Trump on the warpath

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE -

Fif­teen years af­ter Ge­orge W. Bush de­clared that Iraq, Iran and North Korea formed “an axis of evil,” Don­ald Trump, in his maiden ad­dress to the United Na­tions, de­nounced Iran and North Korea in sim­i­larly vit­ri­olic terms. Words have con­se­quences, and Trump’s con­sti­tute a dire and im­me­di­ate threat to global peace, just as Bush’s words did in 2002.

Back then, Bush was widely praised for his re­sponse to the ter­ror at­tacks of Septem­ber 11, 2001. It’s easy to rally the pub­lic to war, and that was es­pe­cially true af­ter 9/11. Yet, on ev­ery front – Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and North Korea – US mil­i­tarism squan­dered global trust, lives, fi­nances and pre­cious time. And Trump’s ap­proach is far more bel­liger­ent – and dan­ger­ous – than Bush’s.

For Trump, as for Bush, there is Good (Amer­ica) and Evil (Afghanistan un­der the Tal­iban, Iran, North Korea, and Iraq un­der Sad­dam Hus­sein). Amer­ica the Good makes de­mands on the evil­do­ers. If the evil­do­ers do not com­ply, Amer­ica can ex­er­cise the “mil­i­tary op­tion” or im­pose puni­tive sanc­tions to en­force “jus­tice” as the United States de­fines it.

Bush ap­plied the logic of force vis-à-vis Afghanistan and the “axis of evil,” with dis­as­trous re­sults. The US quickly over­threw the Tal­iban regime in Afghanistan in 2002 but could not se­cure or­der. Fif­teen years on, the Tal­iban con­trols con­sid­er­able ter­ri­tory, and Trump has just or­dered an in­crease in troops. Amer­ica has spent roughly $800 bln in di­rect mil­i­tary out­lays in Afghanistan, and in­deed has been at war there al­most non-stop since the CIA covertly in­ter­vened in 1979, help­ing to pro­voke the Soviet in­va­sion of that coun­try.

The re­sponse to Iraq was even worse. The US in­vaded in 2003 on false pre­tenses (Sad­dam’s al­leged but nonex­is­tent weapons of mass de­struc­tion), squan­dered an­other $800 bln in di­rect mil­i­tary out­lays, desta­bilised the coun­try, caused hun­dreds of thou­sands of deaths, and, con­trary to stated US ob­jec­tives, plunged the re­gion into tur­moil. The in­di­rect costs of the two wars (in­clud­ing the long-term costs of vet­er­ans’ dis­abil­i­ties) roughly equal the di­rect costs.

Bush’s hard­line ap­proach to­ward Iran also pro­duced none of the en­vi­sioned re­sults. Iran’s re­gional in­flu­ence – par­tic­u­larly in Iraq, but also in Syria and Le­banon – is stronger today than 15 years ago. Its bal­lis­tic mis­sile de­vel­op­ment is much fur­ther ad­vanced. And the halt in its de­vel­op­ment of nu­clear weapons is due en­tirely to Pres­i­dent Barack Obama’s diplo­macy, not Bush’s mil­i­tarism and threats.

Bush’s ap­proach vis-à-vis North Korea was sim­i­larly un­suc­cess­ful. At the start of 2002, a frag­ile 1994 agree­ment be­tween the US and North Korea was still re­strain­ing the North’s ef­forts to de­velop nu­clear weapons, though the US had dragged its feet on sev­eral parts of the agree­ment. Scorned by Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion hard­lin­ers, the agree­ment col­lapsed in mu­tual re­crim­i­na­tion in 2002. In Jan­uary 2003, North Korea with­drew from the Nu­clear Non-Pro­lif­er­a­tion Treaty and re­sumed full-scale weapons-de­vel­op­ment ef­forts. Now, the coun­try has ther­monu­clear bombs and bal­lis­tic mis­siles.

All four cases re­flect the same US fail­ing. The US has re­peat­edly dis­dained ne­go­ti­a­tion as a sign of weak­ness and ap­pease­ment. The hard­line ap­proach is ini­tially pop­u­lar with much of the US pub­lic, but in­vari­ably ends in grief.

Trump is dou­bling down. He has all but de­clared his in­ten­tion to aban­don the nu­clear agree­ment with Iran, signed not only by the US but also by the other four per­ma­nent Se­cu­rity Coun­cil mem­bers (China, France, Rus­sia and the United King­dom) and Ger­many. Aban­don­ing the 2015 deal would par­al­lel Bush’s aban­don­ment of the nu­clear agree­ment with North Korea. Is­rael and Saudi Ara­bia reck­lessly en­cour­age Trump’s Iran pol­icy, but both coun­tries stand to lose griev­ously if the deal falls apart.

In the case of North Korea, Trump’s ap­proach is even more reck­less, threat­en­ing that the US will “to­tally de­stroy” the coun­try if it does not agree to aban­don its nu­clear pro­gramme. The prob­a­bil­ity that North Korea will ac­cede to the US de­mand is close to zero. The prob­a­bil­ity of pro­vok­ing a nu­clear war is high and ris­ing. In­deed, North Korea has as­serted that the US has ef­fec­tively de­clared war, though the White House has de­nied that in­ter­pre­ta­tion.

Trump, like Bush, has turned Pres­i­dent John F. Kennedy’s fa­mous dic­tum on its head. JFK told Amer­i­cans that they should never ne­go­ti­ate out of fear, but never fear to ne­go­ti­ate. Trump, like Bush, re­jects ne­go­ti­a­tions, for fear of ap­pear­ing weak, in favour of uni­lat­eral de­mands backed by the threat or re­al­ity of force.

With some vi­sion, it would not be hard to see Iran and the US co­op­er­at­ing on many fronts, in­stead of fac­ing off with threats of war. Achiev­ing the two-state so­lu­tion in Is­rael and Pales­tine would also help to defuse Iran’s anti-Is­rael stance.

In the case of North Korea, the regime is seek­ing a nu­clear ar­se­nal to de­ter a US-led at­tempt at regime change. Those fears are not com­pletely mis­placed. The US has, af­ter all, over­thrown or at least tried to over­throw non-nu­clear regimes that it op­poses, in­clud­ing in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and (un­suc­cess­fully) Syria. The North Korean regime has de­clared ex­plic­itly that it seeks “mil­i­tary equi­lib­rium” with the US in or­der to avert a sim­i­lar sce­nario.

The US suf­fers from an ar­ro­gance of mil­i­tary power dis­con­nected from today’s geopo­lit­i­cal re­al­i­ties. Mil­i­tarism has failed time and again – and is more dan­ger­ous than ever. Trump, a malig­nant nar­cis­sist, is seek­ing in­stant grat­i­fi­ca­tion and a po­lit­i­cal “win.” Amer­ica’s re­cent wars have pro­vided such im­me­di­ate grat­i­fi­ca­tion, be­fore quickly giv­ing way to grief – the ul­ti­mate quick high fol­lowed by a very deep low. The US is on this path again, head­ing for a col­li­sion with a nu­clear-armed ad­ver­sary, and it will re­main on it un­less other coun­tries, other Amer­i­can lead­ers, and pub­lic opin­ion block the way.

There is a bet­ter path: ne­go­ti­a­tions with Iran and North Korea over mu­tual se­cu­rity in­ter­ests that are di­rect, trans­par­ent, ob­jec­tive, and free of US mil­i­tary threats. The same is true re­gard­ing the con­flicts in Syria, Libya, Is­raelPales­tine, Ye­men, and else­where. And there is a venue for this: the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, cre­ated in 1945 to ne­go­ti­ate so­lu­tions when the world hov­ers be­tween war and peace.

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