We are the generation that lived with the Cold War from the beginning. So we are qualified to say, it’s feeling awfully cold again. In this Boomer Opinion piece, BoomerCafé’s co-founder and executive editor Greg Dobbs writes about it, and about what he thinks is behind it.
The question isn’t why President Trump ever fell for flim-flam spin from North Korea, where suddenly its spasmodic leader yo-yoed earlier this month from “Little Rocket Man” to “very honorable.” That one we understand by now: the man in the Oval Office is spasmodic himself. He doesn’t go deep, he just goes with his gut, which might work when you’re building casinos in Atlantic City (although from his debacles there, not always), but it’s no way to govern.
But no, the question is, why would Trump ever think of treating North Korea any differently than he has treated Iran? After all, these are two of the three nations named by President George W. Bush in 2002 as the “axis of evil.” (The third was Iraq but that’s such a mess right now, we don’t know which side is up.) The evil was, they supported terrorism, they imprisoned their opponents, they suppressed their citizens’ human rights, they aligned with America’s adversaries, and they were building, or believed to be building, weapons of mass destruction; translation: nukes.
So why was Trump doing his best to destroy the nuclear deal with Iran while he was making nice with North Korea? Truth be known, the behavior over the years from both countries has been pretty much the same. And so has their rhetoric, tossing threats and vitriol toward the United States. And, lest we forget, both nations have imprisoned American citizens on apparently bogus charges. President Trump crowed when the three Americans imprisoned in North Korea were released (and to be sure, he deserves credit for that). However, he has stayed silent and all but abandoned the four (maybe five) Americans still behind bars in Iran. What’s the difference?
Here’s the apparent answer: Barack Obama (with five other global powers) struck a deal with Iran, which means Trump won’t; Obama didn’t with North Korea, which meant Trump would try. That’s the difference.
Which makes my conclusion hard to take: the most powerful person in the world has no real anchor to policy. No long-held principles. No intellectual curiosity. And although his supporters will have conniptions if you say it, he seems to have no real allegiance to the American people. If it isn’t obvious to some by now, it never will be: Donald Trump evidently is only out for Donald Trump. It’s all about reputation. Ego. To hear him tell it before the summit went sour, “everyone thinks” he ought to win the Nobel Prize. Sorry Mr. President, everyone didn’t. Yes, everyone has shared the hope— in our nation’s interest, in our world’s interest— that you could destroy the nuclear threat from North Korea. But you weren’t even close.
What is impossible to ignore is that Trump’s only consistent strategy almost visibly is to undo everything President Obama did. We don’t even have to guess at it any more.
What should we even call Exhibit A? His quest to destroy Obamacare (even though the Congressional Budget Office estimates tens of millions more Americans wouldn’t have insurance without it)? His rash withdrawal from the Paris climate accord (even though every other civilized nation on earth supports it)? His abrupt termination of American leadership in the Trans-Pacific Partnership (which gives China an opening to trade with abandoned American partners)? Or is Exhibit A the knife he is taking to Obama’s policies that have protected us from the financial fiascos that caused the recession a decade ago, or to his policies produced to protect us from suffocating emissions, or to his “net neutrality” rules that prohibited internet service providers from arbitrarily slowing down specific websites and apps, or to the very existence of the Obama era’s Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, whose purpose is explicit in its name? Iran and North Korea are merely the most recent contenders for “Exhibit A” status.
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What’s worse, Trump has been playing chicken with both. That’s fine if he wants to channel James Dean and race a rival developer to the cliff to grow his fortune and see who blinks first. But Donald Trump is now the President of the United States. What if, during the pugnacious phase of Trump’s exchanges with Kim Jong-un, Little Rocket Man had had it with the fire-and-fury threats from the White House and launched some of his little rockets at us? What if, with the U.S. breaking its side of the bargain with Iran, the ayatollahs don’t blink and go full speed ahead to build nuclear weapons? Sure, we might try to destroy their program before they revive it but if we do, there will surely be fire and fury in much of the Middle East. That doesn’t help our allies; it doesn’t help us. With North Korea and Iran both, Trump is playing chicken with our lives.
In my many years as a foreign correspondent, I covered conflicts, treaties, and the like, including several arms control pacts with the Soviet Union. I learned three things. One was, when negotiating with adversaries, neither side gets everything it wants, but both get more than they had before. Another was, you don’t increase world stability by making the world less stable. The third was, the U.S. is well served in the long term by consulting and compromising with long-loyal allies, not snubbing and sometimes even insulting them.
But these are concepts that Barack Obama (and, by and large, his predecessors) lived by. From what we can see, Donald Trump doesn’t.
Watching the President bounce from crisis to crisis, from inconsistency to inconsistency, from lie to lie, a friend said to me the other day that Donald Trump is a fool. I disagreed, because a fool doesn’t know what he is doing. Trump might be more dangerous than a fool. He seems to know, but doesn’t seem to care.
Greg’s book about the wacky ways of a foreign correspondent, Life in the Wrong Lane, is available now as an audiobook — which Greg narrates himself — and can be preordered to download right here.