Wednesday, 12 April 2017
Trump's Invidious Choices
Isn't it a bit early in the Trump tenure for him to be turning his attentions to international matters? Or is he trying to do the opposite of Obama once again? Trump seems to want to define himself by reference to Obama, who famously and ludicrously won the Nobel Peace Prize in his first year in office. Is Trump trying to start a war as a contrast?
The US is sending the Carl Vinson naval task force to the western Pacific as North Korea gears up for various anniversaries in the coming weeks, including the 105th birthday of its eternal president Kim Il Sung. Someone really should tell them that he is dead.
It might also be pointed out that it was Kim Il Sung, the present Fat Leader's grandfather, who was responsible for the Korean War. The North has been furious with America ever since then because they came to the rescue of the invaded southern half of the peninsula and prevented it from falling into the clutches of the supposed communists. When the Chinese got involved the US threatened them with the atom bomb unless they accepted an armistice, the one that has held ever since. Trump, however, seems intent on changing that.
North Korea learnt the lesson of that war and, when their paymasters in the Soviet Union stopped sending them the largesse they needed to survive, they formed the plan to develop their own nuclear game changer. They are intent on holding the world, specifically America, to ransom on pain of armageddon. It's a perfectly rational if megalomaniacal plan.
But it means that America cannot ignore them any longer. Ignoring them, bribing them, funding them, talking to them, blockading them have all not worked along with sanctions. It is a problem that has fallen to Trump to sort out. It is a problem that he is supremely ill qualified to deal with.
He tried last week to persuade China to take the responsibility in much the same way that Britain and America are trying to pressure Russia to take their Syrian allies to task. China has always declined to do more than pay lip service to this for their own mostly cynical reasons. Since Trump was elected there does seem to have been some semblance of method behind the tweeting madness. He is attempting to use his standard modus operandi of putting pressure on to do a deal. Whether this will work in the diplomatic world remains to be seen, although there is not much cause to be optimistic. Not only will the Chinese, Russians and North Koreans have read Trump's ghost written books, but they will be keenly aware of how delicate the balance is and how disastrous have been the president's opening months in power. In short they will know a bluff when they see one.
That is if this is a bluff. We have to assume and indeed hope so. North Korea is a difficult and indeed probably intractable problem that even the Chinese may be unable to resolve. Put pressure on them and they may well make good on their bellicosity. Allow them to keep developing their missiles and nukes and they may well one day use them. Attack them to prevent this happening and, though they will undoubtedly lose, they will do untold damage in the meantime. There is also the possibility that, like in 1950, the Chinese will enter the war.
In short then this is a problem that no amount of keen deal making ability will be able to resolve. And Trump is not the master deal maker of his imagination. He is just a champion bullshitter. And he is now in a world where bullshit is meat and drink to all around him. Trump is and remains out of his depth and the world can see it. Russia can see it and is in the process of calling his bluff. China can see it and is in the process of calling his bluff. North Korea can see it and will not only call his bluff but fire a few missiles into the sea or further afield to prove it. If Trump does anything about their actions then he risks a massive conflagration.
Trump was right to hit Syria last Friday because to do otherwise would have been disastrous. But it hasn't really changed anything unless Trump is prepared to do more, probably substantially more. The same is true in the Korean peninsula. Neither are attractive options. But that is the job he said he was uniquely qualified to do.