Coherence in Trump’s Iran and North Korea Policy?

What’s at work in Donald Trump’s reneging on the Iran Deal and his cancelling/tentative rescheduling of the June Singapore summit to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un? Is there any coherence in these policies? Does his blunderous waffling on the Singapore summit reflect the spinelessness of an empty corpse that’s been infested with parasites? Or, simply put, does it reflect someone who is morbidly indecisive and gutless, and is unduly influenced by the new war-loving National Security Advisor John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo?

In a Truthout interview with Noam Chomsky, Chomsky maintains that both cancelling the summit (though its status is now up in the air) and leaving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) benefits Trump’s “actual constituency,” consisting of  “corporate power” and “private wealth.”

Prior to canceling the Singapore summit, Lawrence Wilkerson cited internal U.S. politics as the motivator for Trump’s “Libya model” threat against the Kim Jong-Un regime and for pulling out of the JCPOA. He argues that, since World War II, no other U.S. president has been driven so significantly by domestic politics.

These are both interesting, albeit, unsurprising conclusions. The mid-terms are coming up and Trump seems to be too lazy to go on the campaign trail for Republicans. An easier way to campaign is to manufacture news that rallies the base and, consequently, gets them to turn out in large numbers for his Republican allies…as most of Trump’s base salivates on a ‘tough’, hardline policy towards perceived foreign adversaries.

The corporate power and wealth that Chomsky cites are certainly part of the equation. The stocks of military industrial companies have soared to record highs under Trump. The perpetual threat of war drives the military industry to continuously fill new orders, thus satisfying stockholders. One slight anomaly occurred when the summit with North Korea was planned in early May; this briefly had caused military industrial stocks to plummet. Perhaps, as a response to Raytheon, Lockheed Martin and Boeing’s fears of a long-term peace with North Korea, Trump and his team reacted appropriately: with belligerent U.S.-South Korea military drills and warning that Kim Jong-Un’s overthrow would be something akin to the disastrous regime change of Gaddafi if the talks don’t work out. And who to help ensure military industrial stocks would rise back up, other than pro-war advocate John Bolton?

This was all after North Korea dismantled its nuclear weapons testing site. Such a major concession, prior to an important diplomatic conference, was met with antagonism from the Trump administration. Reacting to intense hostility, a North Korean government statement was issued critical of Mike Pence. And then, unsurprisingly, Trump cancelled the meeting.

We can only assume that if the Singapore conference ever happens, Trump’s complete lack of diplomatic skills will prevent the U.S. from successfully negotiating a peace agreement with North Korea. Even if the parasitic moneyed interests in Trump’s empty corpse, now dominated by neoconservatives, pushed him towards diplomacy, he lacks the ability, patience and intelligence that is necessary to broker a complex peace treaty.

Canceling the North Korea summit, reneging on the JCPOA and threatening the ‘strongest sanctions in history’ against Iran has crystalized the Trump administration’s overall strategy: provocation.

On a school bus, the bigger kid taunts and pushes the smaller one around every day. Eventually, the bullied child finds an opportunity to retaliate.

In the sphere of international relations, this equates with pushing an adversary towards first strike, whether on U.S. forces in Syria, Guam or South Korea, or a strong retaliatory strike against Israel by Iran. When this happens, the mainstream media will play along, as it usually does. Their framing will implicitly go something like: ‘Innocent’ U.S. forces in Syria were attacked or ‘irreproachable’ Israel was attacked by Iranian forces. This occurred a couple weeks ago when Iranian forces struck Israel after over 250 Israeli attacks on Iran’s forces in Syria. In short, the Trumpian goal may be to push the adversary to take ‘preemptive’ military action and, thereby, contrive justification for commencing full-scale war and regime change.

If Trump’s belligerence towards Iran and North Korea is largely theatrics for a domestic audience, then the war-potential consequence may come as a rude awakening. But, if the Trump administration has a more coherent policy of conning either North Korea or Iran into war, then it appears of Machiavellian design.

Yet, we should not really blame Niccolò Machiavelli for superpower machinations of goading smaller states into war. Not only was Machiavelli a tireless advocate for warding off the Florentine city state’s behemoth neighbors, including the Holy Roman Empire, France and Spain, from subjugation, but he sought to preserve Florence’s autonomy to develop a more democratic republic. According to German historian Friedrich Meinecke, Machiavelli’s ragione di stato or raison d’état helped implement the power of the state (which inevitability has its own problems) against the “corporate state of Ancient Régime” to change the law on behalf of the public good (p. 126-127). Ultimately, this allowed for creation of the modern state, which, in theory, holds the state to be responsible to its citizens, rather than the other way around.

It is difficult to discern to what degree there is coherence in Trump’s bellicose policies towards Iran and North Korea. Both policies serve military industrial stocks, as did April’s airstrikes on Syria – in this, there is clear consistency. However, what is not clear, is if the Trump administration is trying to goad North Korea and/or Iran into ‘preemptive’ attack, so it can justify an all-out war. For John Bolton and Mike Pompeo, it would seem that the sooner war occurs, the better. But for Trump, a war now may be too early – it may only benefit his Republican allies up for reelection in November. Meanwhile, any increased popularity Trump would gain from a war now would invariably diminish by the time he’s up for reelection. Thus, for Trump, commencing war two years later, just before the presidential election, would make far more sense. Republicans, independents and even some Democrats would rally to the flag and be more likely to vote him back into office.

This may be why we see Trump floundering, like a befuddled invertebrate, on the Singapore summit. He may have acquiesced to Bolton and Pompeo on cancelling the summit and leaving the JCPOA, but realizes that the timing is not right for the acquisition of political capital that would derive from a new war. However, as Wilkerson noted, Trump’s hostile actions play to domestic politics by firing up his base – but perhaps Trump fears that this could go too far, at least right now. Hence, the summit with Kim Jong-Un still remains up in the air.

Ultimately, a search for full coherence and intelligent life in Trump’s foreign policy may simply be an act of futility. Instead, Trump’s Iran and North Korea policy is reminiscent of a scene from the 1990 movie Ghost. In this scene, various spirits struggle within Whoopi Goldberg’s psychic character ‘Old Mae Brown’ to gain control of the character’s body and will.

In Trump’s case, his reality tv star empty corpse is where moneyed interests fight it out. Inevitably, the result will be antithetical to the public good. And, consequently, war with Iran and/or North Korea looms as a future likelihood.

Peter Crowley is an independent writer and scholar with a M.S. in Conflict Resolution, Global Studies from Northeastern University. He works as Content Specialist/Production Coordinator for a prominent library science company. For fun, he plays in bluesy rock band around the Boston/NYC area. His writings can be found in Boston Literary Magazine, Mondoweiss, Mint Press News, (several publications in) Wilderness House Literary Review, Dissident Voice, Counterpunch, Foreign Policy Journal, Truthout, Green Fuse Press, Antiwar.com, Rhinocerotic, Peace Studies Journal, Ethnic Studies Review (forthcoming), Libertarian Institute, Inquiries Journal and a periodical publication of the Brookline, MA Historical Society. Read other articles by Peter.