Trump’s Diplomacy of Tactical Haste on Show in Singapore

Trump’s Diplomacy of Tactical Haste on Show in Singapore

Thursday, 14 June, 2018 - 05:30
London- Amir Taheri
Whatever the eventual outcome of the Singapore summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong-un, the encounter has already attracted attention as a dramatic illustration of what could be called the Trump Method of diplomacy.

If understood properly, the method could help to tackle a number of major international problems with US participation. If misunderstood, the Trump method could complicate many issues and even, as some circles in the Western politico-cultural elite claim, even lead to a weakening of the alliance of democracies that has set much of the global agenda since the end of the Second World War.

But what are the key features of the Trump Method?

The best way to answer that question is to compare the Trump Method with the diplomacy practiced by his predecessor Barack Obama.

Obama liked to label his method “strategic patience”, the chief example of which, he claimed, was the so-called “nuclear deal” with the Islamic Republic in Iran. Obama spent almost five years on secret and public negotiations to achieve his “deal”.

He set the ball rolling by going around the world making flattering speeches about Islam, including in Istanbul and Cairo, and giving the Islamic Republic legitimacy as a model of Islamic governance.

He also wrote several letters to “Supreme Guide” Ali Khamenei and President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, almost begging for a meeting “anytime, anywhere” but received no reply. He also enlisted the support of a large number of other powers, at one time even including Brazil and Turkey, only to end up with a “deal’ the outcome of which was to legitimize Iran’s nuclear project and make it acceptable to the global community.

With his gimmick of “leading-from-behind,” Obama gave the mullahs of Tehran ample opportunity to play the Europeans, the Russians and the Chinese against one another and, above all, against the United States.

Obama’s method produced a 176-page long press release, in several different versions, that no one signed and no legislature approved but was given a sacred status by Obama.

Trump, in contrast, made no lengthy speeches, wrote no letters to Kim and didn’t beg for any favors from the North Koreans. When he fancied he even used raw language against Kim in short-sharp tweets and, canceling the summit once and then reinstating it, showed that he was no pushover.

The entire process of negotiations with Pyongyang took around six weeks, including a visit by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The actual summit lasted a few hours, including the initial “one minute” during which Trump decided that he could do business with Kim. The end result was a brief text, far from Obama’s endless one in the case of Iran. Obama had refused to sign his text with Iran. Trump signed his text on North Korea.

Trump isn’t for “leading-from-behind” and thus has no need of bridal maids. And yet he keeps Japan, South Korea, China and, in the last phase, even Russia on board in support of his bid to solve the North Korean problem. Trump showed that he would rather lead from the front, even far in the front when and if necessary.

Obama gave Iran a lot before getting anything except a verbal undertaking not to do certain things. Trump gave nothing concrete, even insisting after the summit, that sanctions imposed on North Korea will remain intact until the “deal” is completed. Kim, however, released the US hostages, destroyed his main nuclear testing site and shut-down a 70-year old tradition of burning American flags and vilifying “US Imperialism.” Obama however had to grin and bear while Tehran held to its American hostages and top Islamic officials continued to trample US flags every day before entering their offices.

Minutes after the Singapore text was unveiled, Kim also let it be known that he would shut down his main testing site for ballistic missiles, a post-factum bonus for Trump.

Obama suspended the sanctions, unfroze some of Iran’s assets and even smuggled cash to Tehran in an operation worthy of the Mafia.

Of course, Trump gave Kim two important things. The first is treating the North Korean leader as an equal, worthy of a full summit. The second is an undertaking to send joint military exercises with South Korea which, in any case, are not due to take place until 2020.

The Obama text with Iran is so laden with legalese and jargon as to make many interpretations possible. Trump’s text on North Korea, however, goes straight for the jugular by asserting that the goal is complete denuclearization in exchange for security guarantees for Pyongyang.

Trump’s critics have already dismissed his method as “tactical haste” as opposed to Obama’s “strategic patience.” One reason for the difference may be that Obama was in his 40s as president while Trump is in his 70s, giving the two men opposing views of the role of time in diplomacy.

Trump’s decision to speak of Kim in glowing terms may have angered many in the West. But the Trump Method has no time for verbal gesticulations. Trump’s aim in Singapore was to commit Kim to losing down North Korea’s military nuclear project not to persuade him to convert to the ideology of human rights and market economy. Thus the ultimate test of success or failure is whether or not Pyongyang will actually close down its nuclear project as did South Africa, Ukraine, Byelorussia, Kazakhstan, Argentina and Brazil in different times.

It is, of course, too early to nominate trump for the Nobel Peace Prize, although Obama got one before having done anything right or wrong. The hard work of implementing the short Singapore agreement remains.

The state of war that has existed in the Korean Peninsula for seven decades must come to an end.

Thousands of South Koreans having "disappeared" or imprisoned in North Korea, must be accounted for. Over 30,000 North Koreans engaged in the nuclear venture must be retrained and reassigned.

The US and the People’s democratic republic of Korea must establish diplomatic relations and exchange ambassadors. A full peace treaty must replace the armistice in place under UN auspices.

The demilitarized zone (DMZ) must be turned into a proper border between the two Koreas as a path for an eventual reunion is opened with mutual consent.

The Singapore deal leaves the Islamic Republic in Iran as the only remaining link in the so-called “Axis of Evil”, something that the leadership in Tehran needs to seriously contemplate.

At a time that history is in high gear for greater speed, Obama’s strategic patience worsened the situation with regard to Iran. So, maybe Trump’s tactical haste sets a new model for diplomatic problem-solving.

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