Logically speaking, there’s been little question that Donald Trump has began threatening war against North Korea in a thinly veiled attempt at distracting Americans from his mounting scandals and his historically low approval rating. The only question has been whether or not Kim Jong-Un has been in on it. But a newly exposed backchannel between Trump and Kim suggests that this may indeed be a choreographed act by two would-be despots looking to create a mutually beneficial distraction.
Today the Associated Press revealed that a senior U.S. diplomat has been involved in backchannel diplomacy with the North Korean government for “several months” and that the communications have continued unabated even amid Trump’s and Kim’s new public threats of war against each other (link). So now we have confirmation that Trump and Kim aren’t merely hurling threats at each other out of context; they’ve been communicating the entire time.
This means, in effect, that Trump and Kim both know to ignore each other’s public posturing. They’re relying instead on that backchannel for whatever they’re actually saying to each other. That makes it all too convenient for Trump to look strong in the eyes of paranoid and xenophobic American conservatives by threatening to blow up a non-white non-Christian foreign country, even as Kim gets to look strong in the eyes of his people by getting away with threatening to blow up the U.S. territory of Guam. But this scenario does raise questions.
Why would Kim, even as unbalanced as he is, agree to a Trump scheme which has brought worldwide sanctions against North Korea? Is the plan that Kim will end up backing down, allowing Trump to claim that his crazed “fire and fury” rant worked, so that Trump can then tell the world community to go ahead and cancel the sanctions? We’ll see. But the mere fact that Trump and Kim are communicating privately, even while hurling cartoonish threats of war at each other, tells us that this situation is not at all what they want it to look like.
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report