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

Mattis listens to Trump speak during a luncheon with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania on April 3, 2018 at The White House in Washington, DC.

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.

(CNN)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.
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.

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