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The Financial Express

Trump at the UN: Taking lessons from history

Muhammad Mahmood | Published: October 07, 2017 18:39:28 | Updated: October 25, 2017 05:26:23


Trump at the UN: Taking lessons from history

President Trump's debut speech at the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) was marked by his most direct threat to attack North Korea. He also mocked Kim Jong-un as a "rocket man on a suicide mission''.  It is ironic that he unleashed his war threat to obliterate a nation from the face of the earth at a forum dedicated to eliminate the scourge of war. The New York Times  in its editorial declared that the UN "isn't the venue one would expect for threatening war''.  Furthermore, such a threat also constitutes a threat to commit genocide. He went beyond name calling and threatening complete destruction by going one up  on George W. Bush's  three "axis of evil'' to "four rouge regimes''.  After threatening North Korea with complete annihilation, he went after Iran describing the Iran nuclear deal was an embarrassment. Later he told reporters he had made a decision on the issue but refused to say what the decision was. He declared he would sort out Venezuela and then put Cuba on notice declaring he would not lift sanctions until Cuba makes fundamental reforms. 

Leaving aside the entertainment value of his speech at the UNGA and the absence of any visual comedy, many countries now fear that Trump himself might just launch a pre-emptive nuclear attack. That made the UN secretary General Antonio Guterres to say "fiery talk can lead to fatal misunderstandings''. Meanwhile, not unsurprisingly such fiery and threatening declaration caused serious concern  not only among  some of the close allies of the USA in Europe but also from many other countries. The Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom said "It was the speech at the wrong time to the wrong audience''.  Many other European diplomats expressed alarm at the danger posed by his volatile personality. Some other observers described his speech as incoherent ranting resulting from his dysfunctional relationship with the English language.  His speech also has provoked responses in kind from his targeted countries; North Korea, Iran and Venezuela.

The US threats against North Korea have been escalating relentlessly throughout the year. But there has not been any serious discussion so far in the USA either in the official or the public arena on the consequences of a war. Andrei Klimov, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in Russian Parliament's upper house, told Interfax "any military conflict means deaths of civilians. It is especially odd as the US considers South Korea and Japan its allies, they could be affected in case of a strike''. An attack on North Korea has every potential to threaten China and Russia and that will further inflame the situation with catastrophic consequences. No wonder the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who tends to agree on everything Trump says on North Korea, remained silent on his threat to North Korea. South Korea responded with caution saying that his speech reflects the seriousness of US views on North Korea's nuclear challenge. But one Pacific region country, Australia, came in support of Trump. The country's Prime Minister said Donald Trump was simply "stating the reality''.

North Korea wants nuclear weapons for quite rational reasons to deter any possible attacks on the country and to counter the balance of conventional weapons edge the US and South Korea have. The US's historical destruction of North Korea and President Trump's threat to obliterate the country from the face of the earth would only further strengthen the resolve of North Korea to get on with the nuclear programme.  Pyongyang is also acutely aware of the fate of governments that have capitulated to US demands to abandon their nuclear weapons programmes.

Successive US administrations have considered military options to deal with North Korea but never came to fruition. This is simply because Pyongyang can immediately unleash waves of conventional military attacks on the South Korean capital, Seoul, a city of about 2.0 million people. Why Trump is then threatening North Korea with destruction? Some analysts argue that he wants to be seen as successful deal maker and making the way for a negotiated agreement with Pyongyang which his predecessor failed to do. The US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in his recent visit to Beijing confirmed that the US maintains a direct line of communication with North Korea.  This further reinforces that view. From Trump's perspective by insisting on China to rein in North Korea's nuclear programme to avoid any conflict could lead to creating a wedge between Beijing and Pyongyang which will work in the strategic interest of the USA.

Trump may have exacerbated the North Korean crisis but he was not the maker of it. But that cannot be said about the Iranian nuclear deal. Trump's anti-Iran section of the speech could have been written for him jointly by Tel Aviv and Riyadh. His declaration to take the US out of the 2015 nuclear deal has driven a wedge between Washington and European allies. French President Emmanuel Macron said that Iran deal was solid, robust and verifiable, to renounce it would be a grave error. Trump's own administration concedes that Iran has kept to the terms of the agreement. Federica Mogherini, the EU Policy Chief, clearly stated that the US would be in violation of a Security Council resolution if it ditched the deal.  Some Trump administration officials indicated that he is seeking to renegotiate the deal to further toughen it up rather than scrap it. But the Iranian President has ruled out the idea of renegotiating the agreement.

Trump's railing against Venezuela and Cuba looked rather surreal. Venezuela is currently under siege by the US-supported opposition to overthrow President Nicholas Maduro and Cuba under severe economic strain resulting from crippling US economic and other sanctions. His verbal broadside against Caracas and Havana was clearly designed to create conditions for the US to bring these two countries to its fold.  Whether he will succeed in his mission is a different issue, yet, why not give it a go?

One common feature runs through Trump's railing against the countries in his speech: these are the countries which refuse to submit to the writ of Washington and these countries are an obstacle to the US global hegemony. The elevation of Trump to the Presidency signals an empire in its declining phase - the declining phase of the Roman empire bears many similarities. The US has been embroiled in a lot of chaos and a large number of destructions, wars and occupations - to mention a few, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria - but winning nowhere. The successive debacles in its imperial ventures appear to be making its impulse to war even more frenetic, increasingly turning its attention to very weak, impoverished and defenceless countries.    The US as an imperial power has long been able  quite well to manage its client states in Europe, Asia and other places but in its declining phase that control is also gradually slipping away  if one looks at Europe now in particular. The emergence of China as an economic and military power just compounded the problem further and there is also Russia reasserting its position in Europe and elsewhere. It now appears that the Trump administration's grip on reality is increasingly becoming tenuous by the day. It is time that the Trump administration took some lessons from history.

The writer is an independent economic and political analyst.

muhammad.mahmood47@gmail.com

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