Daniel Larison

Bolton Is Gone, But His Garbage Ideas Aren’t

John Bolton spoke at the National Conservatism Conference this week.(By Christopher Halloran /Shutterstock)

Fred Kaplan explains how Bolton’s desire to destroy yet another important treaty is being fulfilled even after he departed the administration:

President Donald Trump has signed a document expressing an intent to withdraw from what must be the least controversial arms-control treaty on the books without consulting the military, the State Department, or the intelligence community—all of which oppose him on this issue.

The accord is the Open Skies Treaty, signed in 1992 by the United States, Russia, and 32 other countries, including 27 of the 29 NATO nations. (The two that haven’t signed are Albania and Montenegro.) It allows member-nations to fly unarmed reconnaissance planes over one another’s territory in order to collect data on military activities.

The Open Skies Treaty is one of the least controversial treaties that the U.S. is a party to, but for someone like Bolton any multilateral treaty that requires anything of the U.S. is anathema. The treaty is a useful mechanism for stabilizing relations between the U.S., Russia, and our European allies. There is absolutely no good reason for the U.S. to abandon this treaty, and the U.S. stands to lose if Trump follows through on his willingness to withdraw from it. This is the sort of arms control agreement demolition that should have stopped when Bolton left, but it has carried on, zombie-like, inside the National Security Council anyway:

According to three knowledgeable sources, Trump’s move stems from the persistent influence of John Bolton, even one month after he was fired as national security adviser. Bolton had been advocating the pullout for some time. After his dismissal, one of his aides, Tim Morrison, who continues to work on the National Security Council staff, kept pushing it. Finally, sometime last week, Trump signed the document expressing his intent to withdraw from the accord.

Scrapping the Open Skies Treaty is vandalism for its own sake. Bolton loathes international treaties. He especially hates the treaties that actually work and provide some real benefits to the U.S. Successful treaties are a rebuke to his entire worldview, and so he wants them destroyed. Quitting this treaty makes absolutely no sense on any level, and it would be detrimental to U.S. and allied interests:

Defense officials and consultants, some of whom are skeptical of other arms-control accords, agree that a withdrawal from Open Skies would hurt the U.S. and its allies much more than it would hurt Russia.

The treaty is the definition of a mutually beneficial, stabilizing international agreement. Only someone with a view of international relations as simplistic and zero-sum as the president would think to get rid of it. Bolton may be gone, but the brain-dead unilateralism and hatred of arms control that he championed live on in the Trump White House.

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Weld’s Underwhelming Foreign Policy Alternative

Former Massachusetts Gov. Bill Weld intends to mount a primary challenge against Trump. To that end, he spelled out his foreign policy views in a new article for Foreign Affairs. Unfortunately, Weld makes a number of bad mistakes that undermine his effort to offer a credible alternative on foreign policy. He begins by lambasting Trump for “isolationism,” which misunderstands what Trump’s foreign policy is and why it is so awful. He then explains that he is running on a platform of nostalgia:

I am running against Trump for the Republican nomination for president in part to return the United States to the stable, bipartisan foreign policy that brought the United States through the Cold War. This means restoring deep connections with our European and Asian allies and with Israel.

I’m not sure what the constituency is for such a “return.” It’s not clear that it would be desirable even if it were possible. For one thing, the “stable, bipartisan foreign policy” to which Weld refers was a function of the Cold War rivalry with the USSR. It is not possible to “return” to such a foreign policy without having a major rivalry like that. The U.S. needs a foreign policy that addresses the realities of the present, and running back to an old bipartisan consensus won’t provide that. There is an unthinking dogmatism about Weld’s formula that treats “deep connections” with these other states almost as if they are ends in themselves instead of a means of advancing U.S. security. Why in particular does the U.S. need “deep connections” with Israel as it extends and intensifies its illegal occupation of Palestinian territories? Circumstances and U.S. interests would suggest that the connection should be reduced rather than deepened, but Weld isn’t interested in talking about that.

Weld bangs the drum about “isolationism” several times, and it is as tiresome as it is wrong:

Yet the United States cannot afford to retreat into isolationism, as the Trump administration has done.

The problem here isn’t just that Trump hasn’t “retreated into isolationism,” but that Weld is so determined to shoehorn Trump into this category because his own foreign policy worldview is boilerplate hawkishness and “isolationism” is the only thing he knows to attack. Weld gets Trump’s foreign policy wrong, and his analysis of foreign threats seems to be similarly blinkered. He says this about Russia: “Russia appears determined to redraw its borders to match those of the former Soviet Union—using military force if necessary.” This is false and alarmist.

Weld claims to eschew a “full-blown neoconservative approach,” but it’s not clear where he actually disagrees with that approach. Like them, he insists that the U.S. is a “guarantor of world order,” which implies a similarly aggressive foreign policy of maintaining hegemony and punishing challengers. He says that we should use force “only when it is necessary,” but necessary for what? If he means necessary only for U.S. and allied security, that’s one thing. If he means necessary for preserving “world order,” that is something very different.

His comments on North Korea and Iran are mostly just puzzling:

Every U.S. administration since the Cold War has been determined to prevent North Korea and Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. As president, I would be no less determined. If North Korea and Iran obtain or build nuclear weapons, then it will be the fault of the United States and its partners.

Does Weld not know that North Korea has had nuclear weapons for more than a decade? Does he not realize that North Korea isn’t ever giving them up? Does he understand that Iran has repeatedly committed to never build or acquire nuclear weapons? His determination to prevent something that already happened and stop something that isn’t likely to occur is odd. It suggests that Weld doesn’t really understand either of these issues well enough to comment on them.

The one bright spot in Weld’s article is his criticism of Trump’s decision to renege on the JCPOA and his acknowledgment that the crisis with Iran is “of Trump’s making.” He’s right on both counts, but then his proposed solution is so vague as to be almost worthless:

Solving the Iran problem will require a new diplomatic strategy that does not undermine our credibility—as Trump’s decision to tear up the deal did—or appear desperate for a new deal. We cannot ignore Iran’s latest acts of aggression against Saudi Arabia and others, even if Saudi Arabia poses its own set of problems for us with its support for Sunni extremists. But if a new deal can be negotiated—perhaps after we make clear to Iran that naked aggression is a nonstarter—it should be. This is a situation that calls for finesse and attention to events, not ham-fisted actions driven by delusions.

On North Korea, Weld says that the U.S. needs a “flexible approach.” That sounds promising, but he never explains what he means by flexible, and it is hard to square that with his insistence that North Korea can’t have nuclear weapons. At the end, Weld says “to govern is to choose,” but in his article the former governor doesn’t want to make clear choices and would prefer to have things both ways. Weld’s primary challenge is a long shot, and there doesn’t seem to be much of a constituency for his kind of Republicanism. He isn’t doing himself any favors with so many tired and inadequate foreign policy arguments.

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The ‘Credibility’ Worshiper’s Lament

US soldiers in a market in the town of Ras al-Ain in Syria’s Hasakeh province near the Turkish border on July 28, 2019. (Photo by AFP/Getty Images)

The credibility worshipers are at it again:

Trump’s Syria tactics have hurt the United States as much as its partners. The latest abandoning of U.S. allies has solidified an already widespread belief in the Middle East and beyond that the United States is not a reliable ally.

We can all agree that Trump’s indulgence of the Turkish government in clearing the way for their assault on northern Syria has been handled as badly as it possibly could have been. The president consulted with no one, gave no warning to the people that would be directly affected by the decision, and typically gave no thought to the consequences of his decision. To make things worse, U.S. forces aren’t even leaving Syria, but are simply moving to a different part of it. Trump has managed to find a position that is the worst of both worlds: clearing the way for a Turkish invasion without even exiting Syria.

I hope we can also agree that warnings about damaged credibility are nonsense. The U.S. has used and then discarded proxies many times over the decades. It is always ugly and reflects poorly on our government, but it will keep happening every time that the U.S. enters a conflict where it has few or no interests at stake. The right answer is to stop getting involved in these conflicts. Every time the U.S. gets involved in a conflict like this, we create false expectations of how long we will stay and how much support we will provide to our local partners.

Despite this long record of exploiting and then abandoning proxies, somehow the U.S. is never lacking for armed groups that are willing to accept U.S. support in the future. Somehow our treaty allies don’t assume that the way the U.S. treats a militia in a foreign civil war has any bearing on how it will treat them. Incredibly, armed Kurdish groups keep siding with the U.S. again and again despite having overwhelming proof that our government will hang them out to dry every time. That should tell us that proxies and allies don’t side with the U.S. because of some magical credibility based on our past record, but because they see it as being in their immediate interests to do so. Promises and threats are made credible by the interests and capabilities of the government that makes them. The U.S. has scarcely any interests in Syria, and so whatever the U.S. does or doesn’t do in Syria it doesn’t tell us anything about the credibility of U.S. commitments in places where our interests are much greater.

The credibility argument here makes no sense at all. By siding with Turkey, a treaty ally, against a proxy militia, the U.S. is supposed to be proving itself to be an unreliable ally? The ugly reality here is that the Trump administration has sided with the allied government against the group that has been fighting alongside our forces. This is the result of an absurd Syria policy in which the U.S. has tried to be on the “side” of mutually antagonistic forces at the same time. If the U.S. had “sided” with the YPG, our government would be effectively turning against an ally, and by getting out of the Turkish government’s way the Trump administration turned against the proxy. If the credibility worshipers were right, there would be no way for the U.S. to avoid losing “credibility,” and that should tell us that they don’t understand how any of this works.

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The ‘Isolationists’ Are Coming!

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham during the Kavanaugh hearings last week. (CSPAN)

Lindsey Graham is an incorrigible warmonger, and he is also pig-ignorant about U.S. history:

The standard interventionist lie about U.S. foreign policy between WWI and WWII is that it was “isolationist,” when in fact our foreign policy was much more active and internationalist at that time than it had been in earlier decades. Not only was the U.S. engaged in commerce and diplomacy all over the globe, but our government was very much engaged in addressing the problems of post-war Europe. During our “isolationist” interwar period, our government sponsored the Dawes Plan, the Coolidge administration negotiated the Kellogg-Briand Treaty, and the U.S. intervened militarily several times in neighboring countries. Whatever one wants to say about the results, no one can honestly deny that these things happened. “Isolationism” in the interwar period is a myth, as I and many others have pointed out over the years. Andrew Bacevich put it best:

In truth, isolationism is to history what fake news is to journalism. The oft-repeated claim that in the 1920s and 1930s the United States raised the drawbridges, stuck its head in the sand, and turned its back on the world is not only misleading, but also unhelpful. Citing a penchant for isolationism as a defect afflicting the American character is like suggesting that members of Congress suffer from a lack of self-esteem. The charge just doesn’t square with the facts, no matter how often repeated.

Here, by way of illustrating some of those relevant facts, is a partial list of places beyond the boundaries of North America, where the United States stationed military forces during the interval between the two world wars: China, the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, Panama, Cuba, and Puerto Rico. That’s not counting the U.S. Marine occupations of Nicaragua, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic during a portion of this period. Choose whatever term you like to describe the U.S military posture during this era—incoherent comes to mind—but isolationism doesn’t fill the bill.

Prior to WWII, the U.S. had risen to become one of the most powerful states in the world, and even before WWI it had established itself as a colonial imperial power with the annexations of Hawaii and the Philippines and other territories in the Pacific. While the U.S. was reluctant to enter major foreign wars during this period, it was anything but isolated from the rest of the world. The myth of “isolationism” is frequently used to blame America for the outbreak of WWII, but this both ignores the deleterious effects of WWI in both Europe and Asia and bizarrely assumes that the U.S. somehow could have prevented the war if it only been more aggressively meddlesome.

If America in the 1920s and 1930s was “isolationist,” the word doesn’t mean anything. Of course, the point of the label is never to describe anything accurately. It is always used as a slur and a bludgeon, but it is used so often and so carelessly nowadays that it has lost its effectiveness as an insult. Graham’s application of the label to America’s so-called “unipolar moment” during the 1990s and early 2000s is deranged even for him. Nothing better demonstrates how meaningless the slur has become. Prior to 9/11, the U.S. had become the world’s only superpower and had its forces deployed all over the globe. Graham can’t acknowledge that it was the policies of the 1990s during this time of frequent meddling and interference abroad that led to the attacks. It is not a coincidence that the U.S. started to have a problem with jihadist terrorists in the years following the decision to base U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf in the 1990s, and it is not an accident that jihadist terrorism has bloomed as the U.S. has waged ceaseless war in the Middle East and other parts of the world. The lesson to be drawn from this period is almost exactly the opposite of the one Graham reaches. Economic warfare and interventionism have not “worked” to keep the U.S. secure and at peace, and they never will. If we would have a peaceful and secure future, that starts by getting out of foreign conflicts we don’t need to be fighting. That includes Syria, Yemen, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Libya at the very least. Graham’s shrieking about non-existent “isolationism” is proof that he has no other arguments to make, and it reminds us that we should always ignore what he has to say about foreign policy.

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The Iranian Students Left in the Lurch

Sarah Parvini follows up on the cases of Iranian students who have had their student visas suddenly and inexplicably revoked:

The students have put together a spreadsheet to keep track of their cases and determine whether they all had something in common that would bar them from the U.S., she said.

The only thing they found, she said, was that they are all Iranian.

There still doesn’t appear to be any explanation from the government why these students were treated this way. The State Department won’t comment on the cases to the press, and the affected students can’t get any answers, either. There seems to be no legitimate reason for the decision to yank the rug out from under these people who were about to begin their graduate work in American universities. If they weren’t eligible to travel here for some reason, why grant them the visas in the first place? It strains credulity that there would be something that came up with almost two dozen different students all at the same time, so we have to conclude that they are being discriminated against solely because of their nationality. It has been a demoralizing and frustrating time for them:

Students grappling with the visa cancellations said they felt defeated. Some have applied for student visas a second time, while others wonder whether they should attend universities in other countries such as Canada.

One of the students Parvini contacted doesn’t expect things to change for the better:

The 29-year-old had waited eight months to secure his visa and spent two years working and taking tests to get into American schools. He had been accepted into a program for mechanical engineering at the University of Toledo. But after an 18-hour flight to Boston, he was escorted onto a flight back to Tehran. His application for a second visa was rejected.

“I know my situation won’t change, and I don’t have any hope that I could get my visa and return as a PhD student,” he said. “They don’t care that they’re smashing two years of someone’s life under their feet and shattering them.” [bold mine-DL]

Like the travel ban, the treatment of these students seems arbitrary and pointlessly cruel. Much like the bogus waiver program, the process that led to the revocation of the students’ visas is opaque. The experience of these students shows that the exemption in the travel ban for student visas isn’t much of an exemption at all. Now these students have been left in the lurch, and their academic careers have been put on hold for no good reason. Ideally, the government would remedy the situation by approving new visas for all of these students as quickly as possible.

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Judge Trump’s Foreign Policy by His Actions and Not His Words

David Sanger makes the common mistake of taking Trump’s foreign policy rhetoric at face value:

He is demonstrating that in his pursuit of ending America’s “endless wars,” no American troop presence abroad is too small to escape his desire to terminate it.

The claim that Trump is engaged in a pursuit of ending endless wars would be a lot more credible if Sanger or anyone else could point to a single instance when Trump has actually ended U.S. involvement in a foreign war. To date, he has escalated every war he inherited, and the number of drone strikes in less than three years of his presidency far exceeds the number from the entire eight years of Obama’s. Contrary to conventional wisdom, Trump is not averse to using force, and he has sent more troops overseas since becoming president than he has brought back.

His on-again, off-again quasi-withdrawals from Syria are a perfect example of how he can’t quite bring himself to end our illegal military presence in another country. Withdrawing from Syria should be a lay-up for a president who genuinely wants to “get out.” The mission was never authorized by Congress, there is no international mandate for our military presence there, and there is no popular appetite for keeping U.S. troops in that country. Somehow it is almost 2020 and U.S. troops are still there. Trump’s determined effort to keep U.S. military support for the Saudi coalition going in the face of Congressional demands to cut off all weapons and assistance shows that he has no intention of “getting out” of that conflict. He is unwilling to follow through on what Kennan once called “a resolute and courageous liquidation of unsound positions.” Far from wanting to “get out” of our involvement in Yemen, Trump has tied himself and the U.S. as closely as possible to the belligerents that continue to bomb and starve that poor country.

Ben Friedman spotted the central flaw in Sanger’s analysis:

The only things that Trump ever wants to quit are the arms control treaties and nonproliferation agreements that stabilize relations with other states and make the world more secure. Otherwise, he escalates the shooting wars and launches one economic war after another. Trump “gets out” of the things he should stay in, and he stays in when he should get out.

Even this latest Syria decision doesn’t point to “getting out” of Syria so much as it shows how easily foreign governments can get Trump to alter U.S. policy to suit their interests. The president hopes to get credit for bringing troops home at the same time that he keeps them in open-ended, illegal missions for years to come, and he might get away with it if we paid attention only to what he said and not what was actually happening. Rep. Amash summed it up very well yesterday, and I’ll quote him again:

Trump professes to put American interests first, but frequently caters to the preferences of foreign governments at the expense of American interests. He claims to be ending endless wars, but he never ends any of them. We need to judge Trump by his actions and not his words, and if we don’t we will keep getting our analysis wrong.

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What’s a ‘Jacksonian’ to Do?

Andrew Jackson. Portrait: Ralph Eleaser Whiteside Earl / White House

Is there any Trump decision that Walter Russell Mead won’t try to shoehorn into his “Jacksonian” interpretation of the president’s foreign policy? Apparently not:

Explaining his decision to pull U.S. troops away from the Turkish-Syrian border at the cost of the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, and open the way for Turkish forces to create what Ankara calls a “safety zone,” President Trump tweeted early Monday that “it is time for us to get out of these ridiculous Endless Wars, many of them tribal, and bring our soldiers home.”

Hitting the caps-lock button, Mr. Trump went on to restate one of his bedrock beliefs, and a cornerstone of Jacksonian foreign-policy thinking: “WE WILL ONLY FIGHT WHERE IT IS TO OUR BENEFIT, AND ONLY FIGHT TO WIN.”

If the president has any “bedrock beliefs,” I don’t think this is one of them. When Trump says that “we will only fight where it is to our benefit,” this doesn’t account for why he has repeatedly escalated the wars he inherited in countries where the U.S. has little or nothing at stake. The U.S. gained no benefits from his decision to escalate the war on ISIS, and it certainly hasn’t benefited from his decision to send more troops to Afghanistan. The war on Yemen is an ongoing disgrace and has actually helped to boost enemies of this country by strengthening Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). When he says that we will “only fight to win,” that doesn’t explain why he has signed off on open-ended and unauthorized wars that have no real chance of ending successfully for the U.S. Trump may sometimes talk like one of Mead’s “Jacksonians,” but he doesn’t act like one. Trump isn’t bringing our soldiers home. He is moving them from one part of a war-torn country to another part and then congratulating himself on the “accomplishment.”

One of the supposed hallmarks of “Jacksonian” foreign policy is a willingness to defend national honor. There is no evidence that Trump cares about this, and judging from his nakedly transactional approach to relations with other governments I feel confident in saying that the concept of honor is completely alien to him. He reneges on commitments made by our government on a whim, and he exploits U.S. foreign policy for his own petty ends. Mead’s column is titled “Trump’s Jacksonian Syria withdrawal,” but based on Mead’s own definition of what “Jacksonians” are supposed to believe the president’s decision is neither “Jacksonian” nor is it a withdrawal. American troops will continue to operate in Syria illegally for some undefined period of time. They are being moved to stay out of the way of a Turkish assault that has reportedly already begun. That doesn’t strike me as the kind of thing that “Jacksonians” would respect. Then again, maybe the “Jacksonian” label isn’t all that useful for making sense of anyone’s foreign policy views.

If I had to guess what happened on the call between the president and Erdogan, it is that Erdogan made some generic statements about his opposition to “terrorists” and made empty promises to Trump on this score. Just as he fell for Saudi and Emirati propaganda about Qatar and believed whatever Sisi told him about Haftar in Libya, he fell for whatever Erdogan was selling him because his grasp of the relevant issues is superficial at best and he views all of these things through the narrow lens of counter-terrorism. This is not evidence of a “Jacksonian” sensibility. It is simply proof of extraordinary gullibility and confirmation that the president can be easily swayed into doing what other governments want him to do for them.

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The Ugly Results of an Absurd Syria Policy

The al-Tanf garrison in southern Syria. Credit: Public Domain

Trump has opened the door to a Turkish incursion into Syria:

Donald Trump has given the green light to a contentious Turkish military operation in north-east Syria against the main US allies in the battle with Isis, triggering alarm in Washington and Europe and plunging the campaign against jihadis into uncertainty.

The US has started withdrawing troops from the vicinity of a looming Turkish incursion, following Mr Trump’s phone call with Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s president, on Sunday night.

The White House said the US military, which has about 1,000 troops in Syria, would not “support or be involved in the operation” that Turkey has repeatedly threatened to launch against US-backed Kurdish militias. In a statement, it said US forces would “no longer be in the immediate area”.

Removing U.S. forces from the area avoids having them caught up in the Turkish military operation. Unless the U.S. was prepared to oppose Turkey and defend the YPG, it’s not clear what purpose would be served by keeping those forces where they were. Our absurd Syria policy has put us in the untenable position of trying to keep the peace between mutually hostile “allies” for years, and eventually the U.S. was going to have to choose which “ally” it was going to side with. It is worth remembering that Turkey is a treaty ally and the YPG is at most a proxy that has proven to be useful over the last few years. If the U.S. is going to favor one or the other, it was never likely that our government would take the side of the YPG over Turkey.

This dilemma wouldn’t exist if the U.S. hadn’t been waging an illegal war in Syria for the past five years, and this should teach us to think very carefully about whether we should support armed groups in a conflict where we have few clear interests. The U.S. has a long history of supporting and then discarding armed proxies, and this will keep repeating itself as long as the U.S. gets involved in unnecessary wars that it will sooner or later quit. The solution isn’t to use U.S. forces as a buffer with no end in sight, as quite a few critics of this decision seem to want, but to refrain from sending U.S. forces into conflicts that don’t matter for U.S. security in the first place. Eventually our forces are going to leave places on the other side of the planet, and it is unrealistic and unfair to make promises of a more enduring commitment that everyone has to know won’t be kept.

Having said all that, the administration has handled all this very poorly. Like almost every Trump decision, the decision was made hastily and without coordinating with any of the people that would be affected by it. It isn’t clear that all U.S. forces will be withdrawn from Syria anytime soon, so it is possible that the illegal deployment there will continue somewhere else. And it wouldn’t be a Trump foreign policy decision if it didn’t involve making insane threats about destroying a country if its government does something he doesn’t like:

Trump clearly wants to have things both ways, but it won’t work. He is obviously wrong to threaten to “destroy and obliterate” the Turkish economy, and the language in his statement is deranged. Anyone who refers to his own “great and unmatched wisdom” obviously doesn’t have any wisdom to speak of, and it shows in this unhinged threat. For one thing, the threat isn’t likely to deter Erdogan from ordering an attack on Kurdish forces. The Turkish government sees the YPG as part of an intolerable threat, and they aren’t going to be coerced into changing their position on that. Following through on the threat would mean inflicting punishment on the people of Turkey for something their government has done, which would both inflame hostility to the U.S. and harm tens of millions of people without achieving anything.

These are all the ugly results of an absurd Syria policy and an illegal war that Trump escalated when he came into office. It should serve as a warning to future administrations about the pitfalls of involving the U.S. in wars we don’t need to fight and throwing our support behind “allies” that we will eventually leave in the lurch.

Update: The movement of U.S. forces is just a redeployment inside Syria:

Rep. Justin Amash says it best:

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Time Has Almost Run Out With North Korea

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meets with U.S. President Donald Trump during the Singapore summit June 12.

Low-level talks with North Korea have apparently gone nowhere, and North Korea claims that the U.S. still hasn’t changed its approach to the negotiations:

North Korea slammed the U.S. for lacking political will after just-revived disarmament talks fizzled out Saturday, accusing Washington of misleading the public by calling the talks productive and for suggesting the two sides could meet again this month.

Pyongyang reiterated a warning to Washington to adopt a new negotiating stance by year’s end, state-media reported on Sunday [bold mine-DL]. If the U.S. sticks with the same approach, relations between the two countries “may immediately come to an end,” according to a statement attributed to an unnamed foreign-ministry spokesperson.

“We have no intention to hold such sickening negotiations as what happened this time before the U.S. takes a substantial step,” the spokesperson was quoted as saying.

North Korean officials and state media have repeatedly stressed the end of this year as a deadline for a change in how the Trump administration approaches the negotiations, and the administration has so far failed to take that deadline seriously. They have made it fairly clear that they don’t intend to participate in this process indefinitely, and they are expecting to see some kind of compromise position from the administration very soon. If that doesn’t happen, we should expect the North Korean government to end its self-imposed moratorium on its most provocative tests. At that point, the window for pursuing even a modest arms control agreement will be closed. It has been more than seven months since the failed Hanoi summit, and in all that time the administration appears to have been paying no attention to what North Korea has said or done.

Whatever “creative ideas” that the U.S. proposed at the working-level talks this weekend, it seems hard to dispute that the North Koreans found them inadequate. The main problem is that the U.S. is still demanding something that North Korea will never give up, and it is offering no real incentive for North Korea to make any concessions. Unless that imbalance is addressed and fixed immediately, negotiations with North Korea would appear to be as good as dead. If there was some hope that North Korea policy might become more flexible and reasonable following Bolton’s departure, it seems that this hope was misplaced. The fantasy of disarmament is killing any chance of successfully concluding any agreement.

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The Worst Secretary of State

Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky assess Pompeo’s tenure as Secretary of State, and they find him to be severely wanting:

We have worked for a half dozen secretaries of state in both Republican and Democratic administrations and rarely if ever have we encountered one more ill-suited for the job. Pompeo, who seems to be motivated by his own political ambitions and his desire to keep his job, has produced little of real consequence to advance the nation’s interest. If he continues on his current trajectory, Pompeo may end up being remembered as the worst secretary of state in modern times.

When Pompeo replaced Tillerson, there was a widely shared, mistaken belief that he could not possibly be worse than Tillerson, but in almost every respect he has proven himself to be just as bad at managing the department and much worse in advancing U.S. interests abroad. Tillerson was not a skillful diplomat, but at least he made an effort to be one. Pompeo sees his job mainly as acting as the president’s wrecking ball on the world stage. The previous Secretary of State famously avoided the press, but that is preferable to one who constantly berates reporters and lies to their faces on daily basis.

Tillerson was hamstrung by a poor relationship with the president and was poorly-suited for the job, but Pompeo has shown how much worse things can be when the Secretary of State is an unscrupulous yes-man willing to lie about anything and everything in order to keep the president happy. Pompeo has no more meaningful foreign policy experience than Tillerson had, but he is far more arrogant, partisan, and ideological in his approach to foreign policy issues. He isn’t as obsessed with “redesigning” the State Department as Tillerson was, but he arguably has less respect for the career professionals that work there. While he preens about defending State Department officials in order to stonewall the impeachment inquiry, he has presided over abusive subordinates and plummeting morale as the diplomats in the department realize that he has no loyalty to them. Nicholas Burns commented on this last week:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo owes it to the men and women of the department to stand up for their nonpartisan service and defend them from the president’s bullying and persecution. Unfortunately, Mr. Pompeo seems unlikely to do this. His heated criticism on Tuesday of three congressional committees that are looking to depose diplomats involved in our Ukraine policy is not the sort of “support” our diplomats need right now.

Pompeo’s tenure over the last year and a half has been a miserable time for the department. It is fitting that the man who boasted about bringing back the department’s “swagger” is the one who has driven it into a ditch.

Miller and Sokolsky also rightly fault Pompeo for his disgraceful defense of the Saudis:

He has denied the CIA’s own assessment that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman reportedly ordered the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi and claimed instead that “there’s no direct evidence linking him to the murder.” His kowtowing to Salman has enabled the crown prince to pursue reckless policies elsewhere in the region. Exhibit A: Saudi Arabia’s ruinous military campaign in Yemen has inflicted untold misery as a result of its ongoing conflict with the Iranian-backed Houthis. Pompeo has been the point man in defending US military assistance to Saudi Arabia in its Yemen fiasco. His refusal to acknowledge the Saudi role in Yemen’s humanitarian disaster and willingness to place the blame solely on Iran strains the bounds of credulity to the breaking point.

Pompeo’s Yemen and Khashoggi lies are just some of the most glaring examples of how he seeks to deceive the public and Congress on issue after issue. His efforts to whitewash Saudi crimes and shift blame for the world’s worst humanitarian crisis away from the U.S.-backed Saudi coalition are some of the clearest proof of why he is the worst modern Secretary of State. One small consolation is that Pompeo’s destructive role as Secretary of State will stay with him and taint him for the rest of his career.

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