Friday 17 November 2017

President picked fight with the wrong guys - he needs to focus on dangerous Kim

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un supervises a ballistic rocket launching drill of Hwasong artillery units in this photo released by North Korea in Pyongyang on Tuesday Picture: Reuters
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un supervises a ballistic rocket launching drill of Hwasong artillery units in this photo released by North Korea in Pyongyang on Tuesday Picture: Reuters

Con Coughlin

The highly erratic conduct of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is usually as much a source of general bemusement as it is a cause for genuine concern.

When, for example, reports first surfaced a couple of years ago that the country's defence minister had, on Mr Kim's orders, been publicly executed by anti-aircraft fire for falling asleep at military briefings, the temptation was to dismiss them as black propaganda designed to undermine Mr Kim's dictatorship.

But the latest outrages committed by Pyongyang's dysfunctional leader mean that we must dismiss any remaining doubts about how much of a threat his regime poses to the outside world.

Mr Kim's involvement in the murder of his half-brother, Kim Jong-nam, poisoned at Kuala Lumpur airport last month with a nerve agent classified as a weapon of mass destruction, illustrates the extreme lengths to which Mr Kim is prepared to go to silence his critics. Since obliterating that minister in 2015, Mr Kim is said to have executed others using flame-throwers, mortar rounds and packs of wild dogs. Only last week another five officials were said to have been executed using anti-aircraft rounds.

Meanwhile, the firing earlier this week of four ballistic missiles into the sea off Japan's northwest coast is an act of provocation that could easily lead to open conflict with Pyongyang's neighbours.

The missile launches have been timed to coincide with the joint military exercises involving American and South Korean forces currently taking place along the 38th parallel that divides the Korean peninsula. Those exercises have been arranged amid deepening concern in both Washington and Seoul about the scope of Pyongyang's missile programme, which the North Koreans claim will soon enable them to carry a nuclear payload to America's Pacific coast.

North Korea has already successfully detonated a number of nuclear warheads. All that now remains is for it to develop a missile system capable of carrying them.

Washington is so alarmed at the prospect of Mr Kim having access to a nuclear weapons arsenal that it has agreed to deploy its sophisticated anti-missile system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence missiles, to protect its allies.

Given the seriousness of the events now unfolding in East Asia, and the potentially calamitous impact they could have on Washington's key allies in the region, one would expect America's president to be focusing all his energies on the crisis.

Indeed, North Korea's conduct could be interpreted as a textbook case of an enemy state seeking to test the mettle of a new occupant in the White House.

Yet rather than focusing on the first major foreign policy crisis of his presidency, Donald Trump prefers to pursue a personal vendetta against America's intelligence establishment.

The roots of Mr Trump's obsession with the US intelligence community date back to last year's presidential election, when he claimed officials had not properly investigated allegations that his rival Hillary Clinton had compromised national security by using a personal email account while serving as secretary of state.

Even though Mr Trump managed to keep the email scandal going until the final days of the election, the FBI declared it found no evidence of criminality.

Now, to Mr Trump's chagrin, he finds that the tables have been turned, and he is on the sharp end of an FBI inquiry into allegations that senior members of his campaign team had unauthorised contacts with the Russian embassy in Washington.

The controversy has already cost the president his national security adviser, and fears that the investigation could cause him further scalps has prompted him to go back on the offensive against the intelligence chiefs, this time accusing his predecessor Barack Obama of ordering the bugging of his New York offices in Trump Tower.

Mr Obama is, of course, no stranger to the dark arts of eavesdropping. As president, he knew all about the bugging operations mounted against key allies such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President François Hollande.

This might all make for great political drama in the Washington hub, but it also means that the leader of the world's most powerful democracy is woefully distracted at a time when America's enemies remain as troublesome as ever.

Mr Trump no doubt believes he has a genuine grievance against the intelligence community, one that he needs to resolve in his favour if his presidency is not to suffer further collateral damage.

But the president needs to remember that, as the country's commander-in-chief, he is also responsible for defending the interests of the American people, as well as its allies. The world expects US presidents to possess strong leadership qualities. The best way for Mr Trump to demonstrate he has what it takes is not to squabble with his own spooks but to show resolve against rogue regimes like North Korea. (© Daily Telegraph London)

Telegraph.co.uk

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