Over the years, Trump has been reaching out to Putin and Kim Jong Un despite the limited strategic gains he has stood to gain. His authoritarian style perhaps makes him feel more at home with dictators than with elected leaders.
From taking on China to alienating his European counterparts by pulling the US out of the World Health Organization (WHO), Trump has ruffled the feathers of quite a few global leaders. For those who fondly remember his predecessor Barak Obama’s bonhomie with Canada’s Justin Trudeau or France’s Emmanuel Macron, the contrast could not be starker. A key irritant for many Western leaders visiting the White House has been Trump’s penchant for off-the-cuff remarks at joint press conferences. Most of them consciously choose to ignore his ramblings for fear of sparking off a diplomatic war of words. But, they also ridicule Trump behind his back.
Watch: Western leaders make fun of Trump’s eccentricities
It is clear that Trump does not have much in common with his political cohort. He seems to loathe meeting leaders of countries he regards as “delinquent” like Germany’s Angela Merkel with whom he had a falling out over funding NATO in July.
However, Trump isn’t quite the loner at the high table of global politics as he is made out to be. He has tried to compensate for his near-total isolation in the West by striking friendships with leaders in another part of the world – North Korea’s Kim Jong Un and Russia’s Putin. These two strongmen mirror Trump’s own desire for total subservience and absolute authority and that is perhaps why he is drawn to them. Once labelled the ‘Axis of Evil’ by former president George W Bush, Trump now wants “personal relationships” with leaders who, like him, have few friends in the free world.
Once labelled the ‘Axis of Evil’ by former president George W Bush, Trump now wants “personal relationships” with leaders who, like him, have few friends in the free world.
Trump may have his eye on the Nobel Peace Prize, however, he clearly is in awe of dictators. Bob Woodward, a veteran investigative journalist with the Washington Post has claimed in his latest book that Trump was effusive in his praise for Kim after their 2018 summit meeting in Singapore.
In several letters addressed to the North Korean dictator, Trump alluded to “a unique style and a special friendship”. That meeting set the stage for his historic visit to the 38th Parallel, the heavily militarized working border between North and South Korea. The well-publicized event earned him a place in the history books as the first-ever sitting US president to enter North Korea. Trump’s fascination with Kim Jong Un was evident long before he took office. In early 2016, he told supporters that “[Kim] goes in, he takes over, and he’s the boss. It’s incredible. He wiped out the uncle. He wiped out this one, that one. I mean, this guy doesn’t play games.”
In several letters addressed to the North Korean dictator, Trump alluded to “a unique style and a special friendship”.
Observers were baffled by how enamored Trump seemed with Kim even as US intelligence agencies warned that North Korea was unlikely to give up its nuclear weapons. However, Trump is adamant that he has “developed a very, very good relationship” with the North Korean leader.
Observers were baffled by how enamored Trump seemed with Kim despite US intelligence agencies’ warnings.
Kim plays along
On his part, the North Korean leader reciprocated Trump’s overtures saying that he felt “proud and honoured”. One could be forgiven for thinking of Kim Jong Un as a complete savage. However, he is said to have spent his early years at a top notch private boarding school in Switzerland where he studied German among several other languages.
Watch: Kim studied in Switzerland before taking over as ‘Supreme Leader’ of North Korea
Though Kim was always accompanied by an interpreter in all of his meetings with Trump, he is thought to have at least a working knowledge of English and is apparently an avid basketball fan. This would have served to bring the ice between the once bitter foes who threatened each other with nuclear annihilation many times in the past.
However, the political payoff for Trump is unmistakable: a thaw between the two countries could help North Korea shed its tag as a global pariah and hand Trump the foreign policy coup he has been angling for. He would have also made a frenemy that at least superficially shared his enthusiasm for making “the right deal at the right time”
On first name basis with Putin
There are perhaps few world leaders that Trump holds in as much esteem as Russia’s Vladimir Putin. The tough guy image that the Russian leader exudes is exactly what Trump has tried to project from the day he won the Republican nomination in 2016. He even went to the extent of giving Russia the clean chit over allegations of interference in the US presidential elections. At the 2018 US-Russia summit held in Helsinki, Trump told a press conference that he held “both countries responsible. I think that the United States has been foolish. I think we’ve all been foolish… And I think we’re all to blame.” It was his way of getting back of domestic political opponents for trying to impeach him, never mind that he was on foreign soil.
There are few world leaders that Trump holds in as much esteem as Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Putin’s offer of a joint probe was all it took for Trump to back down. This was despite news that Russia was paying foreign mercenaries in Afghanistan to target US troops. Some reports indicate that Trump’s deference to Putin is because of his company’s substantial business dealings in Russia, the exact extent of which has not been disclosed by the White House. Secretly, Trump must idolize Putin for the absolute power he enjoys in his own country. To the extent that Trump has gone out of his way to impress Putin, the allegations of his political foes about “collusion” with Putin would seem accurate. Despite growing concerns about a potential Russian disinformation campaign to discredit the mail-in ballot system, Trump’s ‘hands-off’ approach with Putin has been raising eyebrows in the US.
Watch: The best moments of the Trump-Putin Bromance
Iran is perhaps the only country among the so-called ‘Axis of Evil’ – a term coined by Trump’s predecessor, George W Bush- that remains out of Trump’s sights so far. If he wins a second term, Air Force One may just be headed to Tehran in the near future.
Iran is perhaps the only country among the so-called ‘Axis of Evil’ – a term coined by Trump’s predecessor – that remains out of Trump’s sights so far.