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Trump must listen to the North Korea experts, not his gut

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John Brennan served as director of the Central Intelligence Agency from March 2013 to January 2017.

When Kim Jong Un became North Korea’s leader in December 2011, most Western intelligence agencies were uncertain whether the not-yet-27-year-old would be able to consolidate political power and secure the dynastic rule that his father and grandfather had maintained since the country’s official founding in 1948. With limited government experience and negligible involvement in foreign affairs, the young Kim catapulted to power overnight and assumed responsibility for navigating the many domestic, regional and international shoals ahead of him. One of the most challenging was bringing to fruition Pyongyang’s decades-long march to develop and deploy a nuclear weapons capability.

After seven years in power, Kim has put to rest any doubt about his ability to rule North Korea with an iron hand. He has developed his own cult of personality, instilling both abject fear and strong fealty among impoverished North Korean masses and within North Korea’s military and security establishment. After ruthlessly eliminating real and perceived pretenders to the throne, as well as senior officials with suspect loyalty, Kim is now fully in command and exercises as much political power as his predecessors, if not more. Moreover, he evinces a confidence and sophistication well beyond his 35 years, which has further strengthened his domestic position.

His real mastery, however, has been his adroit handling and manipulation of the international stage upon which he struts and others fret. Like his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, and his father, Kim Jong Il, the young Kim assumed his leadership perch consumed with the need to deter a U.S.-led effort, military or otherwise, to unify the Korean Peninsula under South Korean domination. With sizable and increasingly capable U.S. and South Korean forces only a short hop across the tense border — the result of an armistice-suspended war that killed more than 1 million North Koreans — the quest to acquire a nuclear deterrent became more ingrained in the DNA of each successive Kim.

In the last two years of the Obama administration, Kim appeared bent on increasing the pace of his nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Despite international isolation, stiff economic sanctions and increased pressure from China, Kim was determined to achieve the technical capability to launch a nuclear warhead atop a ballistic missile that could reach the United States. With it, he believed he could deter any U.S. effort to topple his regime and reunify the Korean Peninsula.

The change of U.S. administrations in January 2017 provided Kim the opportunity to complement this rather aggressive program with a........

© Washington Post