The standoff over North Korea’s nuclear ambitions heated up in recent days, with experts saying the dictatorship may be preparing for a sixth nuclear test. While the 105th anniversary of founder Kim Il-sung’s birth passed with no nuclear test, North Korea spent the weekend parading new intercontinental ballistic missiles through Pyongyang and conducting an unsuccessful missile test.
Reports that President Trump is considering military action against North Korea — perhaps even a preemptive strike — have raised concerns about how he might respond to provocations from Kim Jong-un’s regime. There’s been plenty of bellicose rhetoric from Trump administration officials, with Vice-President Mike Pence warning that the “era of strategic patience is over” during a visit to the Demilitarized Zone on Monday.
So far, there’s little evidence that President Trump’s North Korea strategy is drastically different from that of his predecessors. Other presidents have suggested that they might use military force against North Korea, while trying to get China to pressure their neighbor into pursuing a diplomatic resolution.
But, as is usually the case, there’s an air of unpredictability surrounding Trump’s stance on North Korea. And now the president has added to the confusion by suggesting that he’s not fully aware of who Kim Jong-un is.
In a preview of an interview that airs Tuesday morning on Fox & Friends, Ainsley Earhardt asks Trump if he’s ruled out a military strike. “I don’t want to telegraph what I’m doing or what I’m thinking,” he says. “I’m not like other administrations where they say ‘we’re going to do this in four weeks, and that —’ doesn’t work that way.”
Then Trump demonstrates his commitment to inscrutability:
I hope things work out well. I hope there’s going to be peace, but you know, they’ve been talking with this gentleman for a long time. You read Clinton’s book, he said, ‘Oh we made such a great peace deal,’ and it was a joke. You look at different things over the years with President Obama. Everybody’s been outplayed, they’ve all been outplayed by this gentleman and we’ll see what happens. But I just don’t telegraph my moves.
“This gentleman” who Trump refers to is actually two or three North Korean leaders. The U.S. signed a deal meant to curb North Korea’s nuclear program in October 1994, as Kim Jong-il assumed power. The deal was negotiated with his father, Kim Il-sung, who died in July 1994.
Kim Jong-il died in December 2011, and was succeeded by his son Kim Jong-un, the current leader of North Korea.
Some interpreted the Fox News clip to mean that Trump could not identify the leader of North Korea. It’s possible Kim Jong-un’s name escaped him, but the president does know his biography. During a campaign rally, Trump said you have to give Kim Jong-un “credit” for taking over his father’s dictatorship:
If you look at North Korea — this guy, he’s like a maniac, okay? And you have to give him credit. How many young guys — he was like 26 or 25 when his father died — take over these tough generals, and all of a sudden — you know, it’s pretty amazing when you think of it. How does he do that? Even though it is a culture and it’s a cultural thing, he goes in, he takes over, and he’s the boss. It’s incredible. He wiped out the uncle. He wiped out this one, that one. I mean, this guy doesn’t play games.
“We can’t play games with him,” Trump concluded. “Because he really does have missiles. And he really does have nukes.”