The South Asian Times

22 February 2019 11:52 AM

Trumping the world with Iran and North Korea moves

By Shivaji Sengupta

Next month our President could be the first American head of state to meet with North Korea's. This may be a massive breakthrough in America's far eastern foreign policy, something which past American presidents have tried for in vain.

This may be the beginning of a new World Order, or, in fact, a very old one.

When Kim Jung Un sent his emissary to Trump, expressing his desire to meet, Trump immediately accepted despite the warning of his close advisors. It is reported that he drowned them out with a torrent of loud "I get it! I get it!" reiterating his intention to meet with Kim.

At the same time, a very different foreign policy line is being tried out: Iran.

Donald Trump’s backing out of the nuclear arms deal worked out between the United States, Britain, France and Germany and Iran, prohibiting that country to make weapons-grade nuclear energy, in return for lifting economic sanctions, might throw into confusion the premises of the North Korean summit itself. Questions are now being raised as to what effect will walking away from the Iran deal have on the Korean summit. Will Kim Jung Un express lack of confidence in the U.S. since they have so blatantly walked out on Iran, and are about to re-impose the sanctions on that country? Does this seem to portray America, and especially Trump, as a dealer who believes entirely in his own strength, looks down on others, and insists on doing things only on his own terms?

Mind you, the meeting hasn't taken place yet. The proverbial slip between the cup and the lip can still happen, especially with Iran in the offing. But political pundits – especially the liberals, are at a bit of a loss as to how to react to it. Ohio Governor Kasich, a Republican and a strong Trump critic, has given the president credit for having brought the North Korean president to his door. Democrats, by and large, are silent.

But for the foreign policy specialists, these two very different – almost reverse – approaches to nuclear disarmament raise interesting and important issues.

Their million-dollar question is: how did Trump do it? How have the (foreign) powers-that-be joined to make this happen? Is China, or even Russia, working in the background? From what we know about Donald Trump, he is not supposed to be an authority on foreign policy, let alone diplomacy. Is it possible he just bungled into it? Accidentally hit a home run while trying to avoid being hit by the ball?

To answer these questions, we must take a whirlwind tour of how America's foreign policy has evolved since Trump came to power, and how it used to be for some hundred years before that, since the time of Woodrow Wilson.

I think many people would agree with Henry Kissinger that U.S. foreign policy came about as a reaction to Europe. For a hundred years before the First World War, Europe had been observing a “Balance of Power.” Since no one state emerged as the outright superpower, the European nation- states like Great Britain, France, Italy, and the Austro-Prussian empire agreed to live in a state of power equilibrium, bound by trade and international laws until, of course, all came apart, exploding into the First World War.

When President Woodrow Wilson decided to send American troops to the “Great War” as they called it, he had warned the Europeans that they had been practicing a very out of date foreign policy. Foreign policy, he cautioned, was not something to be created out of a superiority complex, from theories emanating from aristocratic dispositions of a Bismarck or a Metternich. To Wilson, himself a scholar, foreign policy was a method constructed after careful study of history, economics, and international polity.

Thereafter, foreign policy became an “American thing,” practiced not just in America but in Europe as well. The president of the United States appointed scholars as Secretary of State: Henry Kissinger, Zbignew Brizinsky, Madeline Albright, Condoleezza Rice, all internationally recognized political scientists. Government and the University combined to create a science out of foreign policy. As Henry Kissinger observed with dry wit, Bismarck and Metternich would not understand it, and would not agree with it even if they did. To them, making foreign policy was their right simply because they were them.

By a strange quirk of fate, we may be back in the days of Metternich and Bismarck judging by the way Donald Trump does his foreign policy. Policy is what he thinks is right, to hell with the scholars and seasoned politicians. Ultimately, there is very little difference temperamentally between Trump and Kim. Each believes in the power of money and the military, exactly like Bismarck and Metternich. Both Trump and Kim are determined to ‘l call the shots’ and ‘hammer’ out a foreign policy that they think is right. And who knows, it may work – for a while until a third and fourth, fifth and sixth nuclear powers come into existence.

Then it might be the First World War all over again – only this time, the world won’t survive.

Update: 16 May, 2018