Deals, the Donald, and the DPRK

Donald Trump is an abysmal failure when it comes to international politics. If you disagree with that statement, I offer China and Saudi Arabia as evidence. It was obvious to many when he was on the campaign trail that the Donald was a fraud when it came to his grandiose proclamations about his negotiating skills. Yes, Trump has been successful in terms of international business dealings. But that success doesn’t translate into diplomatic negotiations. For one thing, bribery, as a negotiating tool, is easier for businesses to hide that it is for politicians. Plus, the outcome for business deals is more simply defined as profit. In international relations, however, end goals are not as easy to identify and often require stages of implementation.

While campaigning, Trump said he was a master at dealing with foreign governments and would do a much better job than Obama and Clinton did. He said we would all get tired of “winning” so much. Anyone who has studied history, politics, or international relations knows that successful international negotiations are not zero-sum games. Win-win situations, and compromises are the hallmark of such enterprises. Exhibit A is The Treaty of Versailles which humiliated and bankrupted Germany after WWI and helped lead to the rise of the Nazis. Generally, any treaty in which one side “wins” and the other side “loses” is not worth the paper it’s written on.

Trump’s failure to follow through on his promise to attack the Chinese as currency manipulators is but one of his missteps. Perhaps he was too blinded by “the beautiful piece of chocolate cake” to notice the U.S. was getting shortchanged. No matter, Trump and his family will be rewarded handsomely by the Chinese change of heart on Trump patent cases. Can you say, “Quid pro quo?” I’ll get back to China in a minute. The Saudis are an even better example of Trump’s international failures. By visiting them first on his world tour, he gave out the wrong diplomatic signal. By saying he had an agreement to sell 110 billion dollars’ worth of weapons to them when no such agreement existed was even worse. At best, the Saudis have presented wish list and letters of intent to buy new weapons. So the Saudis took Trump’s clueless behavior as tacit agreement for them to go after Qatar. And Qatar just happens to be the location of one of our most important Middle Eastern military bases. Can you say, “Self-inflicted wound?”

As for the slaughter of Yemenis by Saudi Arabia, or their financial support for the madrasas that are laboratories for growing terrorists, Trump did nothing. To be fair, the Donald has company in kissing Saudi posteriors. The Bushes were masters of the art and Obama did his fair share as well. No one in Washington likes to be reminded that almost every 9/11 hijacker was a Saudi and that the only plane allowed to fly during the aftermath of the attack was the Saudi royal family. Trump has taken sides with the Saudis in their dispute against Iran, thus guaranteeing that Syria will be a killing field for a long time. Worse yet, we may find ourselves in a war with Iran which would delight the Saudis more than anything except maybe an end to American oil drilling.

But the real missed opportunity for Trump is North Korea. Trump can do something no American president could get away with… negotiate a deal with China that eliminates the threat from North Korea permanently. Unfortunately, Trump doesn’t have the attention span, understanding of history, or long term outlook to make it happen. The key to solving the Korean problem is China. Everybody, even Trump, gets that. But nobody wants to give the Chinese what they want which is a buffer against its enemies, including the Americans. As long as the American military use the Korean peninsula as a training ground, China will support Kim Jong whoever. More proof of Trump’s diplomatic inadequacy was his failure to even bring up the issue at the recent G-20 conference

It’s true that we have an obligation to protect South Korea from invasion. But it’s also true that they have a great capacity to defend themselves. We worked with South Korean troops in Vietnam, and they were incredible. American troops’ purpose is to act as a trip wire in case of a resumption of hostilities (the Korean War never officially ended.) A real negotiation with the Chinese would give them want they want: influence over the entire Korean peninsula without the presence of American military. The Chinese have shown the ability to think long term and to negotiate rather than fight to get what they want. Look at how they have handled the Hong Kong and Taiwan situations. They are increasing their influence in those regions without resorting to war or hostile takeovers. If we guarantee that South Korea won’t be forcibly reunited with the North, China and the U.S. can force the end of the Korean War and with it, the Kim dynasty. Plus the Chinese would have a much better trade partner.

Trump is like Richard Nixon in this respect. Only Nixon could go to China and brush away the Taiwan problem. Only Trump can do the same with Korea. We don’t have to abandon South Korea. Just let the Chinese become the main influence and trading partner on the Korean Peninsula. The Chinese cannot be happy or feel secure with a nuclear North Korea under the rule of Kim Jong Un. It’s sort of like having a cobra on a six inch lease. Serious problems are inevitable. But to them it is preferable to having the American military on their doorstep. It’s like how we reacted to Cuba and the introduction of Soviet missiles. A secret negotiation with China that operated under this “win-win” scenario, would have a high chance of success. But this administration is too incompetent to achieve such a result. They haven’t even named an ambassador to South Korea yet. Of course, in fairness to Trump, important diplomatic posts like an ambassador to the Bahamas, had to be taken care of first.

Instead of doing what he promised, our president attacks China on Twitter which ensures that Korea remains as one of the top three locations for Trump to start a war. After all, what good is having the world’s best military if you can’t use it?