Does Don­ald de­serve to win the No­bel Peace prize?

That’s not as ab­surd as it sounds, says Ian Bir­rell, who loathes Trump but con­cedes he’s done more for for­eign af­fairs than Obama ever did

The Irish Mail on Sunday - - COMMENT -

WHEN Don­ald Trump took the pres­i­den­tial oath of of­fice 16 months ago, he promised ‘the hour of ac­tion’ had ar­rived. For all his many faults and foibles, no one could ac­cuse the prop­erty ty­coon of fail­ing to live up to this pledge.

His short pe­riod in power has lurched from one cri­sis to an­other, many self-in­flicted by a man who de­lights in crass stunts and stir­ring up trou­ble.

These are roller­coaster times, even for a for­mer re­al­ity TV star who be­came the world’s most pow­er­ful man. Brush­ing aside grow­ing do­mes­tic furores over du­bi­ous pay­ments to his lawyer and links to dodgy Rus­sian oli­garchs, Trump is push­ing for­ward fast on three for­eign pol­icy fronts that could re­shape the world or­der. They are all huge gam­bles.

His sup­port­ers praise his bold­ness as proof he will Make Amer­ica Great Again. But most diplo­mats warn his dra­matic steps could un­leash dark con­se­quences for the US, not to men­tion billions of peo­ple around the planet.

I am a pes­simist over his gung-ho ac­tions on all three fronts: Iran, Is­rael and North Korea. These are three of the world’s most ex­plo­sive places and I fear his pos­tur­ing stance, de­fy­ing norms of diplo­macy, could back­fire dread­fully.

Yet as much as I dis­like the man, with his big­otry, silly tweets and bom­bas­tic brand of pol­i­tics, I must be hon­est.

It is just pos­si­ble that it takes a mav­er­ick pres­i­dent pre­pared to chal­lenge all con­ven­tions to un­lock some of the most in­tractable prob­lems of our age.

Yes­ter­day, North Korea an­nounced it will be­gin dis­man­tling its nu­clear test site this month, with jour­nal­ists in­vited to wit­ness the process.

THE news came in the same week that three Amer­i­cans held cap­tive in North Korea were re­turned home, to be greeted at the air­craft door by Trump him­self. Even by the pres­i­dent’s own self-ador­ing stan­dards, it was a com­pelling piece of theatre and an ex­tra­or­di­nary devel­op­ment in Amer­ica’s deal­ings with the rogue state. In less than a year, Trump has gone from taunt­ing ‘Lit­tle Rocket Man’ to call­ing Kim Jong-un ‘very honourable’.

That has led some Repub­li­cans, and South Korea’s pres­i­dent, to sug­gest Trump should win the No­bel Peace Prize. Ab­surd? It might turn out no less ab­surd than Barack Obama win­ning the prize at the out­set of his pres­i­dency.

For all his charm and smart­ness, Obama’s pas­sive style – dubbed ‘lead­ing from be­hind’ – achieved lit­tle of con­se­quence on the great global is­sues. To­day, ‘No Drama Obama’ has been re­placed by the most un­pre­dictable – and at times in­fan­tile – US pres­i­dent I have seen in my life­time. A man who needs his name, or cards with pic­tures, re­port­edly in­serted in se­cu­rity brief­ings so he keeps read­ing them.

Obama’s one big for­eign pol­icy break­through, apart from be­ing in the White House when US spe­cial forces found Osama Bin Laden, was the 2015 Iran nu­clear deal dumped by Trump this week.

This drives a wedge be­tween the US and Europe, es­pe­cially France, which stands to lose sub­stan­tial trade with Tehran as sanc­tions are reim­posed.

Yes, the deal was flawed. But it brought a rogue state back into the in­ter­na­tional fold – and the UN said Iran was hon­our­ing the pact. Omi­nously, Ira­nian lead­ers are mut­ter­ing about restart­ing nu­clear en­rich­ment to higher lev­els than be­fore.

Trump’s team be­lieves tougher sanc­tions will re­strain Iran’s ad­ven­tur­ism. Some even hope this will cre­ate enough pain to prompt regime change.

This would be a big win for Wash­ing­ton.Yet we should not for­get that for all Trump’s rhetoric, the seeds of Iran’s re­newed strength were sown by the dis­as­trous in­va­sion of Iraq, fol­lowed by Western timid­ity over Syria. It ex­tended its reach by fill­ing vac­u­ums.

Af­ter plead­ing with Trump not to rip up the deal, French pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron warned that the de­ci­sion would lead to war. Al­ready the mis­siles are fly­ing. Is­rael ac­cused Iran of launch­ing a rocket at­tack on the Golan Heights, called up re­servists and car­ried out air strikes on Tehran’s forces in Syria.

And Saudi Ara­bia blamed Ira­nian al­lies in Ye­men for fir­ing at its cap­i­tal Riyadh.

These high­light ten­sions ris­ing across the Mid­dle East, al­ready home to cruel proxy con­flicts in Syria and Ye­men.

NOW Trump is turn­ing up the heat on two sim­mer­ing strug­gles that could dwarf even these two ter­ri­ble wars – the an­cient split be­tween Shia and Sunni Mus­lims, plus the de­press­ing Is­rael-Pales­tine strug­gle. The threat of a nu­clear arms race in this re­gion is ter­ri­fy­ing.

Trump’s next big ges­ture comes to­mor­row: open­ing the US em­bassy in Jerusalem, 70 years to the day af­ter Is­rael de­clared in­de­pen­dence, to mark recog­ni­tion of the di­vided city as its cap­i­tal. He puz­zled diplo­mats by re­vers­ing decades of US pol­icy with this con­ces­sion while ask­ing for noth­ing in re­turn. It is a bit­ter irony that in so do­ing Trump may be fan­ning the flames of po­ten­tial dev­as­ta­tion in one re­gion, just as he is re­ceiv­ing plau­dits for mov­ing a step closer to avert­ing Ar­maged­don in an­other.

Asked this week if the re­lease of the North Korean pris­on­ers was his proud­est achieve­ment, Trump said that would come when ‘we de­nu­cle­arise that en­tire penin­sula’.

On that front, I still have cause for pro­found scep­ti­cism. Kim Jong-un may have pledged to de­stroy his na­tion’s nu­clear test site, but many ex­perts sus­pect it had al­ready par­tially col­lapsed back in Septem­ber.

Be­sides, it seems un­likely the world’s most re­pel­lent regime will give up the pro­tec­tion af­forded by weapons of mass de­struc­tion that it spent decades de­vel­op­ing. Not least when his­tory shows North Korea uses peace talks to hide weapons build-ups.

The pres­i­dent’s de­fend­ers say North Korea shows how his self-con­fi­dence, in­con­sis­tency and lack of cau­tion can wrong­foot foes as well as friends. They be­lieve he can defy all usual laws of diplo­macy.

The con­cept of this shal­low char­ac­ter on the No­bel podium seems ris­i­ble, but if Trump pulls off peace in any of these hotspots, he de­serves it.

Sadly, I fear his naivety is only stok­ing, not solv­ing, the world’s great prob­lems.

Trump’s lack of cau­tion can wrong-foot foes and friends

tRi­UMPH: Don­ald Trump with US de­tainees freed by North Korea this week

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