TIME

Commander in chaos

EARLY IN HIS PRESIDENCY, IN MID-APRIL 2017, DONALD TRUMP AND his top national-security officials gathered in the Oval Office for a briefing on North Korea. Trump sat behind his massive Resolute desk as officials crowded in around him. The briefing consisted largely of highly classified images of North Korea’s nuclear facilities and military sites. The briefers knew Trump was more a visual learner than a briefing-book kind of guy, so the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency had made a three-dimensional model of a secret North Korean facility that they brought to the Oval Office.

Trump was also shown a well-known satellite image of North Korea at night. On North Korea’s northern border was China awash in pinpricks of light, while to the south was South Korea also all lit up at night. Between China and South Korea was an almost entirely dark North Korea with only a tiny, faint light emanating from its capital, Pyongyang. The image eloquently told the story of the almost total failure of the North Korean economy.

Trump focused on the image of South Korea and its capital, Seoul. The distance from the North Korean border to Seoul was only 15 miles.

Trump remarked, “Why is Seoul so close to the North Korean border?”

The President had been regularly briefed that North Korea possessed vast artillery batteries

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