Trump’s confusion extends to the ‘gentleman’ in North Korea

04/18/17 03:56 PM
In the post-World War II era, North Korea has effectively had three leaders: Kim Il-sung, who was succeeded by his son Kim Jong-il, who was succeeded by his son Kim Jong-un. These are, obviously, three different individuals.

Whether Donald Trump fully appreciates that fact is not entirely clear. Consider what the president told Fox News yesterday:

“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.”
Now, reasonable people can have a credible argument over the merits of the Clinton administration’s diplomatic outreach to North Korea. Assorted partisans might even believe the Obama administration was “outplayed” by North Korea, though I’m not sure what the specific complaint would be, and the president’s vague reference to “different things” suggests he wanted to complain about Obama, but wasn’t sure why. (Note that Trump didn’t mention the Bush/Cheney administration, which did very little when North Korea’s nuclear weapons program expanded.)

But what stood out as especially interesting was Trump twice referring to “this gentleman,” whom the president believes we’ve been dealing with “for a long time.”

We really haven’t. Kim Jong-un has only been in power for five years, and he wasn’t part of the Clinton-era negotiations, when Kim Jong-un wasn’t yet a teenager. In fact, the Clinton-era negotiations began in earnest with Kim Il-sung, before his death in 1994.

Putting aside whether a sitting president should have some basic understanding of these details, has no one at the White House explained any of this to Trump?

Postscript: Let’s note for context that other Republicans have also struggled in this area. When he was a candidate in 2000, George W. Bush “mistook the third syllable of the late Kim’s name for a roman numeral and called him Kim Jong Two.”

Rick Perry, making the same mistake, later referred to him as “Kim Jong the Second.”