Trump Is The Candidate That Authoritarians Love

Heather Cox Richardson

Yesterday, in North Korea, Russian president Vladimir Putin and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a security partnership between their countries that said they would “provide mutual assistance in case of aggression.” The two authoritarian leaders essentially resurrected a 1961 agreement between North Korea and the Soviet Union. According to the North Korean News Agency, the agreement also calls for the two countries to work together toward a “just and multipolar new world order.”

The United States and other western allies have been concerned for two years about the strengthening ties between the two countries. Putin needs weapons for the war in Ukraine, and in exchange, he might provide not only the economic support Kim Jong Un needs—North Korea is one of the poorest countries in Asia—but also transfer the technology North Korea needs to develop nuclear weapons. 

In the New York Times today, David Sanger pointed out that Putin and China’s leader Xi Jinping have partnered against the West in the past decade but have always agreed that North Korea must not be able to develop a nuclear weapon. Now, it appears, Putin is desperate enough for munitions that he is willing to provide the technologies North Korea needs to obtain one, along with missiles to deliver it. 

Meanwhile, Joby Warrick reported yesterday in the Washington Post that Iran has launched big expansions of two key nuclear enrichment plants, and leaders of the country’s nuclear program have begun to say they could build a nuclear weapon quickly if asked to do so. On X, security analyst Jon Wolfsthal recalled the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) that successfully limited Iran’s nuclear program and that Trump abandoned with vows to produce something better. Wolfsthal noted that diplomacy worked when “wars and ‘promises’ of a better deal could not.”   

Still, the meeting between Putin and Kim Jong Un is a sign of weakness, not strength. As The Telegraph pointed out, just ten years ago, Putin was welcomed to the G8 (now the G7) by the leaders of the richest countries in the world. “Now he has to go cap in hand to the pariah state of North Korea,” it pointed out. National Security Communications Advisor John Kirby added that “Russia is absolutely isolated on the world stage. They’ve been forced to rely, again, on countries like North Korea and Iran. Meanwhile…, Ukraine just organized a successful peace summit in Switzerland that had more than 100 countries and organizations sign up to support President Zelenskyy’s vision for a just peace.” 

In that same press conference, Kirby noted that the U.S. is delaying planned deliveries of foreign military sales to other countries, particularly of air defense missiles, sending the weapons to Ukraine instead. Also today, the U.S. emphasized that Ukraine can use American-supplied weapons to hit Russian forces in Russia. This is at least partly in response to recent reports that Russia is pulverizing Ukrainian front-line cities to force inhabitants to abandon them. Ukraine can slow the barrage by hitting the Russian airstrips from which the planes are coming.

China, which declared a “no limits” partnership with Russia in February 2022 just before Russia invaded Ukraine, kept distant from the new agreement between Russia and North Korea. Tong Zhao of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace told Laurie Chen and Josh Smith of Reuters: “China is…careful not to create the perception of a de facto alliance among Beijing, Moscow, and Pyongyang, as this will not be helpful for China to maintain practical cooperation with key Western countries.”

Greg Torode, Gerry Doyle, and Laurie Chen published an exclusive story in Reuters tonight, reporting that in March, for the first time in five years, delegates from the U.S. and China resumed semi-official talks about nuclear arms, although official talks have stalled.

The office of president of the Republic of Korea (ROK), Yoon Suk Yeol, condemned the agreement. “It’s absurd that two parties with a history of launching wars of invasion—the Korean War and the war in Ukraine—are now vowing mutual military cooperation on the premise of a preemptive attack by the international community that will never happen,” it said. An ROK national security official added that the government, which has provided humanitarian aid to Ukraine, will now consider supplying weapons. This is no small threat: ROK is one of the world’s top ten arms exporters.  

In the U.S., John Kirby told reporters that while cooperation between Russia and North Korea is a concern, the U.S. has been strengthening and bolstering alliances and partnerships throughout the Indo-Pacific region since President Joe Biden took office. It brokered the historic trilateral agreement between the Republic of Korea, Japan, and the United States; launched AUKUS, the trilateral security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the U.S.; and expanded cooperation with the Philippines. 

On Tuesday, at a joint press conference with U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken in Washington, D.C., NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg explained the cooperation between Russia and North Korea like this. “Russia’s war in Ukraine is…propped up by China, North Korea, and Iran,” he said. “They want to see the United States fail. They want to see NATO fail. If they succeed in Ukraine, it will make us more vulnerable and the world more dangerous. 

To that, The Bulwark today added journalist Anne Applebaum’s comments about the determination of those countries to disrupt liberal democracies. Dictators, she said, “are betting that Trump will be the person who destroys the United States, whether he makes it ungovernable, whether he assaults the institutions so that they no longer function, whether he creates so much division and chaos that the U.S. can’t have a foreign policy anymore. That’s what they want, and that’s what they’re hoping he will do.”

Trump himself is a more and more problematic candidate. This week, author Ramin Setoodeh, who has a new book coming out soon about Trump’s transformation from failed businessman to reality TV star on the way to the presidency, has told reporters that Trump has “severe memory issues” adding that “he couldn’t remember things, he couldn’t even remember me.”

Trump is supposed to participate in a debate with President Biden on June 27, and while Biden is preparing as candidates traditionally do, with policy reviews and practice, Trump’s team has been downplaying Trump’s need for preparation, saying that his rallies and interviews with friendly media are enough. 

With new polls showing Biden overtaking the lead in the presidential contest, right-wing media has been pushing so-called cheap fakes: videos that don’t use AI but misrepresent what happened by deceptively cutting the film or the shot. 

Social media has been flooded with images of Biden appearing to bend over for no apparent reason at a D-Day commemoration; the clip cuts off both the chair behind him and that everyone else was sitting down, too. Another, from the recent G7 summit, appears to show the president wandering away from a group of leaders during a skydiving demonstration; in fact, he was walking toward and speaking to a parachute jumper who had just landed but was off camera. A third appears to show Biden unable to say the name of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas; in fact, he was teasing Mayorkas, and the film cuts off just before Biden says his name.  

On Monday, June 17, Judd Legum of Popular information produced a deep report on how the right-wing Sinclair Broadcast Group has been flooding its local media websites with these and other stories suggesting that President Biden is “mentally unfit for office.” Legum noted that these stories appeared simultaneously on at least 86 local news websites Sinclair owns.

Finally, today, in the New York Times, Charlie Savage and Alan Feuer reported that two of Judge Aileen Cannon’s more experienced colleagues on Florida’s federal bench—including the chief judge, a George W. Bush appointee—urged her to hand off the case of Trump’s retention of classified documents to someone else when it was assigned to her. They noted that she was inexperienced, having been appointed by Trump only very late in his term, and that taking the case would look bad since she had previously been rebuked by a conservative appeals court after helping Trump in the criminal investigation that led to the indictment. 

She refused to pass the assignment to someone else.  

Trump’s lawyers’ approach to the case has been to try to delay it until after the election. Judge Cannon’s decisions appear to have made that strategy succeed.

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