Harry Kazianis: North Korea and Trump – Here’s what Bob Woodward doesn’t get about president’s strategy

Harry Kazianis North Korea and Trump – Here's what Bob Woodward doesn't get about president’s strategy

It seems that despite what Woodward thinks, Donald Trump may have found the key to unlocking a potential path to peace

“We were very close” to war. That’s what North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un apparently said to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo when they first met in Pyongyang back in 2017.

That, and a host of many other insider accounts, personifies the magic that is a Bob Woodward book.

It is the ability to take the reader into the halls of power, to make them feel that they are literally in the Oval Office with the president, listening to him weigh decisions that will shape the globe for decades to come.

The power of Woodward’s prose, the scope of his connections, the countless VIP interviews, are all supposed to undergird his credibility and to reassure the reader that what Woodward is doing is presenting an honest accounting of the raw facts.


The reader is meant to believe that as a journalist, he is not injecting his own opinions into the narrative and that his reporting speaks for itself, with the author allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions.

And yet, when it comes to a big part of Woodward’s narrative this time around his latest book “Fear,” Woodward clearly makes the leap from reporter to NeverTrump opinion author, which was made clear Sunday night on CBS’s “60 Minutes.”

Perhaps the best example of this is his attempt to paint a picture of President Donald Trump when it comes to his dealing with North Korea as if he is in over his head, attempting to prove to the reader that Trump clearly does not understand how national security strategy is crafted, maybe even coming close to sparking a war with Pyongyang.

In fact, Woodward offers at the very end of the book that, “[W]hen his performance as president is taken in its entirety, I can only reach one conclusion: Trump is the wrong man for the job.”


I can’t say I agree with that assessment entirely. Only history and the passage of time can really render the proper judgment.

However, one thing seems clear: Trump’s style of threatening tweets, maximum pressure and shift to diplomacy, as North Korean leader Kim Jong-un signaled a willingness to talk, was surely different than any other previous U.S. approach to North Korea.

I didn’t always agree, and at times was at a loss for words, but I do feel that overall, Trump’s shaking up of the status-quo on this topic has been a net positive.

Here is where the results matter as opposed to opinion. Do you see North Korea testing missiles that can hit the U.S. or detonating hydrogen bombs? Does a war in the Korean Peninsula seem anywhere in our future, at least for the moment? No, and I think Trump deserves much of the credit for that.


There is, however, I feel something else Woodward misses, and, in fact, I think something we are all forgetting.

Much is being made of Trump and Kim’s pen pal-style of diplomacy, or the exchange of countless letters, three different meetings and various diplomatic exchanges on a leader to leader level that breaks all types of previous norms of international diplomacy.

Woodward, in his book and in follow on analysis by pundits around the globe, point this out in a pejorative fashion, as if Trump was played by Kim, somehow legitimizing the North Korean dictator in a way the makes him seem more human—and not the leader of a regime that has perhaps the worst human rights record on the planet today.

I also worried about this in leading up to the first Trump-Kim summit in Singapore.

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