A lot of self-righteous politicians are horrified that Donald Trump has praised Kim Jong-un. They consider Kim Yong-un to be a brutal dictator. They are right about that. He is a brutal dictator. What they fail to acknowledge is that if he wasn’t, he would be dead. North Korea is a brutal place where there is no democratic opposition. The people opposed to Kim would likely be even more brutal if they assumed power. They would also likely be something else. They would likely border on suicidal. They have convinced themselves that the U.S. is weak, that we would never attack them and that if they obtain a nuclear weapon, they will rule the world.
There are numerous reports that Kim Jong-un is heading back to North Korea to deliver a reality check to his generals. If they do not denuclearize, they face destruction. If they do agree to denuclearize, they have the potential for a bright future. At least some of them will not care. They will refuse to even consider shutting down their nuclear program. Kim is likely to have two choices. Destroy the opposition, or let the opposition destroy him.
There were already reports that he was purging military leaders opposed to nuclear disarmament prior to the trip to Hanoi. Odds are high he is returning to the ultimate hostile environment. He will have at least some of his leaders, usually generals, who will seek only kill him. These people will never negotiate, they will never compromise. They will either destroy him, or he will destroy them.
It is clear that at least some people in North Korea thought they were dealing with another weak president, like Clinton or Obama. They thought they could snooker Trump into removing all the sanctions, while they would just continue to develop nuclear weapons. That worked with Jimmy Carter. That worked with Bill Clinton. It did not work with George W. Bush, which is why there was a lull in nuclear testing. They just ignored Barack Obama since they considered him to be no threat at all.
But, Trump has shown North Korea and the world that he will not be intimidated into a bad deal. One should note that North Korea agreed to not test nuclear weapons or launch missiles. In addition, Kim said he would not have gone to Hanoi if he was not willing to denuclearize.
I suspect Trump did more than praise Kim. I think he offered him support in removing his opposition in North Korea. That does not mean we will send in troops, which is not on the table. It does mean that we will ask China and North Vietnam to support Kim. It also means that the U.S. realizes Kim will have to take some extremely brutal action with regard to his own opposition. President Trump will not accuse Kim of committing war crimes nor focus on his human rights violations, which will be all too real. That is because Trump, like Roosevelt and Churchill realizes something very important. The most unethical thing they could have done is let Hitler win. The most unethical thing Trump could do is to allow the opposition to Kim take over in North Korea. That outcome would most definitely result in the risk of a nuclear war.
In many ways this is similar to the reason Trump has not condemned the Saudi Crown Prince. Yes, Mohammed bin Salman is a brutal man. But the people opposed to him are hardly saints. They are instead some of the most violent people on this planet. They practice Wahhabism, the most extreme sect of Islam. Osama bin Laden came from Saudi Arabia, but more importantly he came from Wahhabism. Wahhabism has zero interest in compromising with anyone. They are widely considered to be the main source of global terrorism. For decades, there was a working relationship between Wahhabism and the Saudi Royal Family. The Royal family would allow Wahhabism to dominate the culture of Saudi Arabia. They would provide financing to Wahhabism that was often used to conduct terrorist acts. This is probably how the 911 attack on the U.S. was financed. In exchange, Wahhabism would allow the Saudi royal family to rule and to retain its wealth. The new crown prince is the first member of the Saudi Royal Family willing to challenge Wahhabism. That is why women are allowed to drive in Saudi Arabia, for the first time. He is being met with violent opposition from those who will never consider compromise. He clearly viewed Khashoggi as a threat to him. Khashoggi is now dead and the action taken against him was beyond brutal. But few are considering the consequences if someone like Khashoggi had managed to achieve his goal of the replacing the Crown Prince. The replacement would have almost certainly been someone willing to fully embraced the extremism of Wahhabism.
The actions authorized by Churchill and Roosevelt to destroy Germany and Japan were among the most brutal in world history. They were also absolutely necessary. Donald Trump, fortunately, is not confronted with those kinds of decisions. He is however, unlike the rest of us, often required to choose between the lesser of evils. Self-righteousness, with no consequences is easy for those of us who do not have to confront reality. A president of the United States does not have that luxury. If you doubt that, go back and reflect on those decisions made by Churchill, Roosevelt and Truman. Harry Truman literally ordered a nuclear bomb to be dropped on a civilian population. That is unthinkable, unless the alternative is even more unthinkable.
It is nice to pretend that Donald Trump being nice to Kim shows a lack of character, until one is confronted with the potential cost of not doing that.