It is no coincidence that two of the world’s wiliest dictators—Russia’s Vladimir Putin and, now it seems, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un—are keen to see Donald Trump win this fall’s election.
Trump’s bromance with the Kremlin chief first blossomed late last year, when he praised Putin’s “leadership” and said, “I would get along with Putin”—sparking Putin to call Trump “a very lively man, talented without doubt,” whom he could “get along with” as well.
The salutations from the hermit kingdom of Pyongyang came just Monday, in the form of an article in the official newspaper of the ruling Workers’ Party hailing Trump as a “wise politician” in contrast to “the thick-headed Hillary.”
Some attribute these odd salutes to the like-mindedness of authoritarian personalities, but this misses the point. More likely, Putin and Kim pine for a Trump presidency because they see he’s an easy mark, someone who thinks he’s smart and tough but who, in fact, is all set to give away the store.
Most leaders, perhaps especially authoritarian ones, don’t care about an opposite number’s charms or lack thereof; they care only about advancing their interests. Putin’s main interest in global affairs is to preserve what little semblance of an empire Russia once had—and, toward that end, to split the Western powers: both within Europe and across the trans-Atlantic alliance with the United States.
Trump serves this interest well, having said many times he regards NATO as “obsolete” and that, unless the Western European nations spent more for their defenses, he’d withdraw our army from the continent entirely.
Putin must also have been amused by Trump’s naive remark (uttered in the same interview in which he gave the Kremlin chief an “A” for leadership): “I’ve dealt with Russia”—no doubt knowing that Trump’s only such dealings have been with Russian real-estate magnates and as the proprietor of a Miss Universe contest in Moscow. (Trump later acknowledged this fact with no apparent embarrassment, calling the Miss Universe pageant “a big deal.”)
North Korea’s chief interest, dating back to the country’s founding in the 1940s, has been to play larger regional powers off one another—the shrewd strategy (as Kim’s grandfather, the original Great Leader Kim Il Sung, put it) of “a shrimp among whales.” And the regime’s fanciful dream has been that the Korean peninsula reunify under the Communist North’s terms.
By this measure, Kim must be giddy at the prospect of a Trump victory as the presumptive GOP nominee has wagged his finger at our Asia–Pacific allies with special ferocity, wondering out loud why U.S. forces need to be paying anything to defend South Korea and Japan. The opinion piece in North Korea’s official party newspaper expressed the joy explicitly: “Who knew,” it says of Trump’s policy plans, “that the ‘Yankee, Go Home’ slogan we shouted so enthusiastically could come true as easily as this?” It added, “The day that the ‘Yankee, Go Home’ slogan becomes reality will be the day Korea is unified again.”
This is why, whenever President Obama meets with allied leaders these days he is plastered with questions about Trump—who is this guy, what does he want, could he really be elected? The foreigners ask these questions not out of mere curiosity but panic. They see Trump would be a disaster for their interests and U.S. interests—and a feast for our shrewdest adversaries.