Kim Jong-Un Inserts Himself into the U.S. Presidential Campaign on the Side of Trump
May 29, 2019
Kim Jong-un has inserted himself squarely into the U.S. presidential campaign with the publication of a Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) opinion article blasting front-running Democratic presidential candidate and former vice president Joe Biden.
The criticism of Biden is not attributed to Kim Jong-un, and we have seen no comment on Biden ascribed to the chairman of the Workers Party of Korea. Nevertheless, nothing this important happens in North Korea without the full approval and blessing of the “Great Successor.”
The KCNA piece—“Biden urged to watch his mouth”—begins with a series of negative stories about Biden going back to his first presidential bid in 1988 and then includes these statements:
It is by no means accidental that there is nonstop comment over his bid for candidacy that he is not worth pinning hope on, backed by the jeer that he is a fool of low IQ.
Even the American media derided him as a man with ‘manic-obsessive running of the mouth,’ saying that he likes giving a speech but he is not serious in his words.”
“Yet, he is self-praising himself as being the most popular presidential candidate. This is enough to make a cat laugh. . . .
Such a guy had the temerity to insult the supreme leadership of the DPRK, an intolerable and serious politically-motivated provocation against the DPRK.
Explicitly speaking, we will never pardon anyone who dare provoke the supreme leadership of the DPRK but will certainly make them pay for it.
The use of such offensive and crude language by KCNA in its critique of the former vice president is consistent with North Korean practice. A vicious ad hominem attack was leveled against President Trump following his 2017 address to the UN General Assembly, in which he said, “Rocket man [Trump’s derisive name for Kim Jong-un] is on a suicide mission for himself and for his regime.” Kim personally responded, “I will surely and definitely tame the mentally deranged U.S. dotard with fire.” (That North Korean response to Trump’s UN speech at least had the redeeming educational benefit of teaching native speakers of English the meaning of an obscure and little-used English word—“Dotard.”)
The North Korean blast at Biden is noteworthy for calling the Democratic candidate “a fool of low IQ.” President Trump has what the Boston Globe calls “a bizarre obsession” with IQ or intelligent quotient. He has called some of his favorite antagonists “low IQ,” including Congresswoman Maxine Waters and TV journalist Mika Brzezinski, and he has challenged Sadiq Kahn, the Mayor of London, to an IQ test. This presidential preoccupation with his own intelligence was again on display last week when he repeated again, “I’m an extremely stable genius.”
The KCNA’s use of “low IQ” in reference to Biden was clearly a nod and a wink by Kim Jong-un toward President Trump. The president certainly clearly saw that as a coded message. He tweeted , “I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me, & also smiled when he called Swampman Joe Biden a low IQ individual, & worse. Perhaps that’s sending me a signal?” In a press conference in Tokyo, where Trump was making a state visit, he reiterated the theme of his tweet: “Well Kim Jong Un made a statement that Joe Biden is a low IQ individual. He probably is, based on his record. I think I agree with him on that.”
The latest differences that have emerged between the president and his senior advisors seem to indicate that Kim’s statement is indeed seen by Trump as a very personal favor. This was obvious in his comments during his state visit to Tokyo. He publicly aired his differences with National Security Advisor John Bolton and his Japanese hosts.
The recent short missile tests conducted by Kim Jong-un was the point of difference. In early May following the failure of the Hanoi Trump-Kim summit, North Korea tested a series of short range missiles. Bolton said in Tokyo on May 24 during the president’s state visit that the missile tests clearly violated UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea. Trump dismissed Bolton’s concerns in a tweet: “North Korea fired off some small weapons, which disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me.”
Trump’s lack of concern about the North Korean missiles was a point of notable difference between the president and his host in Tokyo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. For Japan, short-range missiles from North Korea are a serious threat. Japan is within the reach of Pyongyang’s short-range missiles. In a joint press conference with Prime Minister Abe, the president was asked if he was concerned about the missile tests, Trump said simply, “No, I’m not. I am personally not.” When pressed further whether the launch was a violation of UN sanctions, he again dismissed the concern, “My people think it could have been a violation. I view it differently. I view it as a man—perhaps he wants to get attention and perhaps not. Who knows?”
Prime Minister Abe saw the missile launch quite differently. In response to a question regarding whether the launches violated UN sanctions, he said, “On the 9th of May, North Korea launched a short-range ballistic missile. This is violating the Security Council resolution. So my reaction is, as I said earlier on, it is of great regret.” No equivocation. But at the same time, he was a polite and gracious host to President Trump and added, “But at the same time, between Kim Jong Un and President Trump, a certain new approach was taken, and that is something that I would like to pay tribute to.”
The hyperbolic criticism of former vice president Biden by North Korean media is yet another example of Kim Jong-un and the North Korean regime going well beyond international norms in an ad hominem attack against a critic of the country’s policies. But in echoing President Trump’s “bizarre obsession” by including the gratuitous IQ comment, Pyongyang was clearly playing to Trump’s preoccupation with his own upcoming reelection campaign.
Unfortunately, the president responded just as Kim hoped and expected he would. Trump repeatedly referred to the North Korean statement about Vice President Biden and affirmed his belief that the North Koreans were correct in their assessment. But at the same time, he has also publicly disagreed with his national security advisor and the Japanese prime minister, the leader of one of our closest allies. The response to the president’s comments about Biden and his expression of disagreement with his advisors and a U.S. ally provoked a negative response even from Republican members of Congress.
Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-Michigan, 1928-1951), who served as chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the late 1940s, is credited with coining the phrase we must “stop partisan politics at the water’s edge.” At the end of World War II, he abandoned his isolationist foreign policy principles and embraced the participation of the United States in the UN and in the creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). He argued that the international welfare of the United States took priority over partisan politics. It appears that Trump has reversed Vandenberg’s maxim. He has embraced a hostile despot who mimics the president’s criticism of his leading domestic political opponent. This represents the internationalization of America’s increasingly nasty partisan politics.
Ambassador Robert R. King is a senior adviser in the Office of the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. Previously, Ambassador King served as special envoy for North Korean human rights issues at the U.S. Department of State from November 2009 to January 2017.
Commentary is produced by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a private, tax-exempt institution focusing on international public policy issues. Its research is nonpartisan and nonproprietary. CSIS does not take specific policy positions. Accordingly, all views, positions, and conclusions expressed in this publication should be understood to be solely those of the author(s).
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