ratcheting up of violence and provocation on both sides could lead Trump on the path to war even if he genuinely wants to avoid it.

Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations, observed:

So after 3 years of no international crises, @realDonaldTrump is facing one w Iran b/c he has rejected diplomacy & another w N Korea b/c he has asked too much of diplomacy. He will face both w little allied backing, less interagency process, & amidst impeachment. Happy New Year.

— Richard N. Haass (@RichardHaass) December 31, 2019

Some noted that “diplomacy” is too generous to describe Trump’s treatment of North Korea. Laura Rosenberger, the director of Secure Democracy, said that the term “pageantry” is more apt.

But another point in Haass’s tweet is worth paying attention to. He noted that, in Trump’s North Korea and Iran foreign policy, he largely alienated American allies and the interagency staffers who typically shape U.S. diplomacy. As is readily apparent, going his own way hasn’t proved to be a successful method. But it also means it will be much hard to turn to these partners and tested strategies for diplomatic help now because he cut them out at the beginning. Trump has also dramatically undercut his own credibility by prematurely declaring victory in both North Korea and Iran.

“A very predictable consequence of the lack of Trump’s showmanship in place of any policy or strategy on North Korea,” noted Rosenberger of Kim’s aggressive talk. “Buckle up.”

The twin crises, of course, are arising when Trump is uniquely vulnerable.

“The timing of these new challenges is critical,” wrote David Sanger in the New York Times. “Both the Iranians and the North Koreans seem to sense the vulnerability of a president under impeachment and facing re-election, even if they are often clumsy as they try to play those events to their advantage.:

As North Korea Shows, Trump Is An Awful Negotiator

I’m starting to wonder if Donald Trump, bestselling author of The Art of the Deal, just isn’t very good at making deals. His presidency has been a ceaseless torrent of promises about what he’ll achieve from negotiations with foreign leaders. But time and again, he ends up high and dry.

Right now, the administration is waiting to find out what the North Korean regime meant when it made the ominous vow to give the United States a “Christmas gift” if talks didn’t produce an agreement on nuclear weapons and economic sanctions by year’s end. No such accord has been reached, which confirms the bankruptcy of Trump’s strategy.

He started out in 2017 by threatening Kim Jong Un with “fire and fury” if he made threats. But then the two agreed to a 2018 meeting in Singapore — a made-for-TV spectacle that produced an agreement short on meaningful specifics. About all Trump got in return for giving Kim the propaganda opportunity was a halt in missile tests and the purported demolition of a test site.

At a second meeting in Vietnam in February, Trump walked out after failing to get what he wanted. That ploy didn’t work either. Since then, Kim has carried out several short-range rocket and missile tests. Trump’s response? “He likes testing missiles,” the president said last summer with peculiar nonchalance.

All indications are that he’s been duped by a wily opponent who is playing for time. Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton recently told NPR the North Koreans will never surrender their nuclear weapons.

“They’re happy to sell that same bridge over and over again, but there’s no serious chance they will ever voluntarily give it up,” he said. “The more time they have, the more they can overcome all the technological and scientific difficulties to perfecting a deliverable nuclear weapons capability.”

The China trade deal that Trump celebrated is underwhelming, leaving most of the important issues unresolved. Representative Robert Lighthizer admitted it was just “a first step” — a far cry from the “epic” agreement Trump said was almost complete back in April.

Despite hitting China with an array of tariffs that hurt American consumers and companies, Trump has yet to get anything worth the cost he’s inflicted on the U.S. economy.

As for the view from Beijing, The New York Times reported Dec. 14, “People close to China’s economic policymaking process say that as the trade talks progressed this past week, the mood among Chinese officials gradually shifted from deeply worried to cautious and finally, by late in the week, jubilant and even incredulous that the hard-liners’ goals had been achieved.”

When the Chinese refused to sign a deal unless the U.S. agreed to roll back tariffs, the administration said no — only to cave in the end. Lighthizer says Beijing agreed to buy at least $40 billion in American farm products each year, but the Chinese themselves have made no such commitment publicly.

It just may be the administration is greatly exaggerating what it got. That’s what it did with the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, a modest update of NAFTA that Trump pretended was a radical overhaul.

His negotiating wizardry has also fizzled against Iran. He abandoned the agreement the Obama administration reached to block Tehran’s path to the bomb, calling it “a horrible, one-sided deal.” But Trump’s attempt to use economic strangulation to force the other side to submit has failed.

In response, Iran has taken steps that are forbidden by the agreement. So thanks to Trump, the Iranians are closer today to getting a nuclear weapon than they would be had he stayed in the deal.

Meanwhile, attacks carried out by Tehran in response to U.S. pressure have forced the administration to contemplate sending 14,000 troops to the region. Instead of making the Iranians more compliant, he has made them more aggressive.

Let’s not forget the most conspicuous negotiating flop of all. Trump vowed over and over that we would build a wall on the southwest border and Mexico would pay for it. But Mexico has not paid anything and obviously never will.

Trump brings to mind Samuel Johnson’s comment: “Men who cannot deceive others are often very successful at deceiving themselves.” Maybe he blustered his way into a few good deals during his time in private business. But when it comes to high-stakes negotiations with foreign adversaries, he’s a lamb among wolves.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

Trump Comments On North Korea Missiles Leave US And Allied Troops ‘More Vulnerable’

When Trump downplays North Korea’s short-range missile tests, he is tacitly giving Kim Jong Un encouragement and putting everyone in the region in more danger, the New York Times reported Thursday.

The latest missile tests came last Friday, when North Korea launched two missiles that traveled more than 140 miles. Trump’s response was to dismiss the provocative action because the weapons were “smaller ones” and did not contain nuclear warheads. Trump also defended Kim, saying the North Korean dictator sent a small apology for the tests in a recent letter.

Kim complained about joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises, which Trump also criticized as being too expensive. Military leaders say the exercises are necessary to ensure troops are prepared.

“Rather than denouncing these tests as violations of U.N. resolutions and as a threat to the American allies, President Trump has sounded as if he didn’t care,” Kim Sung-han, a former vice foreign minister of South Korea, told the Times.

Trump’s comments “make the allies and American troops in the region more vulnerable to North Korean missile threats,” he added.

It’s not the first time Trump downplayed North Korean aggression.

In May, Trump falsely claimed earlier missile tests by North Korea were not violations of a U.N. agreement. But just two days later, his own acting defense secretary went on television to correctTrump, saying the tests were a violation.

The United States has roughly 75,000 troops stationed in South Korea and Japan, as well as an additional 20,000 sailors on various vessels throughout the region.

Despite Trump’s fawning relationship with Kim Jong Un, the North Korean dictator has made systematic advances in weapons technology. New missiles use solid fuel, which is more advanced than liquid fuel and can be fired from mobile launchers, according to the Times. Both advances mean the weapons are easier to hide and can be more quickly deployed.

“North Korea wants to advance its missile technology as much as possible before the talks with the United States resume,” Lee Byong-chul, a North Korea expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies, told the Times.

And in doing so, American troops are put in increased danger while Trump stands by, refusing to denounce the tests.

Published with permission of The American Independent.

Danziger: Rocket Science

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.