Tensions between the U.S. and North Korea continued to rise on Saturday as North Korea launched its second missile test in less than a month. Both President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson are now refusing to rule out military action against the hermit country — and yet, in an interview Sunday, Trump called North Korea's leader a "smart cookie," and complimented President Kim Jong-un for successfully assuming power over the country.
"People are saying, 'Is [Kim] Sane?' I have no idea," Trump told Face the Nation. "I can tell you this, and a lot of people don't like when I say it, but he was a young man of 26 or 27 when he took over from his father, when his father died. He's dealing with obviously very tough people, in particular the generals and others, and at a very young age, he was able to assume power. A lot of people, I'm sure, tried to take that power away, whether it was his uncle or anybody else. And he was able to do it. So obviously, he's a pretty smart cookie."
Trump may have a point about Kim's ability to retain power. There have been several reports of coup attempts against Kim ever since he took power in 2011, and yet here he is, still in charge. That said, North Korea is an extraordinarily secretive and closed-off country, and accurate information about its domestic political ongoings is hard to come by, so all of these reports should be taken with a very heavy grain of salt.
The U.S. and North Korea have never been on good terms, but animosity between the two countries has been escalating over the last several weeks. Although North Korea's missile tests both failed, the country recently released a propaganda video in which the U.S. capital is blown up by North Korean missiles. While it's never encouraging to hear a U.S. president praise the intelligence of a murderous dictator, it's conceivable that Trump, by complimenting Kim, is attempting to create some goodwill between the two leaders. That's the most favorable possible interpretation of his remarks.
The less favorable interpretation is that Trump is OK with dictators. In addition to his longstanding affection for Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump recently invited Philippine President and confessed killer Rodrigo Duterte to the White House, and complimented Turkish President Recep Erdogan for seizing dictator-esque powers in his country.
Although Trump's comments about Kim could have been strategic, he nevertheless seems to be soft on oppressive, strongman leaders. And that's, well, troubling.