Kim Jong-un may be “a crazy fat kid” with a goofy haircut, but he is doing what his father and his grandfather never could. With nuclear weapons to play with, he frightens the West enough to make it start thinking about doing something about the most dangerous crazy fat kid on earth.
By some reliable intelligence estimates North Korea now has eight nuclear weapons, but no way to deliver them farther than the Sea of Japan, but they’re working on it. They have to get the size of the bomb down to manageable weight and girth before an intercontinental missile could reach the California coast with it.
What seemed absurd only a few years ago is thought to be soon in the crazy fat kid’s box of toys. The failure of the early missiles was easy to mock, like the purple prose of the propaganda artists in Pyongyang. But Kim and his scientists, believed to be working with the help of Iran and the nuclear-weapons program saved by Barack Obama, are moving steadily to full membership in the club of nations with “the bomb.”
Kim has the family DNA and the brutal Marxist ambitions of his father and grandfather, but little of their appreciation of the rational. A recent defector from North Korea, Thae Young Ho, the deputy North Korean ambassador to London, says “Kim Jong-un is a man who will do anything beyond the normal imagination.” He ordered an uncle and his half-brother “terminated with extreme prejudice” — as in, dead — because he reckoned them threats to his own life. He knows that when the regime goes, he goes with it. That’s the way it works in a satrap like North Korea. Terror is the constant companion to the dictator who lives by the whip and the gun.
Kim lives a life of sumptuous ease in Pyongyang, surrounded by sycophants and the pleasures of the table, adding to his girth with a rich diet of imported groceries while millions of his countrymen live close to starvation. He is particularly vain for a fat man, and Sen. John McCain’s recent description of him as “a crazy fat kid” stirred him to rage.
Mr. McCain had told an interviewer at MSNBC, the cable-TV channel, that “the crazy fat kid running North Korea is far worse than some of history’s worst dictators. He’s not rational. We’re not dealing with someone like Joseph Stalin, who had a certain rationality to his barbarity.”
The Korean Central News Agency, the mouthpiece of the Kim regime, accused Mr. McCain of “hurting the dignity of the country and the supreme leadership of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” i.e., North Korea. When Sen. Ted Cruz joined other conservatives to file legislation to put North Korea on the list of state sponsors of terrorism again, he was denounced as a dignity-damager, too, and promised all manner of punishment.
The senators, said the news agency, “will have to bitterly experience the disastrous consequences to be entailed by their reckless tongue-lashing and then any regret for it will come too late. The revolutionary forces of [North Korea] with its nuclear force as its pivot will fulfill its sacred mission of devotedly defending its supreme leadership representing the destiny and life of its people by dealing with merciless sledgehammer blows at those daring to hurt the dignity of the supreme leadership.”
All that merciless work with a sledgehammer seems a little wasteful of resources to punish two mere senators, worthy as those gents may be (but the example of sledgehammer rhetoric might be instructive to the pundits in the West who have done their darnedest to take down Donald Trump and still haven’t managed to put their rhetoric in the killer shade of purple).
Nevertheless, a genuine threat lies beneath the entertaining bluster and braggadocio. Adm. Scott Swift, the commander of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, tells NBC News that American officials are particularly wary of Kim Jong-un’s latest threats to hit an American city with a nuclear bomb.
“They have the nuclear capability,” the admiral says. “They’ve demonstrated that. Where they’re going with the miniaturization of that, whether they can actually weaponize a missile, that’s what’s driving the current concern.”
President Trump told London’s Financial Times on Monday that “something has to be done about North Korea.” Secretary of Defense James Mattis, once called “Mad Dog Mattis,” says North Korea “has got to be stopped.” Secretary of State Rex Tillerson says a military response is “on the table.”
President Trump entertains Chinese President Xi Jinping this week at Mar-A-Lago, and he’ll have a lot to tell him. But if President Xi can’t make Kim behave, somebody else will have to do it, and soon. Scary to think about. It’s even scarier to think about not doing anything.
• Wesley Pruden is editor in chief emeritus of The Times.