What Do You Call a Successful Terrorist? Your Excellency!

June 10, 2018
President Vladimir Putin (L) and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Photos by Sky News

President Donald Trump met with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in Singapore this evening. The US decided in advance not to raise the issue of North Korea’s abysmal human rights situation, including its brutal labor camp system.

What Do You Call a Successful Terrorist? Your Excellency!

US President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in Singapore on June 11, 2018. Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

Staunton, June 10 – It has long been a witticism among specialists on international relations that terrorists who succeed are no longer called terrorists either because by their actions, they have become the heads of governments or because they were already that when they carried out their actions.

That observation, of course, traces it origins to the Elizabethan writer John Harington who famously observed “Treason doth neuer prosper? What’s the Reason? For it if prosper none dare call it treason,” the source among other things of the title of John A. Stormer’s 1964 book about the Moscow-orchestrated communist conspiracy in the United States.

It is worth recalling this insight because two “successful” terrorists appear to be on their way to acceptability by at least some in the West and to be rechristened “statesmen” deserving the respect accorded to others, with their crimes entirely forgotten or at least cast into a memory hole in the name of improved relations.

These two are North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un and Russia’s Vladimir Putin. Kim who presides over one of the most brutal and murderous dictatorships in the world has carried out terrorist acts against his enemies abroad and threatened the world with a nuclear holocaust only a few months ago.

But now, because he is going to be meeting with US President Donald Trump, he is being recast by all too many as a statesman, his crimes are being ignored, and in the rush to achieve some breakthrough, all too many are forgetting that he hasn’t changed his stripes and is unlikely to become the regular world leader some in the West want to suggest he now is.

Putin is much the same. He too has brutalized his own population, orchestrated terrorist acts from the blowing up of the Russian apartment blocks in 1999 to the downing of the Polish plane and of the Malaysian airliner more recently. He has conducted a brutal war in Chechnya, he has invaded Georgia and Ukraine, and he has violated international law in many ways.

And the list of his crimes goes on, including seeking to undermine democracy in Western Europe and the United States, ignoring decisions of the European Court of Human Rights on his violation of the rights of Russian citizens, and boldly assuming that he doesn’t have to apologize for anything he has done.

The Kremlin leader who like Kim clearly believes that having a nuclear arsenal means never having to say you’re sorry simply denies the obvious and counts on Western leaders so anxious to gain access to Russian oil and gas or to boost their own ratings by making deals with him that they will overlook all of this.

And as he said June 10 in Beijing, the West must get over its artificial Russophobia and bring Moscow back into the club of normal world powers. And Putin like Kim counts on the passing of time to work for him, given the short time horizons of all too many Western leaders.

Both Putin and Kim know that they can count on many in the West to denounce and dismiss those in who recall their crimes as foolishly focusing on the past when there are so many possibilities for progress and deals, the holy grails of so many leaders who unlike Putin and Kim are beholden to populations who don’t focus often on international affairs unless there is a war.

Tragically, both these successful terrorists not only are winning this round, but they are exploiting the desire of some Western leaders to make deals no matter what they have done setting the stage for even worse to follow. When such leaders made concessions to Hitler or to the Soviets, they were called appeasers or fellow travelers.

Now, however, in this post-truth and post-ideological world, Harington’s observation seems more relevant than ever before.