Is Trump Changing His Approach to Dealing With His Fellow Leaders?

Is Trump Changing His Approach to Dealing With His Fellow Leaders?
A TV screen at Seoul Station shows images of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, Seoul, South Korea, May 2, 2017 (AP Photo by Ahn Young-joon).

U.S. President Donald Trump’s latest comments on North Korean leader Kim Jong Un suggest a new tactic: Rather than asserting primacy and disparaging other countries’ policies, Trump has tried to convey empathy for Kim’s predicament. Perhaps Trump is following Chinese President Xi Jinping’s advice on how to keep Kim from stepping over the brink into conflict. But it could say more about Trump’s evolving understanding of the burdens of leadership.

In recent days, as tensions with North Korea have risen, Trump has used some unexpected language to describe Kim. He’s called the 33-year-old Kim “a pretty smart cookie,” conveying some admiration for the young tyrant’s ability to consolidate his power amid challenging circumstances after succeeding his late father in 2011. The president has now said he’d be “honored” to meet the North Korean leader, causing some heartburn in diplomatic circles. To be sure, Trump understands that the stakes are high, given North Korea’s latest aggressive and risky behavior, including threats to use its ballistic missiles against American interests and facilities. But he’s taking a different approach than he has toward other leaders.

Early in his presidency, Trump used his meetings with foreign leaders of mostly important allies—Germany’s Angela Merkel, the U.K.’s Theresa May, Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu and Canada’s Justin Trudeau—to play alpha dog. From the prolonged hand grabs to the language he used to put these friendly partners in their place, Trump wanted to make clear that there was a hierarchy of power. He was showing, a bit reluctantly, the needed respect for key bilateral relationships, but with his special style of self-reference and self-importance still on display.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.