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On June 12, United States President Donald J. Trump was supposed to be the first POTUS to get the Korean leadership to sit down at the table of a possible peace treaty and nuclear disarmament. Getting this far into the process has been viewed as historic and unprecedented, which, in a way, it truly is, but has been somewhat of a rocky road and not entirely due to foreign parties.
Trump’s ‘Art’ of Deal Making
Trump has been hailed as the ‘deal maker’, whose use of suspense, pressure, threats, economic knife twisting, and unilateral ‘offers’ as means to threaten the Korean leader, Kim Jong Un, and his regime, has spurred them into opening up and making peace. Trump has issued even more sanctions against North Korea, threatened it with nuclear annihilation on multiple occasions, threatened to walk away from a summit with Kim, if he didn’t think that he would get the results that he wanted (a win for America, or, better put, the better end of the stick), leaving both Kim and the rest of the world in suspense as to whether a peace agreement could be brokered by the Trump administration at all.
But this, of course, took for granted the solidity of the foundations upon which the North Korean resolve for peace and security rested. Here, Trump was under the impression that he could use the threat of nuclear destruction and economic aggression, and suspense about just what he was going to do to try to ‘get the upper hand’ at a potential peace talks summit, and that his tactics and actions wouldn’t have any negative reverberations at any point.
Then, to back it all up, he goes about practicing war on North Korea with military drills right on their border, together with threatening to overthrow Kim’s government after the style of humanitarian regime change that was employed, by the peace loving Americans, in Libya. We could waste lots of ink and pen out thousands of words on the various threats that Trump has made to the DPRK and its leadership, but that’s hardly necessary.
The Bolton Factor
Many analysts are going about laying the blame for the North Korean response to these statements at Bolton’s feet, as if he held the blame for the present down spiral of this process all on his lonesome, and the North Koreans just took his ‘off the cuff’ statements a little too seriously. That might have some grounds if that’s all we heard here, but that’s not the case at all.
Trump and Pompeo were of a similar such sentiment, and Trump issued his remarks mirroring Bolton (sure, he probably got the idea from Bolton in the first place since Trump probably didn’t know what Libya was before Bolton brought it up). As I pointed out last week, Trump echoed Bolton’s statements while seated right next to him during a White House press gathering, saying
“The Libyan model isn’t a model that we have (in mind) at all when we’re thinking of North Korea. If you look at that model with Kadhafi, that was a total decimation. We went in there to beat him. Now, that model would take place if we don’t make a deal, most likely. But if we make a deal, I think Kim Jong Un is going to be very, very happy.”
If we wanted to take this out of Trump’s mouth, and put into Bolton’s, and cast all the blame at Bolton, then maybe the blame for the collapse in the process up to this point could be blamed on his ill chosen and ill timed comments. Maybe it could be argued that Bolton just gave him the idea, and so it’s still not really Trump’s screw up, but it was instead Bolton’s because he originated the ‘Libya model’ comments. But surely Trump has a brain of his own, right? He can decide whether to echo his security advisor’s opinion or whether to persevere with expressing his own intentions on the subject. After all, Bolton isn’t the one that gets to call the shots; it’s Trump’s signature that makes and, much more often, breaks international agreements, not Bolton’s.
Now, why are ‘Bolton’ comments about the ‘Libya model’ so important, here? Well, that has to do with the fact that Trump basically iterated in his letter to Kim Jong Un, in which he decided not to try to settle out a peace deal, that he was upset at Kim because the DPRK let out a harsh response to the reference to the ‘Libya model’ that Bolton mentioned, and which Trump, having nothing really original to contribute, decided would be cool to use as a part of his pressure cooking campaign to make the North Koreans crack and give in. So, Trump basically said ‘because you said mean things, I won’t meet with you’. Hence, where we stand today.
The Blame Game
The concern over who said what is essentially all about trying to find some where to lay the blame that doesn’t mean admitting that Trump simply isn’t competent enough to be the one to carry out such high level, qualified, diplomatic arrangements. It wants to defend him against the reality of the situation, and to give him credit that he simply isn’t due.
He’s not some grand chess master, meticulously planning and strategizing every little minute detail in order to carry out some master program to accomplish amazing feats. No, if that were the case then he wouldn’t have made the snap decision to strike Syria on such flimsy grounds as an unverified tweet and withdrawn from the Iran deal, or thrown trade tariffs around like confetti. His other blunders were being overlooked by most of the world on the basis that he hadn’t sufficiently messed enough things up to the degree that it literally threatened the present world order, but lately, that’s just what he’s been doing.
If other members of the Trump campaign, whether it’s Bolton, Pompeo, Haley, or Mattis, are steering Trump on issues this important, and he is really this gullible, clueless, and without a strategy to approach them, then one really has to admit that he’s purely not competent enough to carry out his duties as the POTUS and to exercise America’s influence across the globe and everywhere America’s tentacles reach.
So, trying to cast blame around at other members of the Trump cabinet doesn’t exonerate Trump from having some role of incompetence here. If we take Trump as his word, that he cancelled the meeting because someone, somewhere, half the world away, said something mean, then he’s showing that he doesn’t have a thick enough skin to really handle the responsibilities of his job, and the criticism that necessarily will and does daily come forth. In politics, you can’t exist without triggering a critical response from someone, somewhere, and that’s just how it is. Therefore, the blame game doesn’t really change the facts of the matter.
The American Deep State and the Status Quo Incentive
In reality, however, while Trump may indeed be that naive and gullible, and this was probably really part of his logic for bucking the process so far, the American deep state likely had other reasons for seeing this process collapse, and is ‘highly likely’, to use Theresa May’s infamous words, responsible, at least for some part, for this turn of events.
Here, one might speculate that maybe it was the US’s famed military industrial complex, that wants to maintain the status quo in order to keep selling weapons, conducting military drills, constructing more military bases, around the DPRK, and, by extension, Russia, to justify the bloated US defense budget and the missile defense net aimed at ‘defending’ against Russian ‘aggression’, while preserving America’s military hegemony and presence in the region.
The China angle
Given Trump’s remarks about suggesting that China was steering the DPRK on movements throughout this process, we may here be able to glean that Washington, or the Deep State, or however one wants to perceive it, as has already revealed on multiple occasions, perceives China as a security and economic threat to America’s global economic hegemony, and believes that China is playing too big of a role, one that could result in America not getting the biggest and best part of the deal.
But it’s really kinda hard to argue here that America could or even should get a ‘better’ part of the arrangement, since America openly has the least to be gained by a peace agreement being brokered on the peninsula at all. All America really gets is a decreased threat of a nuclear strike and the opportunity to allow a peace treaty to manifest, but would likely have to withdraw its military presence from the area. This may mean that America just doesn’t see the military and political value in resolving the tensions between the Koreas and a nuclear disarmament by the DPRK.
China, however, has a lot more to gain by seeing peace develop here. It gets to realize a decreased risk of nuclear violence, originating with the North Korean regime, the possibility to gain market access to North Korea and a land route with the South, providing a generous economic opportunity, and the ability to incorporate the Korean peninsula into its panAsian economic initiatives.
Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory
But rather than make that possibility less of a potential reality by withdrawing from the peace process, in much the same manner as was pursued in the withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord, the JCPOA, Trump is effectively leaving the way wide open for the Chinese, and the Russians, who would also be a part of such initiatives, to walk in and help broker a deal.
If this were to happen, it could be orchestrated without the input of the American deep state, and without the need to credit Trump with achieving something that is essentially a northeast Asian affair, both economically and politically. Therefore, rather than potentially scoring himself a landmark victory here, Trump is effectively ensuring a diplomatic defeat by allowing his geopolitical rivals the open opportunity to do what he has now refused.