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Embracing world dictators: A strange posture for an American President

Written By | Mar 4, 2019
President Trump, Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin, Russia, North Korea, Allen Brownfield

WASHINGTON:  North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, many believe, is the world’s most brutal contemporary dictator. According to Amnesty International, by 2017 an estimated 200,000 prisoners were incarcerated for political crimes and subjected to forced labor, physical torture, and human experimentation.

According to Christian Open Doors, North Korea is the leader among countries that persecute Christians. Christian Solidarity Worldwide reports that people are being sent to prison camps and subject to torture because of their religious faith.

Estimates are that 50,000 to 70,000 souls are in North Korean prison camps.

When President Trump understood the brutal reality

In 2018, in a speech to the South Korean parliament, Mr. Trump declared:

“An estimated 100,000 North Koreans suffer in gulags toiling in forced labor and enduring torture, starvation, rape, and murder. The horror of life in North Korea is so complete that citizens pay bribes to government officials to be exported abroad as slaves. They would rather be slaves than live in North Korea.”

Having this understanding of North Korea’s barbaric regime and leader, Mr. Trump has seen fit to embrace Kim Jong-un. “He wrote me beautiful letters. And we fell in love.” He praised Kim for being a “tough guy” and “a real leader.”

When Fox News commentator Bret Baier asks the president, “But he’s done really bad things?”  The president’s reply, much as he did earlier with regard to Vladimir Putin, is:

“Yeah, a lot of people have done bad things.”
The North Korean murder of Otto Wambier

One bad thing the North Korean leader has done is the murder of American college student Otto Wambier.

Otto Warmbier release from a North Korean prison in 2017, sent home an unresponsive, previously vibrant, college student. His release was due to the fact that he was not expected to survive. He died within days of returning home.

Once Otto was home, his father Fred spoke of a comforting phone call from President Trump. During President Trump’s State of the Union address in 2018, Warmbier and his wife Cindy stood and wept while Mr. Trump spoke of the “menace” of North Korea and gave tribute to their son.

The Warmbiers blistering statement to President Trump

They said they could no longer be silent after the summit meeting in February with Kim Jong-un. Most upsetting to the parents is President Trump saying he accepted Kim’s claim that he did not know what happened to Otto Warmbier.

The Warmbiers saying,

“We must speak out. Kim and his evil regime are responsible for the death of our son Otto. Kim and his regime are responsible for unimaginable cruelty and inhumanity. No excuses or lavish praise can change that.”

The outrage goes far beyond the Warmbiers.

Both Republicans and Democrats question President Trump’s praise for a brutal dictator.

Rep. Warren Davidson (R-OH) says:

“Americans know, the world knows, Kim Jong-un knows, and most importantly the Warmbier family knows, that Otto suffered a cruel death inflicted by a brutal regime serving Kim Jong-un.”

Rick Santorum, a former Republican senator from Pennsylvania, says Trump’s acceptance of Kim’s denial was “reprehensible.” In Santorum’s view,

“He (Trump) gave cover…to a leader who knew very well what was going on with Otto Wambier.”

Bill Richardson, a former Democratic governor of New Mexico who served as ambassador to the United Nations under President Clinton,  is an expert on North Korean affairs. Richardson saying it was “impossible” that Kim “wouldn’t know” the details of Otto Wambier’s detention.

The president, he says, “should have known better.”

Jim O’Brien, who served as special envoy for hostage affairs in the Obama administration, says:

“The shameful, element about what Trump did was not ask for records about Otto so the family would know what happened and for guarantees that future Americans who are detained get consular access right away. The short attention span of Trump. who uses this kid and his family and then has no idea about any follow-through, is why this seems so callous.”

Trump enthusiasm for Kim has been extraordinary.

At a rally in September, the president boasted that Kim “wrote me beautiful letters. Moreover, they’re great letters. And we fell in love.”

After the February summit, the president said of Otto Wambier’s death,

“He (Kim) tells me that he didn’t know about it and I take him at his word.”

Trump’s defense of Kim mirrors his willingness to take the word of autocrats in other cases despite the findings of his intelligence agencies. He has rejected the intelligence assessment that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is the de facto leader of Saudi Arabia, ordered the assassination of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.  Khashoggi was murdered inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October. Trump has repeatedly said that the crown prince denied any connection with the murder. President Trump saying, “Maybe he did, and maybe he didn’t.”

Defending Russian Election Meddling?

Moreover, Trump sides with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his denial of Moscow interfering in the 2016 presidential election. This despite the U.S. Intelligence community conclusion that Russia did interfere as part of an effort to sew discord.

Human rights in North Korea seem not to be on the agenda of the Trump administration. For the first time since 2014, there was no U.S.-sponsored Security Council meeting on North Korean human rights last year.

Vice President Pence speech on the subject was canceled last December.

Human rights did not figure in the agenda of February’s summit in Hanoi. And neither Trump nor any other U.S. official said a word about it.

Ignoring North Korea’s human rights violation

There was a time during the Cold War when many on the left refused to confront the reality of mass murder and brutal human rights violations in the Soviet Union. Henry Wallace, vice president under Franklin Roosevelt, was one of those. In 1948, he ran for president on the ticket of the Progressive Party. Earlier he visited a region of the Soviet Union filled with slave labor camps.

He believed the Russian camps were similar to the Tennessee Valley Authority.  However, there was an ideological component to his gullibility. The desire to believe in the “worker’s paradise” communists claim to be building.

What ideological reason can there be for an American president to embrace a brutal dictator like Kim?

We now have a president boasting of “love” letters with Kim Jong-un and accepting his denial of complicity in the treatment of Otto, Wambier following his similar acceptance of the denials of Vladimir Putin and the Saudi Prince.

It is a strange posture to assume for an American president to reject the information provided to him by our intelligence community and accept the words of men who repeatedly lie about their violations of human rights and international law.

That, however, is the president we now have.

For any American president to call a brutal dictator a “great leader,” should give all Americans, liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, cause for concern.

Allan C. Brownfeld

Allan C. Brownfeld

Received B.A. from the College of William and Mary, J.D. from the Marshall-Wythe School of Law of the College of William and Mary, and M.A. from the University of Maryland. Served as a member of the faculties of St. Stephen's Episcopal School, Alexandria, Virginia and the University College of the University of Maryland. The recipient of a Wall Street Journal Foundation Award, he has written for such newspapers as The Houston Press, The Washington Evening Star, The Richmond Times Dispatch, and The Cincinnati Enquirer. His column appeared for many years in Roll Call, the newspaper of Capitol Hill. His articles have appeared in The Yale Review, The Texas Quarterly, Orbis, Modern Age, The Michigan Quarterly, The Commonweal and The Christian Century. His essays have been reprinted in a number of text books for university courses in Government and Politics. For many years, his column appeared several times a week in papers such as The Washington Times, The Phoenix Gazette and the Orange County Register. He served as a member of the staff of the U.S. Senate Internal Security Subcommittee, as Assistant to the research director of the House Republican Conference and as a consultant to members of the U.S. Congress and to the Vice President. He is the author of five books and currently serves as Contributing Editor of The St. Croix Review, Associate Editor of The Lincoln Review and editor of Issues.