How ‘Dilbert’ Creator Scott Adams Got the Trump-North Korea Story Right

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Give Dilbert cartoonist Scott Adams the Nobel Peace Prize.

Or at least the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.

He deserves them, for understanding and explaining all along what’s been going on with President Donald Trump and North Korea, in a way that the coastal establishment elites missed because of their blinding contempt for Trump.

For those who haven’t been following the political commentary of Adams, it’s worth going back and reading.

In an April 12, 2017 blog post headlined “The North Korea Reframe,” Adams wrote about how Trump had reframed North Korea as a challenge to China.

“President Trump has said clearly and repeatedly that if China doesn’t fix the problem in its own backyard, the USA will step in to do what China couldn’t get done,” Adams wrote. “See the power in that framing? China doesn’t want a weak ‘brand.’ … His reframing on North Korea is pitch-perfect. We’ve never seen anything like this.”

Adams followed up with an April 17, 2017 post headlined “How To Structure a Deal With North Korea.” He suggests giving North Korea “a story to save face.” He went on, “In persuasion language, you need to give North Korea a ‘fake because.’ They probably already want peace, but they don’t have a good public excuse for why they would cave to pressure and settle for it. Giving them something that has little value but can be exaggerated to seem like it has great value becomes the ‘fake because’.”

In a July 5, 2017 post, “Solving the North Korea Situation,” Adams wrote about the possibility of shifting from a win-lose framework on such a deal to a win-win framework, including a “100-year deal” leading to reunification.

In a July 31, 2017 post, headlined “People Keep Telling Me To Stop Blogging About North Korea,” Adams wrote, “My critics have been extra vocal lately in saying I should stop writing about North Korea because I have no expertise in that area. So I decided to talk about North Korea some more.”

In a September 5, 2017, post, Adams wrote, “in Kim Jong Un I suspect we have a negotiating partner who understands all dimensions. … we are also closer than we have ever been to a permanent solution.”

And in a January 3, 2018 post Adams rebutted critics who called President Trump’s tweet about having a bigger nuclear button than North Korea “crazy.”

Adams wrote, “what is missed in the hysterics over wording is that President Trump and Kim Jung Un are negotiating personally, albeit in public. And I think it is safe to say both players know they are being over-the-top with their trash-talk. The odds of a nuclear miscalculation based on anything said so far is effectively zero.”

He went on, “while it might look to many observers as two crazy leaders heading for a nuclear showdown, to me it looks like two colorful characters who probably have a weird kind of respect for each other.” 

A January 17, 2018 Adams wrote in a post headlined “How North Korea Can Become Switzerland of the East” noted, “Kim Jong Un went to school in Switzerland. He knows it as a country that gets just about everything right and does it without a traditional army.”

Adams hasn’t posted about North Korea on his blog, at least so far as I can tell, since President Trump earlier this month accepted a North Korean offer of direct talks. But if Adams does write something, an accurate headline might be, “I Told You So.”

The Trump-North Korea talks could end inconclusively, or even dangerously, so the story isn’t over yet. But on the basis of what’s happened so far, it sure looks like Adams was correct. Trump’s tactics, rather than leading to war, have brought the North Koreans to the bargaining table.

Compare Adams’s take to elite opinion. As recently as February 1, in an editorial headlined “Playing With Fire and Fury on North Korea,” the New York Times editorial board said, “It’s hard to come away from the State of the Union address without a heightened sense of foreboding about President Trump’s intentions toward North Korea. The signs increasingly point to unilateral American military action. … Mr. Trump seemed to be building a case for war on emotional grounds … such words were in line with his history of bellicosity toward North Korea … Last year he threatened to answer North Korean provocations with fire and fury ‘the likes of which this world has never seen before.’ … Mr. Trump’s preoccupation with military action and refusal to seriously pursue a diplomatic overture to North Korea are foolhardy.”

If anyone’s “foolhardy” here, it’s not Trump, but the Times editorial writers, who apparently hate Trump so much that they couldn’t see the truth of what Scott Adams had been writing for nearly a year. Part of the point of journalism is to explain to readers what’s really happening rather than stoking false, anxiety-provoking (if click-generating) fears or “foreboding.” By that standard, on the evidence so far, Adams has done a far better job on the North Korea story than the Times has.

Whatever power the Nobel and Pulitzer committees have, individual readers have a power, too. That is to treat “elite” commentary with the skepticism it deserves, and to keep an eye out for outside-the-box thinkers such as Adams. If the fears about war with North Korea were unwarranted, maybe the fears about a Trump-tariff-provoked trade war are also phony, and there, too, presidential rhetoric and actions are being used in a fashion more calculated than reckless. At least it’s worth keeping an open mind about the possibility.


Ira Stoll is editor of and author of JFK, Conservative.