When Barack Obama was running for the Presidency in 2008 he said he might agree to meet with America’s foes, like Kim Jong Un of North Korea or (at that time) Ahmad Ahmadinejad of Iran. He was trounced on by Republican hawks for weakness – these are our enemies, why give them stature by talking with them? In the end, Obama did not, though he did use massive international pressure to force Iran to a verifiable nuclear arms agreement.
President Trump’s summit with Kim Jong Un of North Korea is astounding in what it did and did not do. It did not yield any kind of verifiable agreement – or any kind of agreement at all – for North Korea to give up nuclear weapons. The US made concessions, North Korea made none. Most importantly, the US gave North Korea a propaganda coup – Kim is on stage as a world leader, called “talented” by the US President. Indeed, Trump praised Kim’s leadership saying that when he talks “his people” are at full attention, listening to him. “I wish my people would do that,” Trump noted wistfully.
That is surreal enough – that an American President would give North Korea so much in return for so little, and with right wing Republicans cheering it on. Trump makes Neville Chamberlain look savvy and skeptical.
But it gets worse. President Trump, and top members of his administration, lambasted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for being – understandably and justifiably – angry about US tariffs put on Canadian goods for “national security” reasons.
One aide said there was “a special place in hell” for “back stabbers” like Trudeau. Trump attacked him via twitter. Yet polls show most Americans back Trudeau over Trump in this spat.
So the US President praises the dictator of the most ruthless country in the planet, one dead last in human rights, despite not getting anything in return. Way to negotiate, Donny! Then he attacks our most important ally with vicious condemnation, even though Trudeau is a democratically elected leader with an excellent human rights record. What gives?
It’s not that the meeting with Kim did any good for the US. Indeed, China and Russia benefit most from this racheting down of pressure in exchange for, well, nothing. If Trump really was a Russian plant, this is exactly the kind of thing he’d be doing.
Indeed, not only is he giving gifts to cold blooded Communist dictators, but he’s undermining the American led free trade regime put in place after World War II with the Bretton Woods system and GATT (now the WTO). The US has consistently promoted free trade and warned against tariffs and trade wars – Trump is blowing that all up, putting millions of jobs at risk.
It gets even worse. Given high US debt and deficit spending, if foreign countries decided to punish the US by not buying our bonds (or dumping those they have), it could be a disaster – perhaps a collapse of the dollar. The US deficit had been going down steadily under Obama. Trump’s tax cuts to the wealthy, not likely to help the economy, have ballooned the deficit to record numbers. We need other country’s money just to pay our bills – even as we alienate those same countries.
This is surreal, it’s like a farce, a bizarre twist of reality that can’t really be happening…but it is. A President banging out inane Twitter insults, attacking American institutions, and preening for dictators, all while working to undermine global economic stability.
I can imagine Trump meeting with Putin down the line. “Mission accomplished,” he’ll say, as we watch the western economy lurch into crisis. Then Trump will jet to North Korea and party with Kim, sipping cognac with a man he can relate to, and who has loyalty from his own people that Trump craves. Perverse.