Trump’s Unconventional Foreign Policy–An Asset?


April 2, 2015

Trump’s Unconventional Foreign Policy–An Asset?

By Dr.Fareed Zakaria
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America has built up its credibility and political capital over the past century. The Trump administration is raiding that trust fund for short-term political advantage, in ways that will permanently deplete it.–Fareed Zakaria

 

By way of explanation for some of President Trump’s bizarre foreign policy moves, we are often told that he is “unconventional” and that this could well be an asset. It’s certainly true that he doesn’t follow standard operating procedure on almost anything, from getting daily intelligence briefings to staffing the State Department. But his most striking departure from previous Presidents has been in his rhetoric. American Presidents have tended to weigh their words carefully, believing that they must preserve the credibility of the world’s leading power.

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And then there is Trump, for whom words are weightless. During the campaign, he excoriated Saudi Arabia as a country that “want[s] women as slaves and to kill gays,” only to make his first presidential trip abroad to the kingdom and warmly embrace its rulers. He said NATO was obsolete and then affirmed the opposite. China was a currency manipulator that was “raping” the United States, until it wasn’t.

The loose rhetoric and idle threats have often backfired. After Trump was elected, he threatened China by musing about recognizing Taiwan. The Chinese government called his bluff and froze relations with Washington. Trump had to call President Xi Jinping and eat his words.

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But there are situations in which such “flexibility” might work. On North Korea, Trump threatened to rain “fire and fury” on the country, only to now welcome a meeting with its leader. Trump’s supporters say that this kind of maneuvering could well produce a deal that has eluded more conventional approaches to the problem.

We should all hope that it will. But so far, it’s worth noting that the circus-like atmosphere of Trump’s alternating threats and embraces has obscured a key point: It’s Trump, not Kim Jong Un, who made the concession. The U.S. position has long been that until North Korea took some concrete steps toward denuclearization, there would be no presidential talks. Until recently, the Trump administration itself insisted that it would not reward the nuclear buildup with negotiations.

There is a good argument for being flexible on this procedural issue. But we should be aware that Kim seems to be executing a smart strategy brilliantly. He embarked on a fast-track buildup, creating a genuine nuclear arsenal with missiles that can deliver weapons around the world, risking tensions and even his relations with China. With the arsenal built, he is now mending relations with China, reaching out to South Korea and offering to negotiate with Washington.

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Little Rocket Man–Hell and Fury for you, Dude

Trump’s skill here might well be his willingness to totally abandon a past position and endorse a new one. The United States will have to accept something less than its long-declared goal — complete denuclearization — and maybe Trump will be able to find a way to sell it.

There is, however, a different kind of tough talk that is more worrying. The administration pushes hard on an issue — trade with South Korea, for example — and then announces a deal, claiming to have won significant concessions. In fact, these have been mostly symbolic concessions made by allies to allow the administration to save face. South Korea agreed to raise the number of cars that each American auto manufacturer can sell in the country from 25,000 to 50,000. It’s an easy concession to make. No U.S. company sold more than 11,000 cars there last year.

The United States remains a superpower. Its allies search for ways to accommodate it. The Trump administration can keep making outlandish demands, and it will obtain some concessions because no one wants an open breach with the United States. If Trump says the Europeans have to come up with some changes to the Iran deal, they will try to find a way to do so, because they don’t want to see the deal collapse and the West fall into disarray.

This is not a sign of power but rather the abuse of it. When the George W. Bush administration forced a series of countries to support the Iraq War, this did not signal American strength — it actually sapped that strength. This is a style that goes beyond the Presidency. In recent years, the United States has grown accustomed to all kinds of special treatment. For example, New York state has used the power of the dollar as the world’s reserve currency to force foreign banks to pay fines and make settlements. It works, but it creates enormous resentment and leads countries such as China to search for ways to work outside the system because they think the existing one grants too much license to the United States.

America has built up its credibility and political capital over the past century. The Trump administration is raiding that trust fund for short-term political advantage, in ways that will permanently deplete it.

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

 

The Walrus in The Trump White House


March 27, 2018

Hawks are  closing in on The White House

by Robin Wright@www.newyorker.com

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Hawks are closing in on the White House. John Bolton, arguably the most abrasive American diplomat of the twenty-first century, will soon assume the top foreign-policy job at the National Security Council. As is his wont, President Trump announced yet another shakeup of his inner circle in a tweet late on Thursday. He dismissed General H. R. McMaster, who couldn’t survive a testy relationship with the impatient President despite his battle-hardened career and three stars on his epaulets. Trump tapped Bolton to take over. A former U.N. Ambassador currently best known as a Fox News pundit, Bolton has advocated far harder positions than Trump, including bombing campaigns, wars, and regime change. The late-day news flash sent chills across Washington, even among some Republicans.

With Mike Pompeo, the C.I.A. director, due to take over from the ousted Rex Tillerson at the State Department, the team deciding American actions across the globe will now be weighted by hard-liners and war advocates. Defense Secretary James Mattis, a retired marine general, is the most pragmatic policymaker left. What an irony. (And how long will Mattis stay? He was photographed having dinner with Tillerson on Tuesday.)

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The Walrus in The White House–Yale-educated John Bolton

Bolton, a Yale-educated lawyer whose trademark is a white walrus mustache, championed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, which produced chaos followed by waves of extremist violence in the region. He also advocated international intervention to oust Syria’s Bashar al-Assad. He has repeatedly urged military action in Iran and North Korea, which he has called “two sides of the same coin.”

In an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, written two months ago, Bolton condemned the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran as a “massive strategic blunder”—then went further. American policy, he wrote, “should be ending Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution before its fortieth anniversary,” next February. “Recognizing a new Iranian regime in 2019 would reverse the shame of once seeing our diplomats held hostage for four hundred and forty-four days. The former hostages can cut the ribbon to open the new U.S. Embassy in Tehran.”

Shortly before the Iran deal—brokered by the world’s six major powers—Bolton wrote a piece in the Times entitled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” In it, he predicted, “Iran will not negotiate away its nuclear program. Nor will sanctions block its building a broad and deep weapons infrastructure. The inconvenient truth is that only military action like Israel’s 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor, designed and built by North Korea, can accomplish what is required. Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.” Three months later, Iran accepted the nuclear deal, the most significant nonproliferation treaty in more than a quarter century. The deal was endorsed unanimously in a U.N. resolution. Trump has vowed that he will withdraw from the deal without fixes by mid-May, a move that Bolton clearly supports.

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Bolton has also long backed a cultlike Iranian opposition group, the Mujahideen-e Khalq, or M.E.K., which has been held responsible for the murder of multiple American military personnel, the attempted kidnapping of a U.S. Ambassador, and other violent attacks in Iran before the 1979 revolution. The M.E.K. was based in Iraq during the regime of Saddam Hussein, who provided arms, financial assistance, and political support. In 1997, it was among the first groups cited on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations. It wasn’t removed until 2012. Bolton spoke at an M.E.K. rally last year—for the eighth time—in Paris. Other speakers at M.E.K. rallies have reportedly been paid tens of thousands of dollars for their appearances.

Bolton’s policy recommendations on North Korea are also militant, and they break with the man who just hired him. Earlier this month, Trump pledged to meet Kim Jong Un by May. “Talking to North Korea is worse than a mere waste of time,” Bolton wrote in The Hill, in August. “Negotiations legitimize the dictatorship, affording it more time to enhance its nuclear and ballistic-missile capabilities. Today, only one diplomatic option remains, and it does not involve talking to Pyongyang. Instead, President Trump should urge President Xi Jinping that reunifying the Korean Peninsula is in China’s national interest.”

The answer to China’s fear of an uncontrolled collapse, Bolton wrote, “is a jointly managed effort to dismantle North Korea’s government, effectively allowing the swift takeover of the North by the South.” Not even the South Korean President, Moon Jae-in, supports that idea; he has been trying to broker a rapprochement with the North.

The deepest disagreement between Bolton and Trump may be over Russia—especially its President, Vladimir Putin. In an op-ed last July, Bolton wrote that undermining the U.S. Constitution “is far more than just a quotidian covert operation. It is in fact a casus belli, a true act of war, and one Washington will never tolerate.” He charged that Trump had been duped by Putin in their meeting on the sidelines of the G-20 summit last summer.

Bolton has worked for three Republican Presidents—Reagan and both Bushes. He gained his reputation as a feisty hawk after George W. Bush appointed him to be Under-Secretary of State for Arms Control and International Security. By 2005, he was so controversial that his nomination to be U.N. Ambassador failed to win Senate approval, and Bush appointed him as a “recess appointment” when Congress was not in session.

The United Nations was an odd fit. In 1994, Bolton said, “There is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that’s the United States, when it suits our interests and when we can get others to go along.” He later said about the world body, “The Secretariat Building in New York has thirty-eight stories. If you lost ten stories today, it wouldn’t make a bit of difference.”

When I covered the George W. Bush Administration, I often heard grumbling about Bolton being irascible and argumentative. He had deep disagreements with both Secretaries of State, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. He ultimately had a falling out with President Bush, who lamented his support for Bolton. “Let me just say from the outset that I don’t consider Bolton credible,” he said, according to an account in the Times, in 2008. The same year, Bolton countered in the Wall Street Journal, “Nothing can erase the ineffable sadness of an American presidency, like this one, in total intellectual collapse.”

After Bolton’s appointment, on Thursday, I spoke to John B. Bellinger III, the former legal adviser to the N.S.C. and the State Department, who worked with Bolton for two years. “John may be the only senior person in the White House with significant diplomatic experience, both bilateral and multilateral,” Bellinger said. “He has negotiated with most of the governments in the world, which is helpful, given that Trump has not. John tends to annoy and frustrate and try to steamroll other countries. But at least he’s not ignorant of diplomatic relationships.”

Bolton negotiated strong U.N. resolutions on North Korea, Bellinger told me. “He also famously repudiated the U.S. signature to the Rome Statute on the International Criminal Court. He’s not a fan of international law or international institutions, which he may think can challenge U.S. sovereignty.” Bellinger was more sanguine about how stubborn Bolton will be at the National Security Council. “We’ll have to hope that some of the aggressive actions John suggested when he was not in government—and more of a provocateur—may look a lot different to him when he’s responsible for the actions or advising the President on final decisions and he has other Cabinet secretaries telling him what the consequences will be.”

Although Bolton has experience in the White House Situation Room, navigating the interagency process may be challenging when he is surrounded by the many people with strong views in this Administration, Bellinger said. “John does not suffer fools gladly. He may have a challenging time as national-security adviser with a President who is not interested in facts or history.”

The Bolton nomination provoked strong reactions in Washington. On the Hill, the Democratic Senator Edward Markey, of Massachusetts, tweeted, “With the appointments of Mike Pompeo and John Bolton, @realDonaldTrump is successfully lining up his war cabinet. Bolton played a key role in politicizing the intel that misled us into the Iraq War. We cannot let this extreme war hawk blunder us into another terrible conflict.”

Jon Soltz, an Iraq War veteran and chairperson of VoteVets, the largest progressive veterans group, called Bolton’s appointment “downright frightening.” In a statement, he said, “A man who was key in sending me and thousands and thousands of my fellow troops to Iraq is now the National Security Adviser to Donald Trump. Let there be no mistake—there is no war for regime change, anywhere, that John Bolton wasn’t for. He sees troops not as human beings, with families, but as expendable resources, in his real-life game of Risk. We are undoubtedly closer to a war in Korea, now, and a war with Iran.”

Soltz added, “To the Trump voters out there we say: You were suckered. You were lied to, and now our troops are going to have to pay the price, for that.”

 

US Foreign Policy:After Rex Tillerson, will Mike Pompeo fare any better?


March 27, 2018

US Foreign Policy:After Rex Tillerson, will Mike Pompeo fare any better?

by Ana Palacio

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/mike-pompeo-trump-foreign-policy-by-ana-palacio-2018-03

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After more than a year of struggling to engage constructively with US President Donald Trump’s administration, the world should start thinking realistically, instead of hopefully. Mike Pompeo’s takeover as Secretary of State could provide an ideal opportunity to do just that.

 

MADRID – Rex Tillerson’s tenure as US Secretary of State was one of the shortest, most turbulent, and most ineffectual in the history of that illustrious post. Not only did he gut the State Department; he was also out of the loop in President Donald Trump’s administration. Will his replacement – outgoing CIA Director Mike Pompeo, an “America First” true believer who has Trump’s ear – fare any better?

Tillerson’s departure comes at a time when Trump seems to be seeking to separate himself from a national security team that has often acted as check on the President’s worst instincts, at times even ignoring his more impulsive declarations. That effort is exemplified by the recent appointment of firebrand John Bolton to replace the embattled H.R. McMaster as National Security Adviser.

This new phase carries significant risks; the selection of Bolton, in particular, has raised fears that the US may be headed for a destabilizing conflict. But it may also amount to an opportunity for a kind of reset: with a secretary of state who is unlikely to say what the international community wants to hear, a more open and candid dialogue might be possible, opening the way for realistic, mutually beneficial action.

This does not mean that the international community – or, more specifically, America’s allies in Europe – should expect the Trump administration suddenly to act more like previous US administrations, say, by reversing its efforts to undermine free trade. On the contrary, paeans to the rules-based international order or the transatlantic community will continue to get us nowhere.

But there are three areas where a Trump-approved transactional approach can produce agreement that serves US interests, while stabilizing the broader international community. The first relates to Russia – not questions about its role in the 2016 US presidential election, but rather efforts to rein in Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy.

Since at least 2008, Putin has relished playing the role of international spoiler. But, in recent months, an emboldened Russia has taken its destabilization tactics to a new level, exemplified by Russian mercenaries’ direct attacks against American forces in Syria, Putin’s rollout of nuclear-powered cruise missiles, and the attempted murder of a former Russian spy in the United Kingdom. The Trump administration has also accused Russia of mounting cyber attacks that would have enabled it to sabotage American and European nuclear power plants and water and electric systems at will.

Russia may be too weak to offer real global leadership, but it remains influential enough to do serious damage. Impelling it to play a more positive and responsible international role is thus in everyone’s interest. Now is the time for Trump to make good on his campaign promise to build a more constructive relationship with Russia.

It is already clear that sanctions alone do not work. And kowtowing to Putin or tiptoeing around his transgressions seems only to embolden him. What is needed is a more precise mix of carrots and sticks. Tillerson failed to strike the right balance, but perhaps Pompeo, with his direct line to the White House, can do better.

The second area where progress can be made is nuclear non-proliferation. Here, the main focus will be North Korea. Trump and Kim Jong-un have already publicly declared their willingness to engage in face-to-face talks, though it is not clear how the situation will develop. In any case, action on North Korea should be just one part of a broader effort to advance non-proliferation, which could help Trump to redefine a presidency that has so far been marked largely by chaos and conflict.

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National Security Adviser–The Walrus in Trump’s White House and Neo-Con

To this end, Trump could carefully apply his “North Korea model” – a combination of saber-rattling and bluster to force a diplomatic initiative – to Iran. On this front, Bolton’s appointment might even help, as it lends added credibility to the threat of the use force, which is required to make such an approach work.

Pompeo shares Trump’s disdain for the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, which he argues does not go nearly far enough to rein in the country’s behavior. But that deal, known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), was never intended to stand alone; rather, it was supposed to be the first step toward addressing Iran’s aggressive behavior in other areas.

Far from dismantling the JCPOA, as Trump has often threatened to do, he and Pompeo should build on it, tying it to additional initiatives that cover Iran’s behavior more generally. Such an effort would attract support from much of the rest of the international community, including America’s European allies, as well as Israel, which views Iran as an existential threat. All major global players would breathe easier knowing that the JCPOA was safe.

Even Russia, which now faces the prospect of an uncomfortable coexistence with Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in Syria, would have plenty of reason to support a comprehensive containment strategy, tied to the JCPOA. For Trump, such a strategy would amount to a significant foreign-policy success, seemingly vindicating his “madman” approach to diplomacy.

Pompeo should also focus his attention on reversing the damage Tillerson did to the State Department. That institution, with its global reach and diplomatic competence, has long acted as a critical lever of American power in the world. Yet, today, it is a shadow of its former self.

During Tillerson’s tenure, the State Department lost four of its five “four-star” or career ambassadors, while failing to fill many key positions, including the assistant secretaries of state for African, Near Eastern, and South and Central Asian affairs. Add to that a weakened mandate and flagging morale, and the department has lately seemed to be fading into irrelevance.

Pompeo can stop the rot, revitalizing the State Department’s role in US foreign policy. This would be good for the Trump administration, which needs support in dealing with international challenges. And it would be good for the rest of the world, which would benefit from the stability and direction the State Department provides (even when we do not agree with US policy).

After more than a year of struggling to engage constructively with the Trump administration, the world should start thinking realistically, instead of hopefully. Pompeo is close enough to Trump that he may have the power to make real changes. We must do everything in our power to ensure that those changes are for the better.

Ana Palacio, a former Spanish foreign minister and former Senior Vice President of the World Bank, is a member of the Spanish Council of State, a visiting lecturer at Georgetown University, and a member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on the United States.

American Foreign Policy after Rexit


March 20, 2018

American Foreign Policy after Rexit

https://www.economist.com/news/leaders/21738879-rex-tillerson-was-poor-secretary-state-what-follows-may-be-worse-american-foreign-policy

Mr, Rex Tillerson was a poor secretary of state. What follows may be worse.

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Mr. Rex Tillerson paid  a heavy price for calling his White House Boss  “Moron”

EVEN by the reality-TV standards of this White House, the manner in which Mr. Rex Tillerson was sacked as Secretary of State was jaw-dropping. President Donald Trump fired him by tweet, saying that he would be replaced by Mr. Mike Pompeo, Director of the CIA. He did not call him until much later, nor did he offer an explanation. Mr. Tillerson’s spokesman said that he had no idea why his boss had been fired. So he was fired, too.

Mr. Tillerson was a poor Secretary of State. Having run ExxonMobil, the tenth-biggest company in the world by revenue, he treated diplomacy like business and his department like a division ripe for restructuring. He seemed to regard his underlings as idle assets and they repaid him with their scorn (see article). So, too, did the President, at least after reports that Mr. Tillerson had called him a “moron”.

Image result for mike pompeo and trumpMr. Mike Pompeo

 

The new man, Mr. Pompeo, has distinguished himself in Mr. Trump’s eyes by talking up a Trumpian, America First view of the world (see Lexington). The result may well be a more co-ordinated policy, with fewer public rifts between the State Department and the White House. But when you look at the two biggest tests facing American foreign policy, the new set-up does not inspire confidence.

The first of these is North Korea. Mr. Trump’s decision to kick-start negotiations by talking directly to Mr. Kim Jong Un is unconventional. A photo-op with the American President is a great prize for Mr. Kim and, rather than holding it out as a reward, Mr. Trump has chosen to give it away cheap. That is not necessarily a bad idea, given that other approaches have failed and that merely talking is a chance for him to reinforce deterrence by setting out his red lines.

 

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The trouble is that, whereas the talks aimed at ridding the Korean Peninsula of nuclear weapons will be delicate, complicated and technical, Mr. Trump is impulsive and self-indulgent—as this week’s sacking of Mr. Tillerson showed. Mastering the specifications of the North’s programme and knowing how to blunt it require deep expertise. Any deal to ensure that the North does not cheat, as it has so often before, will need to be thorough and enduring. America must not enhance its own security at the cost of lower security for its allies in South Korea and Japan. And if the talks should come to nothing, as is likely, both sides will need to be sure that the bad blood does not lead to conflict.

The combination, to put it mildly, sits ill with Mr Trump’s style of government. In a properly run administration, the fiddly stuff could be left to underlings. Yet America has no ambassador to South Korea and no under-secretary for arms control. Even if it did, it is not clear that Mr. Trump would give them the time of day. He shows every sign of thinking that he has the flair to broker a breakthrough all by himself. There is a risk Mr. Pompeo would seek to flatter his boss by agreeing.

By a curious symmetry, the second test of American policy involves a nuclear deal that Mr. Trump seems determined to wreck. In May he is due to decide whether to stick with the agreement that curbs Iran’s nuclear programme or pull out. Mr. Pompeo, unlike Mr. Tillerson, is a longtime opponent, as are many Republicans. A pull-out is therefore likely.

That would be a mistake. When it comes to deals, Mr. Trump always believes that he can get a better one—especially if they were negotiated by his predecessor, Mr. Barack Obama. But the Iran deal is already the result of hard-fought trade-offs. The chances that it can be substantially renegotiated are slim indeed. Opening it up in the hope that America can expand it to force Iran to limit its regional ambitions is almost certain to fail.

If America walks away, its European allies will stick with the deal but they will conclude that Mr. Trump puts a low value on the transatlantic alliance. The nuclear agreement may not collapse immediately, but the odds would increase of a nuclear arms-race in the Middle East, as Saudi Arabia and Egypt began to prepare for the day when Iran had the bomb. And because of the symmetry, Mr. Kim would surely be less willing to think he could trust an agreement struck with Mr. Trump.

It’s simple really

To hope that Mr. H.R. McMaster, the National Security Adviser, who may shortly be fired himself, or Mr. James Mattis, the Defence Secretary, can be relied on to constrain the president is to clutch at straws. Mr. Trump does not have a foreign policy so much as a worldview rooted in grievance and a belief that others must lose for America to win. He has his tariffs, his talks with North Korea and maybe soon a Middle East peace plan. The world is about to witness Mr.Trump unbound. What could go wrong?

This article appeared in the Leaders section of the print edition under the headline “After Rexit”

Fareed Zakaria on Mike Pompeo


March 19, 2018

On Mike Pompeo–The New Man in The State Department has to handle Iran and North Korea

By Dr.Fareed Zakaria
Mike Pompeo has a crisis to handle — even before the North Korea summit

Image result for Mike PompeoFareed Zakaria: Mr. Pompeo, repeat after me: “The Iran deal was bad, but now it’s good.”

 

If confirmed as Secretary of State, Mike Pompeo will arrive at a State Department that has been battered by proposed budget cuts, hollowed out by resignations and vacancies, and neutered by President Trump’s impulsive and personal decision-making style. But Pompeo’s most immediate challenge will not be rebuilding the department and restoring morale; it will be dealing with an acute foreign policy crisis that is largely of the President’s own making — the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Pompeo will have to tackle a genuine foreign policy challenge soon. Trump has agreed to meet with Kim Jong Un before the end of May. This could be a promising development, defusing the rising tensions on the Korean Peninsula and across Asia. Yet before Trump even sits down with Kim at the negotiating table to discuss a nuclear deal, the administration will have to decide how to handle the preexisting deal with Tehran.

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Trump has already announced that the United States will no longer abide by the Iran nuclear pact unless European leaders agree to “fix the deal’s disastrous flaws.” (And from the outset, he has been cheered in his hard-line posturing by Pompeo.) European nations seem unwilling to endorse more than cosmetic changes, and Iran has flatly refused to renegotiate. That means by May 12 the United States is set to pull out of the agreement, which could lead Iran to do the same and restart its nuclear program. This would happen at the very same time as the summit with North Korea — when the United States will surely be trying to convince North Korea of the benefits of signing a similar agreement.

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To understand the virtues of the Iran deal, recall that a quarter-century ago, the United States was negotiating a nuclear accord with Pyongyang. At that point, North Korea had a nuclear program but no nuclear weapons. The Clinton administration was trying to get the regime to freeze its program, agree to some rollbacks and allow intrusive inspections. But the accord that was ultimately reached was far more limited than hoped for. The inspections process was weak, and the North Koreans cheated.

The Iranians in 2015 also did not have nuclear weapons (and insisted they had no intention of ever making them). Still, the nuclear deal required them to scale back significant aspects of their program, dismantling 13,000 centrifuges, giving up 98 percent of their enriched uranium and effectively shutting down their plutonium reactor at Arak. The International Atomic Energy Agency has cameras and inspectors in Iran at every stage of the nuclear fuel cycle — from mines to labs to enrichment facilities. The IAEA attests that Tehran has abided by its end of the deal. Even Pompeo himself has conceded as much.

The Iran accord is not perfect, but it has stabilized a dangerous and spiraling situation in the Middle East. Were the deal to unravel, an already simmering region would get much hotter. (The crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, recently affirmed that his kingdom would go nuclear if Iran did.) And, again, this would all be happening just as the Trump administration would be trying to convince the North Koreans to agree to limits, freezes, rollbacks and inspections of its own nuclear program. Why would Kim sign a deal while he watches the United States renege on the last one it signed?

The tragedy here is that this is an entirely self-inflicted crisis. There was already enough instability in the world that the administration did not need to create more. Pompeo should recognize that his job as secretary of state will be to solve problems, not produce them, and he should preserve the Iran accord and spend his time on North Korea. But that would still leave a considerable challenge regarding North Korea’s nuclear weapons. There, too, the administration’s position — and his — has been maximalist, vowing to accept nothing less than the total denuclearization of North Korea. But that’s a negotiating position that can and should be adjusted over time, depending on North Korean behavior.

Pompeo should take a page from his boss’s book. Trump has reversed course on issue after issue, often with little explanation. He declared that NATO was obsolete only to say later that it was not. He promised to label China a currency manipulator and then decided against it. He insisted that talking to North Korea would be a waste of time and then eagerly announced that he would. And who knows, maybe Trump understands the public’s inattention and mood better than most of us. In any case, whatever Pompeo said about the Iran deal months ago is now ancient history. He should simply declare that right now, under the circumstances, the deal is worth preserving.

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There are significant costs to America’s credibility and reputation if Washington keeps reversing its positions on core foreign policy issues. Yet there are greater costs to stubbornly persisting with the wrong policy. So, Mr. Pompeo, repeat after me: “The Iran deal was bad, but now it’s good.”

(c) 2018, Washington Post Writers Group

 

US Foreign Policy: Misjudging Kim Jong-un


March 16, 2018

US Foreign Policy: Misjudging Kim Jong-un

by John C Hulsman*

https://www.project-syndicate.org/commentary/trump-kim-north-korea-talks-by-john-c-hulsman-2018-03

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If US President Donald Trump and his advisers continue to assume that traditional deterrence does not apply to North Korea, they are likely to lose the latest geopolitical chess match. History shows that those who mistake their political or military adversaries for lunatics are usually disastrously wrong.

MILAN – Throughout history, political observers have found decision-makers who are deemed “crazy” the most difficult to assess. In fact, the problem is rarely one of psychopathology. Usually, the label merely indicates behavior that is different from what conventional analysts were expecting.

This was surely true of the twelfth-century Syrian religious leader Rashid al-Din Sinan. During the Third Crusade, the supposedly mad “Old Man of the Mountain,” as he was known, succeeded in disrupting a Crusader advance on Jerusalem by directing his followers to carry out targeted assassinations. After carrying out their orders, the assassins often stayed put and awaited capture in full view of the local populace, to ensure that their leader received proper credit for the act.

At the time, such actions were incomprehensible to the Western mind. Westerners took to calling the Old Man’s followers hashashin, or users of hashish, because they regarded intoxication as the only possible explanation for such “senseless” disregard for one’s own physical wellbeing. But the hashashin were not drug users on the whole. And, more to the point, they were successful: their eventual assassination of Conrad of Montferrat led directly to the political collapse of the Crusader coalition and the defeat of Richard the Lionheart of England. As Polonius says of Hamlet, there was method to the Old Man’s madness.

Today, the problem of analyzing supposedly lunatic leaders has reappeared with the North Korean nuclear crisis. Whether North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is mad is not merely an academic question; it is the heart of the matter.

US President Donald Trump’s administration has stated unequivocally that it will not tolerate a North Korean capability to threaten the mainland United States with nuclear weapons. According to Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, the administration’s position reflects its belief that Kim is crazy, and that “classical deterrence theory” thus does not apply.

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White House Chief of Staff John Kelly

During the Cold War, US President Dwight Eisenhower reasoned that even if Stalin (and later Mao) was homicidal, he was also rational, and did not wish to perish in a US counter-strike. The logic of “mutually assured destruction” that underlay nuclear deterrence worked.

If, however, the leader of a nuclear-armed state is a lunatic who is indifferent to his physical safety and that of those around him, the entire deterrence strategy falls apart. If Kim is insane, the only option is to take him out before his suicidal regime can kill millions of people.

Image result for Kim Jong Un

“Kim Jong-un’s dramatic overture to hold a summit with Trump by May hardly seems to fit the “madman” narrative. In fact, it looks like the act of someone who knows exactly what he is doing.”–John C Hulsman

But is Kim truly crazy, or does he simply have a worldview that discomfits Western analysts? His dramatic overture to hold a summit with Trump by May hardly seems to fit the “madman” narrative. In fact, it looks like the act of someone who knows exactly what he is doing.

Consider three strategic considerations that Kim could be weighing. First, his regime might be planning to offer concessions that it has no intention of fulfilling. After all, an earlier nuclear deal that the US brokered with his father, Kim Jong-il, was derailed by duplicity. In 2002, the US discovered that the regime was secretly enriching weapons-grade uranium in direct violation of its earlier pledge.

In fact, North Korea has demonstrated time and again that it doesn’t play by the rules. It enters into negotiations to extract concessions such as food aid, and then returns to its objectionable activities, thus starting the entire Sisyphean cycle again. There is no reason to think that this time will be different. But the regime’s deviousness should not be mistaken for irrationality or madness. Simply by expressing his openness to talks, Kim has already won some of the political legitimacy he craves.

Second, rather than being a lunatic, Kim seems mindful of recent history. Whereas Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Muammar el-Qaddafi in Libya paid the ultimate price for giving up their nuclear programs, Kim has advanced his regime’s nuclear capabilities and is now publicly treated as a near-equal by the most powerful man on the planet. The Kim regime has always sought such vindication above everything else.

A third and final consideration is that North Korea is playing for time. Though it has agreed to halt nuclear and missile tests in the run-up to the summit, it could be using the intervening months to develop related technologies. For example, it still needs to perfect an atmospheric re-entry mechanism to make its intercontinental ballistic missiles capable of striking the US mainland reliably and accurately. Moreover, as long as the summit is in play, North Korea need not fear a US military strike. That is a perfectly rational and sensible prize for Kim to pursue.

All told, North Korea’s “opening” will most likely amount to much less than meets the eye. But one can still glean valuable strategic insights from Kim’s diplomatic gambit. North Korean thinking reflects cunning, to be sure; but it also betrays the regime’s will to survive, and its desire to master the current situation. This suggests that Kim is not “crazy” after all, and that conventional deterrence will still work, as it has since 1945.

That is good news for everyone, but particularly for the Trump administration, given that it will almost certainly fail to secure any meaningful concessions from North Korea in the upcoming talks.

*John C. Hulsman is President and Co-Founder of John C. Hulsman Enterprises, a global political risk consulting firm, and the author of To Dare More Boldly (Princeton University Press, 2018).