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Trump and his Friends (Part 2)

Helmut Sorge | Posted : December 11, 2018

If you haven't read Trump and his Friends (Part 1), click here.


Trump symbolizes brute force, the permanent search for power, pressure and disregard of the fragile web of global treaties, historic understanding and compromise. “A brutal Realpolitik approach,” stated the New York Times, “American capriciousness after decades of order and predictability. One recent example of populism and illogical foreign policy decisions-Iran.”  Don Coates, the US director of National Intelligence had confirmed that Tehran has complied to all obligations of the nuclear deal that Iran was further away from nuclear weapons than without the agreement, and “we know more about the Iran nuclear program with this deal then without it.” No way. Trump wanted to please the Israelis and the Saudis, his closest allies in his fight against Tehran. Berlin, Paris, the Russians and Chinese trusted the regime in Tehran, willing to encourage the mullahs to negotiate about their ballistic missiles, which Trump requested.

Susan Rice, former national security advisor and ambassador to the United Nations declared, after Trump explained, in eleven minutes, that he would use dramatic sanctions to force Iran into capitulation: “The president just made the most foolish and consequential national security decisions in his tenure. Exactly what comes next is unclear, but we will certainly face a far worse situation than today.” The murder of Kashoggi is turning into a gift for the mullahs in Iran, since the Saudis, and Mohammed bin Salman, have been outed as evil forces in international opinion. Washington may want to pressure the destabilized and tainted crown prince to end the war in Yemen, which is developing into an apocalypse. Riyadh, though, is reluctant to retreat from a battle with forces allied to the enemy in Tehran. Mohammed bin Salman has to fear the judgment of other Saudi leaders.

No victory, no capitulation, a political compromise at most, would lead to further questioning of the vision and wisdom of the future king, who will meet other world leaders, and his guardian angel Donald  Trump, at the G-20 meeting in Buenos Aires. In his conflict with Iran, despite further sanctions, Washington is facing limits of its power as well: the President had to allow India, China and Turkey to continue the import of Iranian oil to stabilize global energy prices - Trump has to adjust to other challenges in the region. Not long ago, the President declared he wanted to bring the boys home by fall, but those 2,000 estimated GIs are fighting in Syria against ISIS. Not anymore. “As long as Iranian forces are outside Iranian borders, and that includes Iran proxies and militias,” insisted National Security advisor John Bolton, “the US troops will remain in Syria.” Yet, if Washington intends to remove the Iranian presence from Arab lands, then they have to send troops, tens of thousands, hundred thousand soldiers risking to repeat the Iraq nightmare and turning into a recruiter of ISIS.


“Instead of reaching an agreement with our allies criticized Susan Rice,” President Trump told them to “get lost” and now will penalize European companies for abiding by an agreement that is working. The former national security advisor is predicting that “our political and economic consequences for our relationship with Europe will most likely be considerable.” Angela Merkel, never close to Trump, reacted to the violation of European interests with a sober assessment: “Europe can no longer rely on the US. It must take fate into its own hands.” Trump is making “unilateral decisions with long term consequences for US foreign policy with little grasp of the issues,” observed James Goldgeier, professor and former dean of international relations at the American University in Washington, but he is “delivering on his campaign promises und undoing Obama’s legacy, both of which are important to him.” Indeed, the president confirmed, “the United States doesn’t make any empty threats anymore. When I make promises I will keep them.” In other words: Trump is just checking off the commitments he’s made, regardless of their effect on the world of diplomacy and relations with his allies. His reelection campaign for 2020  just began. Let the great, unbelievable Trump remain president and let him finish with his mission to make America great again-- “America First”.

Suddenly, the US  - for decades guarantor of freedom, the driving force of military, global strategy, united with Europe against communism, Soviet expansionism - is questioning  the cohesion of NATO, the United Nations, is probing the WTO, abandoning the Trans-Pacific partnership, reducing the rapprochement towards Cuba, slowing travel and trade to a minimum, renegotiated the “North American Free trade agreement” with Mexico and Canada, while imposing steel and aluminum tariffs against Canada (The NAFTA deal still has to pass congress). A cold war of a different kind. “Washington is turning its back on multilateral relations and friendly cooperation,” lamented Jean Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, “with a ferocity that can only surprise us.” Trump, two years in office, has thrown off his shackles, with which more moderate advisors have tried to avoid fundamental disorder, yes, chaos because Donald Trump “does not make decisions based on objective reality” judged former CIA director Michael Hayden. A populist president, who sees immigrants as a threat and allies as a burden, leads America. 

The American nationalist’s decision to back out of the Paris climate change agreement touched 195 nations, his choice to accept Jerusalem as the capital of Israel provoked the Palestinians and oppressed their dream of an independent state. Instead of peace negotiations, rebellious Palestinian youth are battling it out on the border of Gaza with Israeli troops. Hundreds are being killed or wounded because Trump needed to satisfy orthodox Jewish backers in Las Vegas and elsewhere, who supported his electoral campaign with millions because he promised to hand all of Jerusalem to the Jewish  state once being president, declaring  the divided city as the capital. Now is pay back time and besides Panama and a few equally important powers, no one followed. A promised peace plan, to soothe the Palestinians, is still overdue. To please his anti-Arab electorate and  pushed by his (orthodox  Jewish  son in law and daughter), Trump decided to close the Palestinian representation in Washington and cut funds for schools and health clinics in East Jerusalem and Gaza, since Hamas is considered a terrorist organization and perhaps, in the mind of Trump and  his son in law, children can be used as suicide bombers.

The killing of the journalist in Istanbul is a reminder how close friends -- the Saudis or Trump’s newest best friend, the North Korean dictator -- can turn into a liability. In February 2017, the half-brother of Mr. Kim, Kim Jong-nam was murdered at the airport in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), apparently by an assassination team sent from Pyongyang. Did Mr. Kim give the order to eliminate his next of kin? Murdered by an Indonesian and Vietnamese woman, who claimed that the killing with a XV nerve agent was sold to them as a hoax, was a joyful surprise. Has the CIA briefed the president on the assassination before Donald Trump reassured the world, after their meeting in Singapore, “there is no longer a nuclear threat by North Korea?.”  In September, after an exchange of letters, the US president declared about his relationship with the dictator: “We fell in love.” The very public embrace of Mr. Kim worries skeptical top officials of the Trump administration, complaining about the frustratingly slow progress following the Singapore summit. His fans though don’t seem to mind that two of his buddies in high places have been accused of murder. Go figure that one out.


Recent statements by North Korea threaten of resuming work on its nuclear program unless sanctions are lifted. Trump and his seemingly irresistible persona reassured the dictator after receiving a “very warm, very positive note” from him, “we will both prove everyone wrong.” Certes, Mr. Kim did not display nuclear missiles at a huge parade in Pyongyang celebrating the nation’s 70th anniversary, no nuclear mobile missiles were fired for about a year, no underground explosions registered, but the dictator did not hand Washington any secret list with the figures and locations of nuclear warheads, missile sites and nuclear production facilities. Mr. Kim is not obliged, since the meeting, presented to the public as “an epochal event of great significance,” did not achieve any fundamental results. Yes, in vague terms, “denuclearization” is mentioned, but the skeletal agreement has no deadlines, no verification regime, and no penalties for non-compliance. Apparently, the North Koreans are demanding a denuclearization of the whole peninsula and not only in the North. Furthermore, prior to being willing to share their secrets, hidden stockpiles, Washington must declare, officially, the end of the Korean War. Last year Trump had pushed the dictator to rapidly give up his nuclear arsenal, or he would face tremendous, if unspecified consequences. In the meantime, the US president has declared there was no rush: “I have all the time in the world.” The CIA boss turned secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, admits, after a few direct, and apparently unproductive, meetings with the leader: “The ultimate timeline for denuclearization will be set by chairman Kim.” 


The dictator is using his time—recently the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a respected Washington think tank, published a study showing that even as North Korea was touting some half steps to dismantle a missile launching site, it was operating and improving at least 13, and possibly as many as 20 bases housing mobile ballistic missile launchers.  One mountain, on which the study focused, is located just 84 miles from Seoul, the capital city of South Korea. Mike  Pompeo acknowledged, at a Senate hearing this summer, that North Korea continues to produce fissile material, indicating  a probable continuation of building nuclear war heads, estimated at five to  eight  bomb’s added annually to the 40 to 60 stockpiled nuclear weapons. Should Chairman Kim follow through with his commitments, promised the US president who is planning another meeting with his  loved dictator  in  January 2019,  “a much brighter future lies ahead for North Korea and its people,” the dark, impoverished  nation, changing  into a colorful  Disneyland, Mickey  Mouse, Goofy  and  Scrooge McDuck instead of tanks and commando units. A sweet scenario, yet not really credible. Joseph Nye, who wrote one of the National Intelligence Council’s first assessment of the North’s weapon program in 1993, warned that Trump could very well end up in the long tradition of American presidents, “who have been taken to the cleaners” by the shifty North Koreans, who certainly do not trust the American president and his promises, as tempting it may be to open up a couple dozen McDonald and Starbuck outlets in Pyongyang. At the end, or the beginning, of their negotiations Mr. Kim may very well again demand the lifting of sanctions prior to any deal on his nuclear weapons.  “Sanctions,” stated the New York Times, “are the perfect American weapon.”  They are cheap, put no American lives at risk and elicit no equivalent response. Thanks to the centrality of the dollar to the global finance system, “only the United States has the power to fully wield them.”

While the US use of sanctions have been gradually increasing for decades, Mr. Trump has made them the core of his foreign policy. From Iran to North Korea, Russia, Cuba to Venezuela, from the drug dealers of Colombia to the bomb makers of Hamas, this administration’s first, and sometimes only instrument, to shape world events, punish rivals and discourage challenges to American authority, has been sanctions. “Sanctions are the perfect tool for someone like Trump,” observed Adam Smith, former top sanction official in the Obama administration, adding that: “He [Trump] arrived in office with no governing experience and no real relationships in Congress, the bureaucracy or among world leaders. Sanctions let him govern on his own. He just has to write an executive order and it’s done.”


Two years to go for Donald Trump, possibly six. The Supreme Court, the courts in general, are shaping the future of America, the laws of the land, from abortion to immigration, gay marriage or the rights to vote for prisoners. Possibly Trump, grandson of a German immigrant, will achieve his dream and build the wall between Mexico and the United States to keep the poor and the damned out. “Whoever takes his place, whether in 2021 or 2025,” writes Daniel Byman, “will have to manage the fallout from all his chaos and fix his many mistakes.” Some repairs, while extensive, may still be easy. Even if Trump’s successor favors more traditional foreign policy, however she or he cannot simply sweep the Trump administration under a rug and resume the previous course: “The United States has lost influence with allies and is squandering much of its “soft power” in ways that will make it difficult to regain.” Even more pessimistic are the assumptions and theories of Ivan Krastev, summarizing in the New York Times: “Europeans are doomed if they think the issue now is how to salvage their alliance with the US.” The time for that has passed.” The challenge for the leaders of Europe is to learn to live in a world where America has no allies.”

If only more Americans would have read Philip Roth’s novel The Plot Against America, published in 2004, they would have imagined that all is possible, everywhere, where the evil, the devil, is grabbing power and control. It is 1940, the famous pilot Charles Lindbergh, who connected the USA in a daring solo flight with Europe, becomes president and secretly launches a program against Jews. A foreign power, Nazi Germany, interferes in a US election. Journalists are targeted with violence. As Hitler  decimates Europe, Lindbergh pursues an “America First” policy of nonintervention. For the author, who died in May, aged 85, his book was an “exercise in historical imagination” because the bestseller author wondered if what happened in Europe could happen in the United States of America. Philip Roth watched the election of Donald Trump with horror, telling his friend, the New Yorker writer Judith Thurman: “What is most terrific is that he makes any - and everything possible.” 

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