Kim Jong-un flies home to sell the deal to the North Korean ruling elite

It looks as though President Trump won over Kim Jong-un in Singapore, but now Kim has to sell the deal to the Pyongyang power elite.  The stick of a threat of "fire and fury" (meaning the military destruction of the regime) and the carrot of wealth – like that of glittering Singapore, where Kim took the opportunity for sightseeing, including a lavish casino run by the Sheldon Adelson's Sands corporation – certainly worked on the dictator.

At his press conference, President Trump mentioned that he had shown a video to Kim illustrating the wealth that could lie ahead for Kim and his regime with an opening to the world.  He also showed off his limousine, known as The Beast, apparently impressing him with its massiveness.  Kim Jong-un clearly loves the boys' toys of modernity.

I have long believed that the fact that Kim spent his formative years in a Swiss boarding school was a huge opportunity, for the rest of the North Korean elite has no such exposure to the West.  But in order for this deal to move forward and realize its potential, Kim is going to have to convince the rest of the Pyongyang power elite to go along and risk destruction of their nuclear security blanket and some degree of openness to the international world, including intrusive inspection visits and trade.  The people who command military and police units (some of whom have been replaced with KJU loyalists),those who control key state enterprises, and those who are able to supply bribes – luxury goods from the West, mainly, but also food – must go along, or else, as my colleague Rick Moran put it this morning, "[d]on't be surprised if Kim doesn't wake up one morning."

The North Korean regime is best understood as a gangster operation, holding power solely through intimidation and financing itself largely through illicit activities – massive counterfeiting (of hard currencies, especially dollars) and drug-running.  These mainstays are not going to last if this deal moves forward.  So what can replace them?  First and foremost, Korean laborers.  The North Korean regime already dabbled in contract labor, supplying North Korean workers to certain Middle East locations in the past, and also to a now shuttered but potentially revived industrial park for South Korean enterprises just over the border in North Korea.

Right now, it appears that sanctions have been so successful that North Korea is literally running out of money.  So the members of the ruling elite already have been tightening their belts.  My strong suspicion is that some of the other meetings that have taken pace preceding the agreement signed in Singapore included discussion of the sources of income that would open to North Korea if it behaves as promised.

This is a key moment in the history of the North Korean regime.  It has the example of China maintaining a corrupt ruling elite in the midst of economic liberalization.  It also has been unable to keep out foreign media as thoroughly as in the past – cell phones, video-players, and memory sticks have brought South Korean soap operas to a substantial portion of the population, according to various reports.  If so, I suspect that the elite – all except the old guard that is being purged – understands that the old way of doing things cannot survive.  Trump's genius was in recognizing that the time is right for change, and in managing to line up all the ducks with China, South Korea, and Japan to make an offer to Kim and his backers that they can't refuse.

I never once expected that I'd ever be rooting for Kim Jong-un.  But such is the vision of Donald Trump that he has worked me into that position.  If he can maintain his power and lead his nation into openness and destruction of its nuclear arsenal, that will be a huge win for the entire world.

It looks as though President Trump won over Kim Jong-un in Singapore, but now Kim has to sell the deal to the Pyongyang power elite.  The stick of a threat of "fire and fury" (meaning the military destruction of the regime) and the carrot of wealth – like that of glittering Singapore, where Kim took the opportunity for sightseeing, including a lavish casino run by the Sheldon Adelson's Sands corporation – certainly worked on the dictator.

At his press conference, President Trump mentioned that he had shown a video to Kim illustrating the wealth that could lie ahead for Kim and his regime with an opening to the world.  He also showed off his limousine, known as The Beast, apparently impressing him with its massiveness.  Kim Jong-un clearly loves the boys' toys of modernity.

I have long believed that the fact that Kim spent his formative years in a Swiss boarding school was a huge opportunity, for the rest of the North Korean elite has no such exposure to the West.  But in order for this deal to move forward and realize its potential, Kim is going to have to convince the rest of the Pyongyang power elite to go along and risk destruction of their nuclear security blanket and some degree of openness to the international world, including intrusive inspection visits and trade.  The people who command military and police units (some of whom have been replaced with KJU loyalists),those who control key state enterprises, and those who are able to supply bribes – luxury goods from the West, mainly, but also food – must go along, or else, as my colleague Rick Moran put it this morning, "[d]on't be surprised if Kim doesn't wake up one morning."

The North Korean regime is best understood as a gangster operation, holding power solely through intimidation and financing itself largely through illicit activities – massive counterfeiting (of hard currencies, especially dollars) and drug-running.  These mainstays are not going to last if this deal moves forward.  So what can replace them?  First and foremost, Korean laborers.  The North Korean regime already dabbled in contract labor, supplying North Korean workers to certain Middle East locations in the past, and also to a now shuttered but potentially revived industrial park for South Korean enterprises just over the border in North Korea.

Right now, it appears that sanctions have been so successful that North Korea is literally running out of money.  So the members of the ruling elite already have been tightening their belts.  My strong suspicion is that some of the other meetings that have taken pace preceding the agreement signed in Singapore included discussion of the sources of income that would open to North Korea if it behaves as promised.

This is a key moment in the history of the North Korean regime.  It has the example of China maintaining a corrupt ruling elite in the midst of economic liberalization.  It also has been unable to keep out foreign media as thoroughly as in the past – cell phones, video-players, and memory sticks have brought South Korean soap operas to a substantial portion of the population, according to various reports.  If so, I suspect that the elite – all except the old guard that is being purged – understands that the old way of doing things cannot survive.  Trump's genius was in recognizing that the time is right for change, and in managing to line up all the ducks with China, South Korea, and Japan to make an offer to Kim and his backers that they can't refuse.

I never once expected that I'd ever be rooting for Kim Jong-un.  But such is the vision of Donald Trump that he has worked me into that position.  If he can maintain his power and lead his nation into openness and destruction of its nuclear arsenal, that will be a huge win for the entire world.