Kim Jong Il, who died Saturday at the age of 69, was the last leader of a Stalinist state held together by a Stalin-like cult of personality, brutal repression and disposition of rents to supporters. Like Stalin, Kim Jong Il rid the North Korean leadership of any possible independent-thinking rivals. There are no Gorbachevs or Dengs in the wings. But the grooming of his chosen successor, third son Kim Jong Un, remains incomplete, and this throws something of a monkey wrench in succession plans.
Kim Jong Il leaves behind a failed economy and a starving people. He built a regime that could survive the grossest of economic failures by means of a blustering and threatening foreign policy, an oversized military that sucked up huge resources, strategic payments to key supporters in the party and military from arms and drug sales, and absolute repression of his people.
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