A new perspective on Trump's charm offensive with North Korea

This was excerpted from the September 17 edition of CNN’s Meanwhile in America, the daily email about US politics for global readers. Click here to read past editions and subscribe.

For a moment during the early days of the Trump administration, then-Defense Secretary James Mattis thought the US might be on the threshold of war that could go nuclear.

It’s a revelation that puts President Donald Trump’s 2018 charm offensive with North Korea in a whole new perspective. For a moment during the early days of the Trump administration, then-Defense Secretary James Mattis thought the US might be on the threshold of war For a moment during the early days of the Trump administration, then-Defense Secretary James Mattis thought the US might be on the threshold of war
Bob Woodward’s expose of Trump’s lies to Americans about the coronavirus grabbed the headlines earlier this month. But his new book’s glimpse at the period back when Pyongyang was shooting off missiles is actually more remarkable.
Woodward writes that Mattis slept in his gym clothes so he could spring into action at a second’s notice to order an attempt to down a missile headed towards the US, Japan or South Korea. He had a red light in his bathroom that would flash if the balloon went up while he was showering. And he regularly prayed for guidance alone in Washington’s National Cathedral. “It was a nonstop crucible, personal and hellish. There were no holidays or weekends off, no dead time,” Woodward writes in “Rage,” which appears to draw on lengthy conversations with Mattis.
    The book reveals that top members of the administration appeared to think a disastrous war with nuclear armed-North Korea was perfectly possible. Kim later told Trump that he’d been ready to fight, the President recalled to Woodward. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reportedly told an associate: “We never knew whether it was real … or whether it was a bluff.”
    The account underscores the recklessness of Trump’s gamble when he was taunting “Little Rocket Man” — but may also suggest that his zeal to meet the North Korean despot was about more than a photo-op. Trump now says his friendship with Kim made the world safer. “He’s having a good time. … Nobody’s ever seen him smile. Look. Look at him smiling. He’s happy,” the President told Woodward in 2019 showing off a photo of him with his “very smart” tyrant pal.
    So far though, Trump’s outreach has done nothing to rid North Korea of its nuclear arms and its missile programs have progressed during his term. Whoever sits in the Oval Office next year, Woodward’s alarming discoveries show the unsolved 70-year US-North Korea showdown is as dangerous as ever.

    Floods in Florida

    Flooding in Navarre Beach, Florida.

    While fires rage on America’s West Coast, heavy rain and flooding have struck its Gulf Coast. Above, Navarre Beach, Florida, was underwater on Tuesday. Below, some residents of Pensacola, Florida, had to wade through floodwaters to evacuate the area.


    One of the top US health officials just obliterated Trump’s apparent plans for an ‘October Surprise’ pre-election announcement on a Covid-19 vaccine, whether one is actually ready or not. Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, also dashed the hopes of stir-crazy Americans when he said Wednesday that there likely wouldn’t be enough vaccine to get life back to normal until mid-2021 at the earliest.
    Showing yet again that he values his own political wellbeing over science, Trump called Redfield to take him to the woodshed and then told reporters that the CDC chief had been “confused.” “I think he made a mistake when he said that. It’s just incorrect information,” Trump said. He also said Redfield must have “misunderstood” the question when he told legislators that a mask could better protect from the virus than the jab.

    ! Manipulated media

    In the last two days, Trump has retweeted a post claiming Joe Biden was a pedophile and a doctored video falsely showing the Democratic nominee playing the N.W.A. song “F—k Tha Police” (he was actually playing reggaeton hit and Zumba standby ‘Despacito’).
    Such slander would be shocking from anyone. The President of the United States is typically held to an even higher standard of decorum — but not Trump. Truth headed for hills within hours of the 45th President moving in. From false claims of election fraud to weaponizing the Justice Department to target political foes, he’s shown there’s nothing he won’t do to win reelection.
    Trump’s antics are again throwing a spotlight on the lame efforts of social media companies to help users differentiate between truth and falsehood, as the US election approaches. This time, Twitter affixed a small label reading “! Manipulated Media” to the doctored video that the President tweeted — but let it remain on his feed, which has 68 million followers.
    Twitter has in the past taken similar steps to label and even restrict sharing on other false Trump tweets and material posted by his supporters and campaign. It previously instructed his campaign to delete a video in which he declared children “immune” to Covid-19, which Facebook also removed.
    But overall the Silicon Valley giants remain reluctant to adjudicate on such matters, saying they value free speech — even when it’s false. Which is exactly why they’re a favored conduit for foreign powers — and the US President — to dump misinformation on Americans.

      ‘We love your country’

      “We really appreciate you, we love your country also and thank you very much,” Trump concluded on a call with local Jewish leaders on Wednesday. Though he was speaking with Americans, he was referring to Israel. During the call, he also lamented the lack of support he received from Jewish voters in 2016, warning that “whatever you can do in terms of November 3rd is going to be very important because if we don’t win, Israel is in big trouble.”

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