Donald Trump, Agent of Influence


American president joins forces with North Korea to boost Moon Jae-in’s candidacy

Marcus Noland (PIIE)



With Steph Haggard, down, possibly for the count, after learning that President Trump would be “honored” to meet with that “smart cookie” Kim Jong-un, the youngster, who in the words of SNL punching bag Sean Spicer, is leading his country forward with nuclear weapons and truly creative assassinations of potential rivals (ok, Spicer didn’t actually say that last bit), it is left to me to pick up the baton. 

(Sorry for the run-on sentence, but the Trump Administration generates so much material that it’s nearly impossible to constrain oneself.)

Many observers believe that Trump’s apparent missteps reflect a fundamental lack of preparation, staffing, and organization, that the President, is, as one chatterer put it, an “ignorant oaf.” But the more I think about it, the more I am coming to believe that the idiot routine is a clever ruse designed to distract from the real mission. There is method to the madness: Donald Trump wants Moon Jae-in elected president of South Korea.

The famously anti-American Moon was slipping in the polls until the Donald started making his presence felt in South Korea. I wouldn’t be surprised if the NSA picked up the following phone conversation:

Moon: “Ackk! Ahn Cheol-soo’s pulled even. What am I going to do?”

Trump: “Relax. I’ll mobilize the base.”

To set the stage, tell the Wall Street Journal that Korea “used to be part of China.” (Most people ascribed the statement to historical ignorance and Trump just believing whatever Xi Jinping told him, but we know better.) Then, having grabbed the South Korean public’s attention, begin disinterring a double combination of moldy oldy trade and security charges from the US presidential campaign sure to inflame resentment against the United States and put additional wind in Moon’s sails in the final days of the campaign.   

First, the trade punch. Feint killing NAFTA (complete with mock Executive Order terminating the agreement), then go after that “job killer” KORUS. Describe it in interviews with Reuters and the Washington Post as a “horrible deal” cooked up by Hillary Clinton. And to drill home the point, claim that unlike NAFTA, with the KORUS FTA there is none of that “waiting around to die” stuff—I’ll kill the deal right there on the spot: “We’ve told them that we’ll either terminate or negotiate,” Trump said. “We may terminate.” The president said that the process of termination of KORUS is simpler than with the North American Free Trade Agreement. “With NAFTA, we terminate tomorrow; if we did, it ends in six months,” he said. “With the Korean deal, we terminate and it’s over.” That should snap a few heads to attention in Busan.

South Korean conservatives probably won’t have any better luck investigating foreign government interference in elections than their Democratic Party counterparts in the US.

(And just to underline the ”we’re dealing with a madman” image, send out Wilbur Ross, your wily Commerce Secretary, you know the one who refers to cruise missile attacks as “after dinner entertainment,” to raise the specter of the US withdrawing from the WTO. By that point, the South Korean electorate will be convinced that they really are dealing with depraved gangsters and will be looking for a candidate to stand up to the bullies—just what you want!)

And if that doesn’t do it, drop that second, security-themed, shot: demand South Korea pay $1 billion for the newly operational Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) system. Fits in with the gangster image. (Maybe Ivanka could trick you and Wilbur out.) The THAAD issue is highly sensitive for a host of reasons. Its deployment prioritizes the protection of US military assets in South Korea over population centers and has caused significant problems in South Korea’s relations with China. (Just ask Lotte.) Moon has signaled opposition, advocating delay in deployment until a new presidential administration is in place. To many South Koreans, demanding payment looks like less of a commitment to common defense than an extortion operation. What better way to crank up support for Moon than demand a $1 billion payment even if—especially if—such tribute wasn’t part of the deal! This is a shakedown operation, baby!

Now, of course, once Moon gets elected we’ll have to sort all this stuff out. In all fairness, South Korea is a wealthy country and by most metrics could probably foot more of its own defense costs. (For example, it spends less on defense as a share of GDP than does the US—despite having that young man leading his country forward with nuclear weapons and creative assassinations on its doorstep.) So send out national security adviser Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster to clarify that the US would stand by the terms of the agreement—at least for the time being.

And there you have it: that China/KORUS/THAAD salvo should be worth at least 8 percentage points on the 9 May vote tally. Don’t be surprised if after Moon’s election Trump claims credit—and deservedly so. South Korean conservatives probably won’t have any better luck investigating foreign government interference in elections than their Democratic Party counterparts in the US.

But here is the thing I keep scratching my head on: why are Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un on the same side? Dictator wannabe envy?


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