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Tomorrow’s White House meeting between Donald Trump, Rex Tillerson, James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis and all 100 Senators could just be the biggest bluff of his Presidency and indeed the biggest bluff of recent US history. Of course it might not be. Both scenarios must be considered even though I lean heavily towards the ‘bluff’ theory.
I wish there was a better phrase for what I imagine this to be than a ‘made for TV Presidency’, but alas that is what it feels like.
I can just see it now, all 100 Senators crammed into a White House office, Trump’s allies up in front on the more comfortable seats. Chuck Schumer squatting somewhere in the back with the other ‘losers’.
The lights are dimmed more than usual as James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis offers a Pattonesque slide-show on evil North Korean missiles. There’s a woman in a tight dress (possibly Nikki Haley) using the word ‘situation’ as both a verb and noun. Donald Trump is lowering his voice to sound serious and tough.
And one point someone will ask, ‘What about the Russians’. And then someone else with an even more dramatic voice will say ‘Yes…what about them’, before drawing smoke from a a big cigar…
Perhaps it is in fact a serious march to war, in spite of the apparent melodrama. Perhaps this is too serious a subject for mockery…but perhaps Donald Trump is having the first laugh. In that case we might as well have the last laugh.
As it turns out, the meeting isn’t a formal Presidential summons of the Senate, it’s a bog standard meeting of Senators called by the Senate Majority Leader. For effect, or because because the food is better, it is being held in the White House.
However, one country that will not read between the lines, let alone see the funny side is North Korea. North Korea is as serious, as bombastic and as humour averse a nation a the United States. It is as if Trump is in a personal race with Kim Jong-Un in order to see who can make the most threats towards the other before all hell breaks loose.
Were Trump using these tactics with other nations, I would actually support him and here’s why.
When an ally or partner is misbehaving badly, one ought to give off signals, perhaps even dramatic signals that the relaxed nature of the relationship would change and change suddenly if the junior partner’s behaviour didn’t change and change quickly.
If Trump had a meeting with his top diplomatic, defence official and all 100 Senators to talk about whether to take military action against Turkey for its illegal meddling in Syria, I would be cheering Trump on; knowing full well that it would likely make Erdogan back down. He’d make a rousing anti-American speech (he’s making them anyway to a degree), but he’d still back down. Erdogan is born to be bluffed, at the end of the day he is a coward who would never directly pick on anyone his own size or bigger.
North Korea is entirely different. North Korea is not now nor has it ever been in the American sphere of influence. America and North Korea have little to offer each other as a result. The other difference is that North Korea has not infringed on any wider international interests, they have not invaded anyone, where Turkey has.
There difference is that Turkey’s illegal invasion of Syria is a ‘good invasion’ in the eyes of NATO, even though many in the US wish that Erdogan would forget historic animosity with the Kurds and simply focus on killing Syrian soldiers.
By contrast, North Korea’s exercising of sovereign rights on its own territory is ‘bad sovereignty’ because….well…BECAUSE NORTH KOREA, THAT’S WHY!
Donald Trump ought to understand that childish cat and mouse games occasionally work with wayward partners and allies, but they are too risky to be used in a directly adversarial situation.
Perhaps it is just a rookie mistake, using the correct scare tactics in the totally wrong situation.
If North Korea calls his bluff and strikes first, the world will end up paying for this irresponsible move.