Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America applaud conservative columnist Mona Charen for speaking the hard truth that too many on the right are willing to look the other way on President Trump’s personal behavior – and even the Roy Moore story – in an effort to achieve political goals. They also rip Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel for looking at the litany of mistakes and missed opportunities for authorities to stop the Stoneman Douglas shooting and flippantly concluding, “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, then O.J. Simpson would still be in the record books.” And they shake their heads as NBC interviews Ivanka Trump at the Olympics and asks her whether she believes her father’s accusers.
North Korea expert Gordon Chang is not surprised the western media swooned over Kim Jong-un’s sister at the start of the Olympics in Pyongcheong but he says this “political warfare” won’t change the big picture very much, unless the South Korean president acts on his desire to undermine U.S. policy.
Over the weekend, media outlets from CNN and Reuters to the Washington Post and the New York Times lavished praise on Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, for her performance in South Korea. CNN said she was stealing the show. The Washington Post compared her to Ivanka Trump. Reuters and the New York Times said her wordless smiles outflanked Vice President Mike Pence in diplomatic effectiveness.
While the coverage appalled Americans and others familiar with the gulags and murderous repression of the Kim regime, Chang was not surprised Kim got such positive coverage.
“North Koreans may rank last in almost in almost every metric when it comes to their miserable state, but they are number one in one category and that is political warfare. They are masters at getting good publicity, so we shouldn’t be surprised that they were able to do it this time,” said Chang.
He says the United States needs to catch up in the messaging department.
“The United States has a great message, but we are not good at political warfare, especially since the end of the Cold War. What we need to do is to get our message out. North Koreans are very good at getting their message out,” said Chang.
Chang says North Korea has two objectives with this diplomatic charm offensive. The long term goal of conquering South Korea remains unchanged, but he says the Trump administration approach to the regime is creating some major, more immediate problems.
“I think [North Korea] has looked at the sanctions regime that has been put together by the Trump administration. You have UN sanctions. You have U.S. sanctions. Basically North Korea needs relief. There’s anecdotal evidence suggesting that the regime is starting to have real problems because of the lack of money. So Kim is saying to South Korea, ‘Give me some cash,'” said Chang.
But for all the headlines about Kim outflanking Pence in South Korea, Chang says Pence did a very good job of showing the South Korean people that he stood with North Korean defectors. He also visited a memorial for South Korean sailors murdered by North Korea in 2010.
Also, according to the Washington Post, Pence struck a deal with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, with the U.S. agreeing to hold talks with North Korea without preconditions and South Korea agreeing not to send aid to North Korea.
While the latter part of the agreement seems obvious in the U.S., Chang says it’s a major concession for Moon, who is quite possibly the most far left president in South Korean history.
“Moon Jae-in is a Korean nationalist. He believes in one Korea. So President Moon is going to try to do all those things to knit the two Koreas together,” said Chang.
The good news for the U.S. is that a growing number of South Koreans do not share Moon’s approach and are not impressed with the North Korean charm campaign.
“It’s not working among the conservatives who just abhor North Korea. But it’s also not working among a critical group, and that is voters in their twenties. Voters in their twenties have by and large become South Korean nationalists, who believe their society is separate and apart from North Korea,” said Chang.
Moon’s desire to “knit the two Koreas together” was on full display during the opening ceremonies on Friday. Some Americans were frustrated that no mention was made of the sacrifice made by Americans and others in the Korean War, which set the stage for South Korea being free and prosperous, while their North Korean neighbors are impoverished and enslaved.
“In a country led by Moon Jae-in, who does want to see one Korea, who believes in a Korea separate and apart from everybody else, that’s not too much of a surprise. It does look like we were isolated but that’s the way that Moon views the world and we’ve got to get used to it.
“That means the United States has to talk to a critical audience. and that is South Korean voters, to make sure they hem in Moon Jae-in,” added Chang.
He says Moon is a “daily struggle” for the Trump administration’s effort to rein in North Korea.
“Moon Jae-in, if left to his own devices, would do things to undermine the alliance with the United States,” said Chang.
“I think that he would be willing to adopt a sunshine policy, in other words indefinite, unconditional aid to the North Koreans. Certainly that would undermine the maximum pressure campaign of President Trump at the United Nations Security Council,” said Chang.
However, Chang says Pence and other U.S. officials have done a good job of preventing Moon from providing money to North Korea. He says the best case, and likely, scenario is that all this political warfare will accomplish very little.
“I’m going to be an optimist and say they’re pretty much going to be the same way they were before the Olympics. The reason I’m saying optimist is because I don’t think there will be the conditions under which Moon can reach out to the North. I think the North will engage the South Koreans, but they’ll also commit provocations that’ll make it very difficult for Moon to have all these reconciliation moves.
“I think we’ll be pretty much where we were before and that is South Korea, reluctantly but nonetheless, standing with us against North Korea,” said Chang.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America are leery in general that any infrastructure bill can avoid becoming a huge waste of money but they are glad to see President Trump asking states to play a major role in funding the plan. They also unload on the mainstream media for writing glowing reviews of Kim Jong-Un’s sister and how she is supposedly executing a diplomatic masterpiece at the Olympics. And they rip the press for falling for the supposedly charming North Korean cheer squad, when they’re really slaves of a regime that will punish them and their families if they make any mistakes. And they roll their eyes at CNN for reporting that Sen. Bob Corker is thinking about reconsidering his retirement, even as Corker’s office says there is nothing to the story.
A leading expert on the North Korean nuclear threat says President Trump’s condemnation of the communist regime through powerful stories also served as an American declaration that it’s time for a regime change in Pyongyang, but warned that military action would be a big mistake.
During Tuesday evening’s, State of the Union address, Trump focused his final foreign policy item at the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and punctuated it by telling two gripping stories
First, he recounted the story of American college student Otto Warmbier, who was sentenced to 15 years hard labor for stealing a political poster and was returned to the U.S. in coma last year. Warmbier died days later. His grieving parents were in the gallery for the speech.
Next, Trump detailed the harrowing account of North Korean defector Ji Seong-ho, who was also present for the speech.
“In 1996, Seong-ho was a starving boy in North Korea. One day, he tried to steal coal from a railroad car to barter for a few scraps of food. In the process, he passed out on the train tracks, exhausted from hunger. He woke up as a train ran over his limbs.
“He then endured multiple amputations without anything to dull the pain. His brother and sister gave what little food they had to help him recover and ate dirt themselves — permanently stunting their own growth,” said Trump.
He then fast-forwarded to Ji’s courageous escape from North Korea.
“Later, he was tortured by North Korean authorities after returning from a brief visit to China. His tormentors wanted to know if he had met any Christians. He had — and he resolved to be free. Seong-ho traveled thousands of miles on crutches across China and Southeast Asia to freedom. Most of his family followed. His father was caught trying to escape, and was tortured to death.
“Today he lives in Seoul, where he rescues other defectors, and broadcasts into North Korea what the regime fears the most ‑- the truth. Today he has a new leg, but Seong-ho, I understand you still keep those crutches as a reminder of how far you have come. Your great sacrifice is an inspiration to us all,” said Trump.
According to North Korea expert Gordon Chang, Trump was not just exposing the horrors of the Kim Jong-un regime but declaring it is unacceptable for Kim to remain in power.
“What President Trump did last night was really landmark. He made the case for regime change in North Korea. Of course he talked about the threat to the American homeland, but he linked that back to the nature of the Kim family regime.
“He did that by telling those two stories, the one of brutality towards Otto Warmbier and the other of the triumph of the human spirit, which is the escapee Ji Seing-ho. That really was, for me, the most inspirational moment of the night, when Ji held up his crutches in his right hand in a signal of victory,” said Chang, who is also author of “Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World.”
“That was just so important, because what President Trump is saying is, ‘This is the regime that is threatening us,'” said Chang.
While the precise timetable is unknown, Chang says North Korea is getting closer and closer to its ultimate goal.
“The ambition for them now, as it was from the very first day of North Korea, is to take over South Korea. That is the core goal of the Kim family and is considered by the Kims to be essential for their own survival. You’ve got two Koreas, one rich and one poor and side-by-side of course and the people in the poor Korea are not going to put up with this forever,” said Chang.
“If the Kim family can’t do that, poor North Koreans are not going to sacrifice indefinitely,” added Chang.
But if Kim is inching closer to attacking South Korea and regime change is required, what is the best way to achieve that? Chang says Trump is off to a good start by going after the money.
“From the beginning, the Trump administration has tried to cut off the flow of money to North Korea. We’ve seen this for example in his landmark Sept. 21st executive order, which said if you do business with North Korea or you handle their money, you’re not doing business with the United States. That’s important.
“Also, last year the Trump administration pushed through three sets of UN sanctions. That’s a very sound policy,” said Chang.
Trump also got the Chinese to make promises to clamp down financially on Kim as well. But Chang says the commitment from Beijing is still inconsistent.
“They’re getting more serious, but they’re also violating UN sanctions. They’ve been doing that almost openly since October. We’ve seen these ship-to-ship transfers of oil. Also, North Korean ships that are under sanctions, in other words are not allowed to visit ports outside North Korea, they’ve been turning on their transponders in Chinese ports.
“When all of this activity occurs, with China smuggling commodities in and out of North Korea, it also means that Chinese financial institutions are almost surely involved. It’s up to the Trump administration to hold China accountable. It signaled that it would do that, but it really has yet to apply the full weight of American pressure to protect the American people,” said Chang.
Chang says if China was truly serious about defusing the North Korean threat, it would be acting much differently.
“They would cut off all financial transactions with North Korea. The Chinese banks would get out of the business of handling North Korean money. Also, we would see China not buying and selling commodities that are prohibited by UN sanctions. We would basically see an end to commerce between North Korea and China,” said Chang.
But while Chang and most in the Trump administration prefer to tighten the economic screws on North Korea, there are people calling for more aggressive actions.
“There are voices in the administration that are thinking that this is not a time for sanctions, this is a time to strike North Korea. That is something where I think the administration has not decided on what to do,” said Chang, who strongly discourages that course.
“I think it would be an exceedingly bad idea, but right now there are a lot of voices (advocating military action). This is where the contention is, both inside the administration and outside the administration,” he said.
Chang also hopes the State of the Union message puts an end to the efforts of some Trump critics to suggest Trump and Kim are on a similar level of malevolence and instability.
“I’ve never bought that narrative. That is really a false equivalence. President Trump is trying to contain the Kim family. The Kim family has been a threat, not only to the United States, but to the rest of the international community well before Trump became president,” said Chang.
“North Korea did not become instantly dangerous on January 20th at noon of last year. This is a problem for the entire planet, and Trump is doing his best on a very dangerous situation,” added Chang.
Next week, the Winter Olympics will commence in South Korea. In recent weeks, leaders from north and south have agreed to cooperate on some aspects of the games, including having their athletes march in to the opening ceremony together and have a joint women’s hockey team.
Chang says the cooperation has some positive elements, but fears the South Koreans are doing too much to accommodate the regime that wants to conquer them.
“South Korea should not be paying for North Korea’s team, which it is doing. And there are a lot of these inter-Korean Olympic projects, which look like violations of UN sanctions. The U.S., for a variety of reasons, has allowed this to continue, but the South Korean public is starting to rebel against this jointness, especially this joint women’s ice hockey team.
“South Korean athletes have been turfed off their own team to make way for the North Koreans. That’s played very poorly in South Korea,” said Chang.
Nonetheless, he still hopes some good comes from this moment on the world stage..
“I’m happy to have the North Koreans participate in the Olympics. It gives an opportunity for them to see the outside world and to defect,” said Chang.
Jim Geraghty of National Review and Greg Corombos of Radio America enjoy watching the Russians get barred from competing in the 2018 Winter Olympics because of an ongoing doping scandal, and they also get a kick out of the International Olympic Committee suddenly caring about corruption. They also shake their heads as Steve Bannon tries to discredit Mitt Romney’s denunciation of Roy Moore by saying Moore served in Vietnam and Romney avoided it by “hiding behind his religion.” And they scold Arizona Sen. Jeff Flake, who not only condemns Roy Moore but is contributing to liberal Democrat Doug Jones.