PARIS -- U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un have quite the interesting relationship.
Trump and Kim are meeting face to face for a second time this week in Hanoi, Vietnam, after holding a June 2018 summit in Singapore. Following their first encounter, Trump told the audience at a rally that he and Kim "fell in love." Not long before, the two leaders had publicly threatened each other with nuclear destruction.
In his 2018 New Year's speech, Kim pointed out that the nuclear launch button is "always on my desk."
Trump responded via Twitter: "Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!"
Does anyone really think that the leader of the free world would be meeting with the head of the Hermit Kingdom if North Korea's threats about its nuclear "button" weren't credible? That button is arguably the reason that some foreign leaders end up getting regime-changed while others get audiences -- or, in this case, love letter exchanges -- with the U.S. president.
Trump's treatment of Kim stands in stark contrast with his administration's treatment of another world leader it doesn't particularly appreciate: Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.
If Maduro had nukes, it's unlikely that he'd be subjected to the sort of regime-change attempt that's currently underway in Venezuela. Opposition leader Juan Guaido has declared himself the interim president, without any constitutional authority, and is being recognized by the U.S. as such. Trump's national security adviser, John Bolton, has openly encouraged regime change with a series of tweets. "It is time for the Venezuelan military high command to stand alongside its people, not with Maduro's Cuban patrons," Bolton wrote on Feb. 12.
With a nuclear arsenal, all Maduro would have to do is tweet about his own button, and suddenly there would be summits, photo ops and whispers about the possibility of a shared Nobel Peace Prize with Trump. Instead, Maduro is fighting for his country's sovereignty (and his own behind) against external actors who have grown tired of waiting for him and his socialist policies to fail on their own merit.
If the difference between America's treatment of nuclear regimes and its treatment of non-nuclear regimes wasn't evident enough, Bolton made it even more clear by referencing a leader who was untouchable for decades -- until he gave up his nuclear program and was subsequently regime-changed.
Last year on CBS's "Face the Nation," Bolton said the administration was "looking at the Libyan model [of nuclear disarmament] of 2003-2004" for North Korea. Shortly after the U.S. invasion of Iraq in March 2003, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi agreed to the dismantling of his country's nuclear and chemical weapons programs. Gaddafi, who had been in power since 1969, was murdered in 2011 amid a Western-backed coup that has left Libya in chaos ever since.
Eventual regime change is what Kim risks if he gives up his nuclear arsenal. Just ask Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, a vocal supporter of Western-backed regime change in Venezuela, who recently tweeted out a photo of a beaten and bloodied Gaddafi shortly before his murder.
Nukes are the only real leverage that some countries have, and the U.S. keeps reinforcing this point. What's troubling is that America's treatment of non-nuclear countries such as Venezuela encourages nuclear proliferation, since nukes provide an insurance policy against foreign meddling.
It's the epitome of hypocrisy for the Trump administration to advocate the denuclearization of any country when members of the administration were reportedly eager to export nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia.
According to a congressional report, former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and other White House officials promoted a project to build nuclear power plants in Saudi Arabia despite the objections of lawyers who warned that the plan could violate laws meant to stop nuclear proliferation. The report was based on information provided to the House Oversight Committee by whistleblowers, and House Democrats are launching an investigation into the matter.
Flynn was fired in 2017 and is currently awaiting sentencing for lying to the FBI in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.
Why is the Trump administration insisting on the nuclear disarmament of North Korea while reportedly considering a nuclear deal with a state sponsor of terrorism responsible for killing journalist and U.S. citizen Jamal Khashoggi inside a Turkish consulate last year?
Playing political football with nuclear footballs seems not too smart, to say the least.