There’s no indication that President Donald Trump’s summit with China’s Xi Jinping achieved any breakthrough on North Korea. But why didn’t it? After all, Trump said that China could “fix” the North Korea problem “easily and quickly” and it was just a matter of Xi’s making up his mind to do so.
No less divorced from reality was Trump’s half-hearted pitch on the US trade imbalance with China. The problem, he said, was not the Chinese – whom he complimented on their cleverness in exploiting our stupidity – but on the flaccid policies of prior American administrations. Quite true! But what will he do differently? Not much it seems, except maybe give a big tax cut with no strings attached to fat corporations that are thrilled to keep moving their operations overseas. Global market über alles! And here we all thought Hillary Clinton lost the election . . .
All in all, Trump’s China visit was characterized by putting his “America First!” campaign principles on ice in favor of the globalist agenda of his economic advisers and subordination of trade to the geopolitical concerns of the military Junta that runs his administration for him. Sure, there might some tinkering here and there, like the recent hit against Chinese aluminum foil dumping. But plutocrats worried about a “trade war” with China can sleep easy.
On North Korea – the overwhelming US preoccupation at the Trump-Xi summit – Trump came up empty.
For months observers have fretted over Trump’s oscillating rhetoric from fire and destruction one day to let’s-make-a-deal the next. He’s his own good cop, bad cop act.
In principle there’s nothing wrong with bluster and unpredictability. The art of the deal, you know. Despite the claims of Trump’s detractors, the President’s supposed irresponsibility and impulsiveness aren’t the problem.
Trump’s personal style hasn’t yet resulted in war, and if war comes, that wouldn’t be the reason for it.
Rather the real danger comes from the ostensible experts who set the parameters within which Trump operates, to whom he’s unwisely outsourced his foreign and security policies.
The following articles of faith are baked into the cake:
First, It’s nice that there has evidently been a back channel for direct US talks with North Korea, but from Washington’s perspective there is nowhere for negotiations to go past demands for denuclearization. Any kind of concession to Pyongyang is out of the question, as it would mean “rewarding aggression” and “showing weakness.” There are no evident contours for a deal when only one side is expected to make concessions.
Second, because Washington has defined North Korea’s nukes as ipso facto a vital threat to the US, the minimum acceptable US goal is Pyongyang’s dumping its weapons.. (Regime change would better, since it would also mean denuclearization.) The fact that Pyongyang is unlikely to give up its nukes under any circumstances means there can no deal.
Third, in Washington’s collective mind the crisis is 100 percent the fault of North Korea, zero percent the result of our presence in Korea, of our threats against Pyongyang, or of our actions elsewhere. How can you blame us – we tried diplomacy for 20 years and all it did was lead to a bomb! Any suggestion that Kim Jong-un is responding to threats from George W. Bush’s 2002 Axis of Evil speech or to the disposal of Muammar Qaddafi and Saddam Hussein (who, unlike Kim, were foolish enough not to have WMDs) would be “blaming America!” Taking responsibility for past mistakes is not our forte. The prospect that the US mainland might in a few months be targetable by a nuclear-tipped North Korean ICBM has nothing at all to do with anything the US has said or done.
Fourth, we know China can solve this at will – easily and quickly, as the President said. As former US ambassador to the UN John Bolton says: “That’s why you say to China: ‘we’re gonna see reunification here. Do you want to do it the hard way or the easy way?” This means China can do the job for us, or we’ll do it. The notion that Beijing will not take an action fundamentally inconsistent to China’s national security because of American flattery or threats is almost inconceivable. But if they fail to do as we demand, what comes next will be their fault, not ours.
Fifth, the military option is still very much on the table. The Junta are not strategic thinkers but they are very, very certain of their technique. If worst comes to worse, and they are “forced to act” (from their point of view) they are supremely (and dangerously) confident that good execution can minimize the damage. Preparations for a preemptive strike continue apace. In Seoul Trump touted the prowess of the three US carrier groups off the peninsula. Maybe it’s all just a bluff to get the Chinese to act (as we know they can; see the preceding paragraph). But if worse comes to worst, and it turns out horribly for a lot of people: We had no choice in light of China’s inaction. Does this mean the planners are sitting around scheming to sacrifice Seoul so as not to look weak? No, but they are prepared to risk that outcome because they are boxed in by all the other elements of their approach. Worse, they are sure they call pull it off. After all, look at how well our other recent wars have gone!
Sixth, Trump has made it clear that his instincts are on hold and he’ll be guided by “the professionals.” (Compare Afghanistan, where his “new” same-old non-strategy was dictated by the Junta against what he admits were his own inclinations.) On Korea, the “experts” mainly refers to the Junta but also Nikki Haley (!!!!) and probably John Bolton. (There’s also a possibility that David Petraeus, the genius advocate of arming al-Qaeda in Syria, has a thumb in the pie as well.) Plus, keep in mind that Trump isn’t a neoconservative but he is an Andrew Jackson, or perhaps Teddy Roosevelt, nationalist. “Do not underestimate us,” Trump warned Kim. “And do not try us.” When the “experts” tell him that North Korea is “trying” us, what else can he do but act? After all, in April the “experts” told him that al-Assad gassed children in Syria – and boom! – he launched cruise missiles to the applause of both the Swamp critters and much of his populist base that has no idea where Syria is.
Seventh – and here’s the fun part – if it does all turn into a huge disaster involving hundreds of thousands of deaths, who will take the fall? Not McMaster or Haley. No, it will all be blamed on Trump and the “America First!” path he failed to follow. The establishment on both sides of the aisle, including many who prodded him toward a more aggressive policy, will rush to denounce him: See, we told you he’s nuts! The professionals gave him good advice but he messed everything up! In that case, they wouldn’t have to wait for impeachment, the 25th Amendment would be invoked. Talk about a “win-win” for the Deep State warmongers: getting rid of Kim and Trump!