Three other American presidents before Trump (Clinton, Bush and Obama – two Democrats and a Republican) have attempted to “tame” the Kim family in different ways and to convince it to give up on missile tests and the nuclear program. However, Kim Jong-un does not yield to flattery and threats. He knows that the dictatorship’s survival is at stake.
When one takes into account the first missile launch in 1993 and the first nuclear test in 2006, the Kim family’s hereditary dictatorship in North Korea has plagued four American presidents for 24 years with the poisonous mystery of its strategy. No president, starting with Harry Truman, who had to fight a real war against the chubby dictator’s grandfather, ever managed to turn the North Korean regime into a legitimate and responsible citizen of the international community. Not by using the stick, nor by offering the carrot.
Even if we leave aside Truman, who rejected General MacArthur’s plan to drop nuclear bombs in 1953, Clinton, Bush, Obama and now Trump have failed. The latter fell for a statement from Kim Jong-un’s spokesperson concerning the possibility of a “dialogue.” In the meantime, Pyongyang’s military was getting ready to launch another missile that landed 450 km away (approximately 280 miles).
The mouse has been playing with the cats for 24 years in a ruthless triangulation between China, the U.S. and post-soviet Russia. The "cats" keep accusing each other, and they forget a key element. The Kim family's missile and nuclear program started in 1991, right after the Soviet Union collapsed. Predecessors and successors to the North’s throne of blood and misery see this program as the only credible guarantee for survival.
Clinton offered rice in exchange for the end of North Korea’s nuclear program. It was no use. Bush tried to play tough and threateningly included North Korea in the infamous “Axis of Evil.” Pyongyang did not bat an eye. Obama chose to be patient and wait as he tried to work on China. The rearmament still went on. After some useless saber-rattling, Trump tried one of his favorite tactics, the salesman act. He flattered the "client" with words of respect, and the client reacted with yet another provocation, thereby humiliating Trump and all those who were already claiming he had worked a miracle. However, even the impetuously incompetent Trump knows that no American citizen, not even among his remaining supporters, is willing to die for North Korea. His bluffs are transparent.
We can explain the failure of four presidents, two Republicans and two Democrats, who tried to tame North Korea if we keep in mind that the Kims have simply no interest in giving up on the very weapons that prop up their dictatorship. The general conditions of the population are also a factor. North Koreans have no means to express their despair, nor can they use old or new media to discover the situation they are condemned to.
There is nothing that the U.S. can offer Kim in exchange for the fear Pyongyang can inflict on the "cats" that pursue it in vain. “Normalizing” its relations with the rest of the world and improving the country’s human, economic and civil conditions beyond the capital’s grim façade, which is shown to acquiescent foreign visitors who buy into the propaganda, would result in the dictator’s end and the collapse of the regime.
With Trump, as was the case with the previous presidents, Kim will continue playing the same game, because his survival, as well as the survival of his gang of sycophants prospering from fear and misery, is at stake. Kim may be insane, but he is not stupid.