Imperialism Has a Terrible Week As Trump Bungles Iran and North Korea
What a week for U.S. President Donald Trump! He promised to “Make America Great Again,” but his promise was as threadbare as those hats themselves. Buy America, he intoned during his campaign. The hats, however, are made in Bangladesh, China and Vietnam. Now, Trump presides over the gradual turn to irrelevance of U.S. power.
Certainly, the U.S. has the world’s largest military. It spends more on its war machine than most countries on the planet Earth. In 2018, the United States will spend over $700 billion for its military. That’s more than the Gross Domestic Product of Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest producer of energy, and Switzerland, the world’s home of banks. This money—spent on hardware more than on salaries for troops—buys equipment that can destroy countries, but it cannot always buy political power. What was the point of destroying Iraq and Libya, when out of those ashes have arisen countries that distrust the United States rather than fear it?
Trump in His Boudoir
Trump sits in the White House, wondering—like a child bursting with testosterone and fed a fantasy version of reality by Fox ‘fake’ News—why the world does not bow to him. In his ear, he has John Bolton, his mustache tickling Trump, his incendiary ideas pleasing his master. But what is Trump to do? Should he bomb Iran? Should he bomb North Korea?
Trump dictates a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. There is a sentence there that rattles: “You talk about nuclear capabilities,” Trump says, “but ours are so massive and powerful that I pray to God they will never have to be used.” Trump had already said that North Korea would experience “fire and fury like the world has never seen.” Such biblical language comes to Trump from his favorite evangelical pastor, Robert Jeffress, who wrote, “When it comes to how we should deal with evil doers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary—including war—to stop evil. In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-un.”
If Bolton is in one ear, Jeffress is in another. These are maddening thoughts. They are what bounce around inside Trump’s head. Bolton and Jeffress echo each other. Trump’s fingers itch above an imaginary nuclear trigger.
The phone might ring. It could be Israel’s Netanyahu with more deranged harangues about the need to bomb Iran.
Even the generals, ever eager for war as they showed with Iraq, do not have the stomach for these disasters. In March, U.S. Army General Joseph Votel went before the U.S. Congress to declare that if the U.S. withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal it would be a “great loss.” Votel is in charge of U.S. Central Command, which oversees U.S. forces in West Asia. He is not keen on a war with Iran. The new head of U.S. Pacific Command—Admiral Philip Davidson—meanwhile told the U.S. Congress that China now controls the South China Sea, and that it cannot be stopped “short of war with the United States.” In other words, the man who oversees U.S. forces in Eastern Asia—with North Korea at the center—believes that the paramount power in the region is China. A U.S. war against China is too remote. Chinese power, an umbrella for North Korea certainly, will determine the outcome of peace negotiations along the Pacific Rim.
Temptations in the White House to squash Iran falter as crucial U.S. allies—Germany and India—say that they will not accept Trump’s sanction policy.
German business has been prepared for the eventuality of the United States breaking the deal. Many large German firms have scrubbed their supply chains to ensure that there is no U.S. firm at any point in the production process of its goods. Currencies other than dollars, such as euros, are to be used to shield German firms. These moves have irritated Saudi Arabia, whose mercurial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman has said that his kingdom will do no new business with Germany. Germany’s move toward Russia, another country in a sanctions rut with the United States, is a sign of its growing independence from U.S. policy. Germany needs energy, which both Iran and Russia possess. It will be difficult to box Germany into adhering to what Trump’s man at the CIA Mike Pompeo calls the “strongest sanctions in history.”
India, deeply reliant upon Iranian oil, has said that it will accept the sanctions set up by the United Nations, but not the sanctions pushed by the United States. This is significant, since India’s government is firmly in the pro-U.S. and pro-Israel camp. But reality smudges the clarity of the fanatic. Even the Indian government has to bend to the view that its economy relies upon Iranian energy and its Central Asian policy relies upon the port facilities that India has helped build in Iran’s Chabahar. India said that it will not only continue to buy oil from Iran, but it would also do so from Venezuela and it would buy arms from Russia. Iran, Venezuela and Russia are all sanctioned by the United States. India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj made these comments and then met with Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif. If Trump watched CNN International while he ate his dinner, he might have caught images of the two of them together. This would surely have made it hard for Trump to digest his deep-fried macaroni and cheese.
Trump snubbed his nose at North Korea. It bothered him that Kim Jong-un made a very strong statement about the proposed U.S.-South Korean military exercises. These drills have long bothered North Korea. In the spirit of the rapprochement, it would have behooved the U.S. to postpone the drills. But this was not done. Trump lectured Kim that it was the North Koreans who would regret this missed opportunity to make history. It was as if Trump was auditioning for the Nobel Peace Prize. Unlikely that any Scandinavian, even those conned by Obama’s charm, would deign to honor Trump. Their Nordic morality—funded by gunpowder—is too elevated to descend to this faux man of the people.
Kim did what any smart politician would do. He stole the media cycle. Rather than allow Trump’s ostentatious letter to end the conversation, Kim called his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in. The two met in the border town of Panmunjom and reaffirmed their commitment to the dialogue. Moon said that he might come along when Kim eventually meets Trump. No one would want Trump to speak for them, least of all Moon and the South Koreans. This is an inter-Korean dialogue interrupted by the presence of the American war machine. It is Moon and Kim—with the blessings of the U.S. and China—who want to have this conversation. They don’t want to be ventriloquist dummies for either the United States (South Korea’s Moon) or China (North Korea’s Kim). They want to stand on their own feet.
Trump went on a tirade on Twitter about nothing at all. There was more “Crooked Hillary” and “rigged Russia witch hunt” and—delightfully—“I’m President.” Only the most desperate will look to Trump as a visionary, as a person with the wit and wisdom to maintain American power. Clearer is the slump. It will take nothing less than a nuclear holocaust for the United States to revive its authority.