- The American Conservative - http://www.theamericanconservative.com -

North Korea and Trump’s Loathing of the Nuclear Deal

Trump spoke at a rally in Pennsylvania over the weekend, and Daniel Dale was reporting on the event. The president said this:

Trump’s last line here struck me as potentially very significant. He has made a point of denouncing every deal the U.S. has ever made as a bad one negotiated by stupid leaders (he thinks the nuclear deal with Iran is one of the worst of all), and he has said that he thinks the mark of a good negotiator is a willingness to walk away. Barring some dramatic change, Trump will likely renege on the nuclear deal with Iran in two months, and that has obvious implications for negotiations with North Korea in the future. The president will be making a very public show of his administration’s unwillingness to honor commitments made in good faith later this year, and the North Korean government will have more evidence from this administration that the U.S. can’t be trusted.

change_me

I was reminded of this while reading Ross Douthat’s column [2] this morning. Douthat writes:

But still, any lasting deal with the paranoid kingdom north of the 38th parallel would have to persuade Pyongyang that we might attack if they keep raising the nuclear ante and that we really don’t care about toppling them otherwise. So it is potentially helpful to our negotiations that Trump combines a temperamental bellicosity with a deep skepticism about the democracy-promoting objectives of U.S. foreign policy over the last 20 years.

This won’t prevent him from bungling things; it shouldn’t make anyone rest easy. It just means that if we are to hope for any progress in these negotiations, we have to place some of that hope in Trump’s most Trumpish qualities, and from his rejection of bipartisan tendencies that have not saved us from this brink.

I understand what he is trying to say here, but it is odd to refer to “Trump’s most Trumpish qualities” on foreign policy without mentioning that he is a determined opponent of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). This is the most recent successful nonproliferation agreement, and Trump hates it. Trump may have no interest in the “democracy-promoting objectives” of previous administrations, but he also loathes any agreement that requires the U.S. to concede anything. He is in perfect agreement with his own party’s most hawkish members that most diplomatic bargains are appeasement.

For example, he wrongly believes that the Obama administration “gave” Iran $150 billion as part of the nuclear deal, and he is outraged that the U.S. didn’t “get” anything tangible from the JCPOA. The money he is talking about was Iran’s, they didn’t get nearly as much of it as Trump thinks they did, and unfreezing Iranian assets was an inevitable part of any agreement that led to their acceptance of restrictions on their nuclear program. In his mind, Iran’s verifiable commitment not to develop and build nuclear weapons doesn’t count as a win. None of that matters to him, just as it doesn’t matter to him that the IAEA has confirmed ten times in a row that Iran is in compliance with the JCPOA. What rankles him is the feeling that the U.S. was somehow taken for a ride because Iran wasn’t forced to give up absolutely everything. If it were up to him, Iran would have to commit to getting rid of its nuclear program all together along with shutting down their missile program and changing their entire foreign policy. If that is what he thinks about a nuclear deal that restricted a nuclear program in a state that never had nuclear weapons, we have to assume that his idea of a “good” deal with a nuclear weapons state is equally unrealistic and unobtainable.

Keeping all of this in mind, we should pay attention when Trump suggests that he may go to a meeting with Kim only to “leave fast.” We can be reasonably sure that he isn’t going to secure “the greatest deal for the world” because we know in advance that his terms aren’t going to be acceptable for North Korea. He is approaching the meeting with the misunderstanding that “they want to denuclearize” when they definitely do not, and so he will be expecting them to make an offer that won’t be forthcoming. Thanks to Trump’s poor grasp of foreign policy issues and his narcissism–two other very “Trumpish qualities”–he doesn’t know that denuclearization is unrealistic and he is vain enough to think that he is the first one to get them to agree to it.

10 Comments (Open | Close)

10 Comments To "North Korea and Trump’s Loathing of the Nuclear Deal"

#1 Comment By Clyde Schechter On March 11, 2018 @ 4:07 pm

For the first time, I now understand how Trump is different from the standard-issue neocon.

The neonconservative creed is that the United States must dictate everything to the rest of the world in the name of promoting democracy and American values.

Donald Trump believes that the United States must dictate everything to the rest of the world, and we should stop pretending that it’s about anything other than total domination.

Thank you for clearing that up!

#2 Comment By Frank Williams On March 12, 2018 @ 1:48 am

I don’t recall that we ever brought democracy and “American values” (whatever those are) to any nation ever, with the possible exception of postwar Japan. Since the end of WW2, the position of every Administration has been that democracy favors people over plutocrats, and that people will always favor socialism over predatory capitalism. The latter only thrives under fascist dictatorships. And those are what the US has put in place in the Americas, Africa, and all parts of Asia. I wish it were otherwise. But Trump is us.

#3 Comment By Realist On March 12, 2018 @ 1:50 am

Trump will find a way to queer the chances with North Korea also.

#4 Comment By Angel From Montgomery On March 12, 2018 @ 4:16 am

“The neonconservative creed is that the United States must dictate everything to the rest of the world in the name of promoting democracy and American values.”

Where’d you get that idea? The neocons generally don’t care about dictatorship or democracy, so long as the government is friendly and accommodating to Israel. As see their preference for Sisi over Morsi in Egypt, for the military over Erdogan in Turkey, the mind-boggling praise for the murderous Saudi Arabian autocrat Muhammed bin Salman.

They don’t have much patience for American values either. They led the charge for the mass surveillance, warrantless wiretapping, government sanctioned torture, a global lager system for “Islamofascists”, and other developments that dragged America deep into Orwell territory, if not quite fully into the Communist or Nazi realms, whose methods and values we used to pride ourselves on having defeated. In other words they don’t promote democracy and American values. Not at all. They soil them.

Thus, your summary should be revised as follows:

The neonconservative creed is that the United States must dictate everything to the rest of the world in the name of Israel.

“Donald Trump believes that the United States must dictate everything to the rest of the world, [but he’s surrounded by neocons and Establishment Republicans, so ] we should stop pretending that it’s about anything other than Israel First, and America a distant second.”

#5 Comment By summa from summit On March 12, 2018 @ 5:34 am

You’re right to worry about any deal with N. Korea being fatally freighted with JCPOA / Iran deal baggage. To be fair though, the problem goes well beyond Trump. As long as we have politicians taking the Israel money and pundits pushing the Israel line we’ll be crippled in dealing with matters like this.

#6 Comment By Uncle Billy On March 12, 2018 @ 7:34 am

Kim will not give up his nukes because he does not want to end up with a bayonet up his ass like Gadaffi did in Libya. The nukes guarantee his security.

#7 Comment By Christian Chuba On March 12, 2018 @ 7:55 am

The ‘gifting’ to Iran of their frozen assets was in return of the following concessions …
1. It was their risk premium for a future Administration undoing the agreement.

2. It was in return for an additional 5/7 yr moratorium on their ability to buy conventional and ballistic missile technology while Israel and the Saudis arm themselves to the teeth.

3. It was in return for a 15yr limit to keep their enriched uranium stockpile to starvation levels.

4. It was in return for enhanced inspections beyond the NPT lasting for 20yrs.

When people say we ‘gave’ them something it implies that nothing was gained in returned.

#8 Comment By b. On March 12, 2018 @ 12:45 pm

“[Trump] also loathes any agreement that requires the U.S. to concede anything. [..] What rankles him is the feeling that the U.S. was somehow taken for a ride because Iran wasn’t forced to give up absolutely everything. If it were up to him, Iran would have to commit to getting rid of its nuclear program all together along with shutting down their missile program and changing their entire foreign policy.”

Please – this is a good summary of US impunitive actionism and the basic idea of the Bush Doctrine and the “unipolar” moment. Let us not pretend that Trump invented this attitude, or that this posture is in any way an outlier among the biparty camp-followers of the war profiteering classes.

The only reason the US is concerned with nuclear proliferation into the hands of “state actors” is that it restrains US “freedom ops”. Of course Trump wants to see voluntary regime change from Iran – all of his advisors, handlers, retainers, friends do, too – and even his so-called opponents in the biparty establishment.

#9 Comment By One Guy On March 12, 2018 @ 4:27 pm

Not to worry. Trump is already walking back the idea that he and Kim will meet in May. Next week, they probably won’t meet until next year, and next month, they won’t meet at all.

Remember DACA? “I’ll sign whatever you give me?” Then he didn’t. Or the NRA? “You’re all scared of the NRA.” Now Trump is obeying the NRA. He flip-flops all the time.

#10 Comment By rayray On March 12, 2018 @ 4:53 pm

@b.
I agree in general with your assessment, with the caveat that it was the last administration that negotiated the Iran deal and stood behind it.

As much as I disliked much of what the Obama administration did, Kerry was trying to be a real diplomat.