A top CIA official has countered the common “madman” narrative surrounding North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un, telling an audience in Washington DC that he’s a “very rational actor.”
This contradicts President Donald Trump’s statements that Kim is a “madman,” though that may have been more a subjective statement than a technical assessment.
“The last person who wants conflict on the [Korean peninsula] is Kim Jong Un,” said Yong Suk Lee, the deputy assistant director of the CIA’s newly created Korea Mission Center, according to the Washington Times.
Lee added that Kim Jong Un has “no interest in going toe-to-toe” with the US, and that while North Korea may obfuscate its motives with warlike rhetoric, Kim Jong Un “wants what all authoritarian rulers want … to rule for a very long time and die peacefully in his own bed.”
Lee’s characterization of Kim matches other experts interviewed and quoted by Business Insider. Essentially, war with the US is suicide for the Kim regime. Additionally, it directly contradicts Kim’s desire to stay in power.
Far from being a madman, Kim is nuanced, and “knows how to dance on the edge of a cliff,” former chief of the Northeast Asia Division at the Bureau of Intelligence and Research in the State Department, Robert Carlin previously told Business insider.
According to Carlin, Kim is experienced or “has experienced people around him who can give him advice on when to move and when not.”
But North Korea does not drive the nuclear crisis alone. US statements and policies also contribute to the lack of diplomatic solutions and military tensions. When Trump said the US would respond to North Korean threats with “fire and fury,” even a rational actor would struggle to respond.
In fact, various reports indicate that North Korea greatly struggles to understand Trump, which could lead to danger down the road.
“The problem is the dynamic between the Americans and the North Koreans,” said Carlin. “It’s not singularly with the North Koreans. It’s the chemistry, the misunderstandings, misperceptions, that is so dangerous.”
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