A cau­tion­ary tale for Trump

The US pres­i­dent might want to ab­sorb some cau­tion­ary tales from the 1918 ar­mistice.

The Star Malaysia - - Dots -

DONALD Trump is in Paris this week­end to cel­e­brate the 100th an­niver­sary of the truce that ended World War One, sur­rounded by more than 100 heads of state, all of whom have fol­lowed with in­tense in­ter­est the out­come of the re­cent con­gres­sional midterm elec­tions in the United States. And not ev­ery­one might have liked what they saw.

Only a hand­ful of true au­to­crats were ever likely to be among those ea­ger to stand shoul­der-to-shoul­der with the Amer­i­can pres­i­dent or cel­e­brate what he called “a tremen­dous suc­cess” in Tues­day’s vote. Many world lead­ers had likely hoped to be as­sess­ing how wounded he might have been. Now they are prob­a­bly try­ing to assess what their next steps should be.

There are ef­forts ev­ery­where to draw some pos­i­tive out­come from what Trump was cel­e­brat­ing: his Repub­li­can Party in­creas­ing its Se­nate ma­jor­ity while Democrats won back con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives. It was the out­come pre­dicted by poll­sters, but dis­ap­point­ing to those who hoped the re­sult would re­flect a de­ci­sive re­jec­tion of Trump.

“No tidal wave, but a tide has turned,” ed­i­to­ri­alised the Ja­pan Times. “The elec­toral vic­tory of the Democrats may not be very big,” the Ger­man daily Sud­deutsche Zeitung ob­served, “But it shows how vul­ner­a­ble the Trump

Sarah Huck­abee San­ders

Repub­li­cans are.”

Still, vul­ner­a­bil­ity did not seem to be the or­der of the day in Trum­p­land.

Spin it as they might, each world leader in Paris would be wait­ing to see just how the split out­come of the cru­cial midterms will af­fect Trump’s at­ti­tude to­ward them in­di­vid­u­ally and the world col­lec­tively. What they find may not be ex­actly the at­ti­tude most had been seek­ing.

“The pres­i­dent is go­ing to fight for just what he’s laid out re­gard­less of who’s in con­trol in the House,” the pres­i­dent’s press sec­re­tary, Sarah Huck­abee San­ders, told NBC News when the out­lines of the evening be­came clear.

“He’s laid out a bold agenda and we ex­pect him to con­tinue to fol­low through and have an­other suc­cess­ful two years just like he’s had the pre­vi­ous two years.”

Still, for all his blus­ter over an over­whelm­ing vic­tory, which did of course elude him – there be­ing no red Repub­li­can wave just as there was no blue Demo­cratic one – Trump might want to ab­sorb some cau­tion­ary tales not only from the elec­tion results, but equally from the 1918 truce event that he is in France to cel­e­brate. To­day 100 years ago, the Al­lies brought a for­mal end to the bloody world war that had en­gulfed Europe for more than four years.

With the end of World War One, the Ver­sailles Peace Treaty and the fraught years that fol­lowed, it can be at­tested that the one over­whelm­ing les­son Trump might learn is a sim­ple one: Never hu­mil­i­ate nor ut­terly de­feat your en­emy. It comes around to bite you when you least ex­pect it.

In the For­est of Com­piègne where the French hu­mil­i­ated the Ger­mans in November 1918, see how well that worked out. In the same rail­way car in the same for­est where Mar­shal Fer­di­nand Foch dic­tated the terms of surrender to the ut­terly de­feated Ger­mans in 1918, Adolf Hitler sum­moned the lead­ers of an equally hu­mil­i­ated France to ac­cept their ab­ject surrender 21 years later. And of course, a half decade af­ter that, the French and their al­lies turned around and bit the Ger­mans back, hard.

To­day, Euro­pean na­tions have learned to live peace­fully and pros­per­ously with each other and most of the rest of the world.

The con­cern there is that Trump, in what he sees as his mo­ment of tri­umph, might up­set an ap­ple cart that has re­mained largely up­right for three-quar­ters of a cen­tury.

And there are sev­eral very good rea­sons to fear such an out­come. For Trump, as om­nipo­tent as he may now feel, also finds him­self in a dif­fi­cult world.

There is an Iran that may even­tu­ally con­clude, in the ab­sence of any ges­ture to­ward ne­go­ti­a­tions, that it must live with per­pet­ual sanc­tions and find an­other path for­ward – per­haps even throw­ing in the towel and go­ing full-tilt to­ward ac­quir­ing a nu­clear arsenal.

At the same time, North Korea could well come to the same con­clu­sion if, as ex­pected, Trump re­fuses to lift sanc­tions as North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has re­quested. In­deed, what was set to be the first ma­jor in­ter­na­tional ne­go­ti­at­ing ses­sion af­ter the midterms, be­tween Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo and his Py­ongyang coun­ter­part, was sud­denly post­poned Wed­nes­day morn­ing.

Talks be­tween Pom­peo, De­fense Sec­re­tary Jim Mat­tis and a high­level Chi­nese del­e­ga­tion in­clud­ing polit­buro mem­ber Yang Jiechi and De­fense Min­is­ter Wei Fenghe – strate­gi­cally booked for just enough af­ter the midterms, per­haps to al­low China to assess the results – went ahead on Fri­day amid trade ten­sions.

This is not to sug­gest any im­me­di­ate progress in trade talks, as the dis­cus­sions are ex­pected to cen­ter on se­cu­rity is­sues, es­pe­cially re­lated to the South China Sea.

The im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion to the midterms, at least on stock ex­changes world­wide, was re­lief, and hope that a di­vided Congress might some­how leave govern­ment in the United States frozen.

But th­ese in­vestors might have over­looked one cru­cial law of physics. Into every vac­uum, some­thing must flow. And when Trump sees a vac­uum, he has shown both the will and de­sire to pounce.

“We want to see so­lu­tions take place,” Sarah San­ders con­cluded late Tues­day night.

What re­mains to be seen now is that, un­chained, what those so­lu­tions might look like.

Hope­fully, the pres­i­dent can an­tic­i­pate any po­ten­tial out­comes of his ac­tions be­fore they come back and bite him – and the Amer­i­can peo­ple.

He’s laid out a bold agenda and we ex­pect him to con­tinue to fol­low through and have an­other suc­cess­ful two years j just like he’s had the pre­vi­ous two years.

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