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The Briefing: A murderous 'supreme leader'

WASHINGTON – That hair. That botch-job combination of a pompadour and a fade, like none other in the world.

And that wardrobe, straight from the Chairman Mao plus-size collection.

And that pumpkin face of his, with that crazy grin.

No doubt about it: Kim Jong Un looks like a joke.

But North Korea's "supreme leader" is no joke. He's a murderer.

And it's important for Americans to remember that fact now that President Trump has canceled his planned summit with Kim.

Before we start expecting any such high-level diplomacy between the United States and North Korea, before we start expecting Kim to get rid of his nuclear weapons program, let's take a look back at Kim Jong Un's greatest hits:

  • The latest genuine count – which is a bit dated – shows that Kim ordered the execution of 340 people between taking power in 2011 and late 2016. The report, from a South Korean think tank called the Institute for National Security Studies, says 140 of them were leaders in either the North Korean government, military or Kim's party. Kim got them killed for a variety of reasons, and in a variety of ways. Several were killed for disloyalty to Kim, often with anti-aircraft guns. A deputy minister of national security, accused of corruption, was tied to a stake and burned alive with a flamethrower. The manager of a turtle farm was shot to death after Kim found some dead baby turtles there.
  • Kim's brazen killings have continued since the issuance of that report, and perhaps the most shocking showed that he's even willing to carry out murders overseas. In early 2017, Kim Jong Nam, the dictator's half-brother, was waiting for a flight at the international airport in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, when two women rushed up to him and smeared cream on his face. That cream turned out to include a nerve agent called VX, which killed the North Korean leader's sibling and potential rival within minutes.
  • People who offend Kim, but not enough to be put to death, get sent to prison camps. A report issued late last year indicated that as many as 130,000 North Koreans are locked up in those camps. Thomas Buergenthal, a Holocaust survivor who serves on the International Court of Justice, argues that the camps alone are reason for Kim to be prosecuted for war crimes. "I believe that the conditions in the [North] Korean prison camps are as terrible, or even worse, than those I saw and experienced in my youth in these Nazi camps and in my long professional career in the human rights field," said Buergenthal, who spent part of his childhood in Auschwitz.
  • Meantime, Kim's regime is so inept that the North Korean people are starving. A March 2017 report from the UN said that 18 million of the nation's 24.9 million people don't get the food they need. Basic health care and sanitation doesn't exist in many parts of the country even as it has developed a nuclear weapons program.
  • Don't forget that just last year, Otto Warmbier, a University of Virginia student, was released after 18 months of captivity in North Korea, where he was arrested for trying to steal a political poster. When he was sent back to the United States, he was in a coma. He died days later. No one in the United States knows exactly what happened to Warmbier in North Korea, but Sen. John McCain, the Arizona Republican who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, summed up what's obvious: “Otto Warmbier, an American citizen, was murdered by the Kim Jong Un regime. In the final year of his life, he lived the nightmare in which the North Korean people have been trapped for 70 years: forced labor, mass starvation, systematic cruelty, torture, and murder."

So that's what Trump is dealing with: a murderous regime. That being the case, it's close to miraculous that the recent diplomatic overtures to North Korea have happened at all, and even more miraculous that the Trump administration recently engineered the release of the last three Americans held captive in North Korea.

Perhaps Trump will manage another a miracle and get Kim to, over time, give up his nuclear weapons program. That would be a gift to the world, well worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize.

But it would likely leave the North Korean people stuck where they've been for the past seven years,: under the thumb of a murderous dictator whose bad haircut seems to get more publicity than his atrocities.

Happening today

President Trump awards the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry to retired Navy Master Chief Special Warfare Operator Britt Slabinski…Secretary of State Mike Pompeo testifies at a Senate Foreign Relations hearing on the president's budget request for the State Department… House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) speaks at the National Catholic Prayer Breakfast…The National Postal Museum hosts a press preview for its new Alexander Hamilton exhibit, featuring the pistols from the July 11, 1804, duel between Hamilton and then-Vice President Aaron Burr that claimed Hamilton's life.

Good reads

The New York Times tells us how special counsel Robert Mueller's probe could end...New York Magazine's Jonathan Chait says Trump's "spygate" theory is completely insane...Meantime, the National Review looks at the interplay between the FBI's 2016 Hillary Clinton investigation and the Trump-Russia probe...The Atlantic says that Trump's real art of the deal is to fold...And Vox looks at House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's 2018 plan.

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