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The North Korea Reframe

Prior U.S. presidents framed the North Korean nuclear program as a problem between the United States and North Korea, with China as an unhelpful third party with its own interests. That framing was weak and useless. North Korea did whatever it wanted to do.

President Trump recently changed the frame. Now it’s not so much a problem between the United States and North Korea as it is a branding battle between China and the U.S., with North Korea being the less-important part of the equation. President Trump has said clearly and repeatedly that if China doesn’t fix the problem in its own backyard, the USA will step in to do what China couldn’t get done.

See the power in that framing? China doesn’t want a weak “brand.” 

With the new framing, we already see China talking tougher about North Korea. They stopped buying North Korean coal, which is something they said they would do before Inauguration Day. But by then, Trump had already reframed the situation the way I described. And he was weeks from being Commander-in-Chief when he did it.

The only thing lacking in Trump’s reframing was a credible threat that he would launch a decapitation strike against North Korea. That problem was solved over chocolate cake at Mar Lago when the visiting President of China, Xi, observed Trump give the order to send 59 Tomahawk missiles into a sovereign country that had pissed him off just a few days earlier.

Then Trump ordered an “armada” of American warships to the vicinity of North Korea just to remind Xi that we have options.

Trump also suggested that our trade negotiations with China will go a lot better if North Korea is no longer a problem. Trump didn’t go so far as to suggest adding a “North Korea tax” to Chinese imports, to pay for our military presence in South Korea, but I like to think it is an option.

This is the sort of thing I was hoping to see when the Master Persuader took office. His reframing on North Korea is pitch-perfect. We’ve never seen anything like this.

Some of you will be tempted to argue that nothing has really changed. But I think the face-to-face meeting between Xi and Trump, and the movement of North Korea to a branding competition between superpowers is a big, big deal. It would be hard, if not politically impossible, for Xi to go easy on North Korea from this point on.

In related news…

This has been a good week for President Trump. So far, we have seen:

1. Sean Spicer (accidentally?) caused the opposition media to argue that Hitler analogies are ridiculous. 

2. The Syrian attack established Trump as a measured and decisive leader. His popularity will rise. Even many of his critics supported the attack.

3. Trump solved for the “puppet of Putin” allegation by attacking its client state, Syria.

4. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee succeeded, albeit the hard way.

5. The healthcare issue is moving forward after the initial trial-balloon that was more of a negotiating step than a real proposal.

6. Tax reform is now on hold for healthcare reform, but no one thinks that is a bad way to go. The savings on healthcare are part of any budget and tax plan.

7. Relations with China look good. Trump and Xi had good chemistry.

8. China is putting the pressure on North Korea like never before.

9. The economy is good, and optimism is high, in part thanks to Trump. (Mostly the optimism part.)

10. Iran is probably a bit more flexible this week after watching the Syrian attack.

11. News coverage had already mostly evolved from “Trump is Hitler”  to “Trump is incompetent.” The Syrian attack and the North Korean situation moved Trump to “Effective, but some of us don’t like what he is doing” I wasn’t expecting that to happen before the end of the year.

You can tell me other presidents have had better starts. But I doubt that is the case. Keep in mind that Trump started in the deepest hole of any president, ever. He’s already halfway out of the hole and establishing himself as a strong leader on international issues.

You might enjoy reading my book because reading books is something you enjoy.

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Wiretapping Word-Thinking

The other day, President Trump declared that “President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!”

Then the world went nuts. 

Former CIA Director James Clapper denied that Trump was wiretapped, saying, “There was no such wiretap activity mounted against the president, the president-elect at the time, or as a candidate, or against his campaign,“

Yet we know General Flynn was in Trump Tower when his conversation with the Russian diplomat were recorded.

Does that means Flynn was “wiretapped”? 

No. But it might mean the person on the other end was. And we already know he was.

Does it mean Trump Tower was “wiretapped”?

No. But it might mean that the person on the other end was. And we already know he was.

And what does “wiretapping” even mean in a world in which all communications are recorded routinely? if the government records you routinely, and then it decides to look at some of those records, with a court order or without, has any “wiretapping” happened? I don’t think so.

And what does it mean to say “Obama was tapping”? Does it mean he directly ordered it, or does he just have to wonder aloud how awesome it would be if someone did it? We expect presidents to have deniability about the spooky stuff because we watch television shows and that makes us smart.

I don’t have an opinion about what happened, or didn’t happen, with the wiretapping. But this story did make me laugh when I realized we find ourselves in the following fun situation:

1. President Trump is the world’s biggest liar (according to his foes).

And…

2. President Trump now has direct access to more national secrets than any other living human being.

And that means fun. 

This wiretapping situation shows us how much fun it will be. Six months ago, if Trump made a hard-to-believe claim about something that is also hard to verify, the country would assume he was lying, incorrect, or negotiating. Now, if he says something hard-to-believe, such as the recent wiretapping claim, you have to wonder if the President knows something you don’t. Because he knows a lot of somethings you don’t. 

If history is our guide, this odd situation, in which the most famous “liar” in the world also has access to the world’s best secrets, will be more entertaining than dangerous. We’re seeing that entertainment now. Trump can make any claim about hard-to-verify situations and we’ll all have to wonder if he knows something we don’t.

I feel sorry for the people watching the other movie – the one in which President Trump is essentially Hitler. In my movie, he’s having a bumpy transition ride but generally doing the people’s work. My movie is more of a comedy. And you could not write a better comedy than one in which the biggest “liar” in the world is in charge of the biggest secrets in the world.

Mmm, popcorn. 

About North Korea

In other news, watch President Trump force China to put the clamps on North Korea’s missile program by making it clear we’ll handle it for them if they can’t take care of their own backyard. If the United States has to take care of China’s problem for them, it sure would be embarrassing for China. And persuasive.

I base my North Korea prediction on the assumption that by now President Trump has burrowed so far into the brains of the Chinese leadership that he’s already got functional control, Master Persuader style. They just don’t realize it.

If you are a television news producer, you will probably enjoy using the WhenHub app because it will show your invited guests on a map as they approach their various studios. No more worrying who will be late. Just send the guest one text with a link to ask them to temporarily show up on the map on their way to the studio. The geostreaming ends automatically soon after they reach their destination.

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The Strength of Non-Interventionism as a Foreign Policy

It was exciting over the weekend to hear about the launch of Ron Paul’s Institute for Peace and Prosperity. Recalling one of the infamous debates during the last election cycle, where he was booed after suggesting the “Golden Rule” be applied to foreign policy, it’s obvious that Paul’s detractors just couldn’t get with that part of his […]

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Foreign Policy Flavors of the Week

Our foreign policy since the early 20th century has been so schizophrenic: We support Stalin in the fight against the Nazis; later, we’re outraged at Stalin’s ethnic cleansing practices. We sign a bilateral agreement with Iran in 1959, saying we’ll aid them if they’re ever attacked; throughout the 1970s, Iran is actually the United States’ […]

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