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President Trump, leave the hugs at home

Every week, I offer a glimpse of the kind of intelligence assessments that are likely to come across the desk of the ...

Posted: Jun 11, 2018 10:49 AM
Updated: Jun 11, 2018 10:49 AM

Every week, I offer a glimpse of the kind of intelligence assessments that are likely to come across the desk of the President of the United States.

Modeled on the President's Daily Briefing, or PDB, which the director of national intelligence prepares for the President almost daily, my Presidential Weekly Briefing focuses on the topics and issues the President needs to know to make informed decisions.

Here's this week's briefing:

Kim Jong Un has probably been carefully preparing for your meeting in Singapore. We assess that he has likely spent time studying you, Mr. President, as well as US political developments and your relationships abroad. He will try to rely on a bag of tricks to gain the upper hand in the negotiations and on the world stage.

More than a feeling: Don't go with your gut

Kim likely took note of your comments indicating that you would know in the first minute of meeting him whether he is serious, including your statement that you will rely on your touch and feel to quickly assess his intentions.

With your public statement as a guide, Kim may try to use his initial few minutes with you to tell you what you want to hear and may reaffirm his commitment to the general concept of denuclearization. Remember, actions speak louder than words and he will be trying to make you "feel" like he's in it to win it.

Keep in mind that history has not been kind to your predecessors who relied too heavily on their feelings. In 2001 President Bush, speaking about Vladimir Putin, indicated that he was "able to get a sense of his soul," which proved untrue in light of Russia's ongoing attack on the United States, at Putin's direction.

Too fast too soon: Hello, handshake or hug

Your greeting with Kim is key. Even before your initial meeting, when you and Kim first lay eyes on each other, he may try to manipulate you into a public display of affection. He has probably seen your embraces with leaders like President Emmanuel Macron or even Prime Minister Justin Trudeau before things went south at the G-7 over the weekend. We should assume Kim has heard your remarks describing your optimism for the summit and your hope the two of you will like each other.

He may take this and run with it -- straight into an overzealous physical encounter.

Kim is a propaganda maven. He's gone from global pariah to a regional jet-setter, meeting with heads of state and smiling for the cameras. As part of his PR charm offensive, it would benefit Kim to be seen embracing you. In his meeting with President Moon Jae-in of South Korea, the two leaders embraced. A hug -- rather than a hello or a handshake -- would literally and figuratively position you as embracing a dictator who, for starters, may or may not be considering restarting missile launches aimed at the United States.

Kim Jong Un has been accused of a long list of horrific crimes, including torturing and starving people; he is a gross human rights abuser (an issue you said you would raise with him) and has been accused of other illegal activities like shipping products for chemical weapons to Syria.

So, if you go too fast too soon with him, your body language could indicate you are condoning this behavior.

Particularly if there is positive momentum during the summit on our goals, including complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization, we assess that Kim will initiate a public display of affection in front of the cameras because it would be such a propaganda win for him. Another one of your predecessors, President Clinton, instructed his team not to smile when they went to North Korea to free two American journalists, because of the regime's ongoing illegal activity and brutal behavior.

Body language will be important.

Size doesn't matter: Bigger isn't always better

Kim has likely been tracking your references to size -- the size of the crowd at your inauguration, the size of the audience viewing the State of the Union, the size of the crowd at political rallies and more. He has probably picked up on your use of superlatives to describe your own work and may reach into his bag of tricks to make grand gestures much like the oversized letter he sent you a few weeks ago.

Kim may think this will distract you from what actually does matter: the micro details of what he is or is not prepared to do on denuclearization.

Psyops: Flattery shouldn't get Kim everywhere

Based on your Twitter feed and public commentary, Kim is also aware of your personal comparisons with your predecessors, including your statements criticizing past presidents' inability to make progress with North Korea or with countries like Russia.

Knowledge of this may lead Kim to make this all about you. In its official response to your previous summit cancellation, the regime referenced the "Trump formula," likely as part of an intelligence operation -- using psychology to distract you by stroking your ego.

We have seen other leaders do this in the past, including President Vladimir Putin, who we assess purposefully spoke about the strength of the economy under your administration during a press conference to distract and disincentivize you from taking steps to punish Russia for its election interference.

Flattering you and the historic nature of what you have been able to achieve with him is probably going to be a Kim special, so be on guard. Particularly after your public rift with Trudeau and other G-7 countries, Kim may try to rub salt in that wound by giving you compliments to juxtapose the tension with your G-7 allies.

Deep states: They aren't a common ground

Kim is a deeply paranoid leader who has ordered the execution of members of his family and inner circle for various reasons, including what he has perceived as threats to his hold on power. He reportedly has recently reshuffled his senior military leadership to bring in men who are reportedly more aligned with his views.

So, he's focused on internal threats to his regime and may think you are worried about internal threats, too, based on your tweets about "witch hunts," "13 Angry Democrats" and more. He may try to use his analysis that you are worried about conspiracies at home to find common ground with you over internal threats.

For background, North Korea has represented an actual threat to the United States. In addition to its nuclear weapons program, we believe it has advanced cybercapabilities and we assess that it will possess one of the greatest cyberthreats to our country this year. Kim may try to offset discussions about actual North Korean threats by mentioning internal divisions in the United States to distract you.

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