Donald Trump’s surprise visit to North Korea last week was impressive. It was a bold first step in repairing a foreign policy in tatters after more than a year of assaults by his neoconservative boobsie-twins Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and National Security Advisor John Bolton.
Trump took Kim at his word who said after talks broke down thanks to Bolton and Pompeo in Hanoi that no dialogue would be possible if Bolton was involved.
So, Trump sent Bolton to Mongolia. Then he went to Korea and did the one thing he had to do to begin unraveling the mess he’d gotten himself into.
Last week I asked where does Trump go after his confrontation with Iran? Trump answered that question in dramatic fashion. And he deserves a lot of credit for it.
But what does this mean in the wider context? It’s a good first step but we’ve seen this game from him before, making bold moves only to be reined in by his staff.
I would say that the optics of sending Bolton to Mongolia are pretty clear. Bolton’s time in the White House is nearly over. This is also a strong signal to Iran that Trump trying to back down without actually saying that.
The drone incident was intended to box Trump into a path to war with Iran after the tanker attack in the Gulf of Oman two weeks prior. That was likely not the Iranians but the Saudis and/or MEK, again trying to get Trump to fly off the handle, since he’s easily manipulated into emotional acts.
But he was talked out of it at the last minute, presumably by Tucker Carlson, who was with him on Air Force One when Trump went to meet Kim.
Has Trump finally woken up to the reality that he can’t appease these neocons anymore? That their lust for power can only be sated by perpetual war? That he has to lead and be President? Asking for advice from your cabinet is one thing, being led by your nose to foregone conclusions which are anathema to what put you in the White House in the first place is another.
He hasn’t drained one ounce of The Swamp because he wasn’t strong enough to do it.
His instincts are correct. His desire for denuclearization is sincere. Like Trump or not, he’s a patriot. What he does he does out of this sense of patriotism. It’s laudable but it also makes him vulnerable to bad advice and his own personality defects.
And those things nearly got the world into a war where no one wins.
So, with all that said, now what?
A lot has changed in the past four months since the end of the Mueller investigation. And the signs are all there that Trump is feeling a lot more secure both politically and financially that would allow him to not only make bold first moves but follow through on them.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed down on border wall funding. She’s ruled out impeachment as a bad political tactic. And she’s under fire from the hard-core Progressives in the party. This makes them weak.
So, from a re-election standpoint Trump looks very secure, especially after the “I’m more woke than you” fest that was the first debate among DNC candidates.
We’re looking at a mirror of 2016 with the Republicans that Trump beat. A wide and shallow pool of less than capable candidates who will all eat each other alive while he rides to re-election.
The difference is that these weren’t hand-selected to be pushovers to coronate Hillary Clinton. This is just the best the Democrats have to offer. And, with the exception of Tulsi Gabbard, that’s not saying much.
From a re-election perspective Trump has to shore up his foreign policy position and admit that whatever he’s tried to do to this point hasn’t worked. In fact, it has done nothing but weaken him and is adding to an already messy economic landscape worldwide, as I’ve pointed out in the past.
This turn by him is more than a small blip, in my mind. It is Trump backing away from the abyss created for him by his neocon handlers, who all hate him anyway.
Bolton was pushed on him by major Republican donor and Israeli Firster, Sheldon Adelson. And Adelson is the real issue here. So much of Trump’s foreign policy has centered around the wishes of this odious man.
With RussiaGate behind him and leading Democrats refusing to let it lie down as they try to obfuscate the obvious trail which leads back to them Trump looks a lot more secure. He’s looking at the fundraising numbers, the crowds he’s drawing at rallies more than a year out from the election, a stock market at all-time highs and he’s thinking he doesn’t really need Adelson’s money network anymore.
And if that is the case, then we may finally see the Donald Trump that he sold us during the campaign. I’m not holding high hopes for this, but I would be remiss in not pointing out his incentives.
It’s becoming obvious to everyone that the Deal of the Century for Israel and Palestine is a dead letter. So many of Trump’s mistakes have been in service of this deal which they can’t even bring to the table.
The last piece of this puzzle is whatever happened at the G-20 between Trump, Vladimir Putin and Chinese Premier Xi Jinping. Trump folded on the worst of his trade war with China. His uber-hawks wanted Huawei destroyed for not giving the US backdoor access to spy on the world, everything is just noise.
He did this agreeing to more soybean imports from China. This was a cop to the farmers he needs to keep onside if he’s going to win in 2020.
But the most important part of this are the signals by Russia and China that they would assist Iran in getting its oil to market. The Chinese will buy it and the Russians will clear the trades through their electronic payment system analogous to the US-dominated SWIFT.
Since any further action by the US to stop Iranian oil exports involve physical confrontation and interdiction that threat is now off the table after Trump nixed bombing Iran. No one will be happy with an order by Trump to detain Iran’s oil tankers, except the people who have been playing games with him, the Israelis and the Saudis.
But even then, Putin surely held the Saudis feet to his fire in agreeing to extend the oil production cuts into next year. A little leverage on the over-levered can be very effective. From the looks of things, post G-20, Trump assessed the landscape and began pulling back.
Bullying can only take you so far. Pressure applied too forcefully can always be turned against you. And in politics overplaying your hand will bust you. Next move, Mr. President?