Back to the World

The holidays are officially over, with nothing but St. Valentine’s Day and bitterly cold weather awaiting until Easter and the blessed rebirth of spring, and unless your employer is generous with holiday schedules it’s time to get back to dreary business of daily life. Worse yet, there’s more news to contend with.
Congress won’t be back in session for a few more days, and President Donald Trump will remain bunkered in Mar-a-Lago at least as long, but the stock markets are open and the domestic politics continue and the rest of the world is already making its usual trouble.
The New Years news was interrupted by frightening footage of an assault on the American embassy in Iraq by pro-Iranian mobs, and although the American security forces were able to repel the attack with substantial damage to the compound but no loss American lives it’s a another problem start to a new year. Trump is “tweeting” threats to make Iran pay a substantial price, the Iranian dictator is “tweeting” back something that roughly translates to “Oh, yeah? What are you going to do about it, punk?,” and there’s no precedent we know of to predict how such high-level diplomacy might work out.
North Korea’s nutcase dictator Kim Jong Un didn’t deliver a threatened “Christmas surprise,” but according to the latest anonymous leaks and official statements from the intelligence agencies he’s quite unsurprisingly continuing his very expensive military build-up, and he’s had some pretty barbed “twitter” taunts of his own. Trump is back to calling Kim “rocket man,” and that’s another example of this newfangled style of high-level diplomacy we don’t know what to make of.
Trump is surely on the job in his Mar-a-Lago war room, despite the allure of the nearby sunny golf course, and on camera he remains cocksure of stable genius. He seems to find himself in some difficult situations, though, and his cocksureness and stable genius seem to have limited his options.
Trump ran as a tough-on-Iran candidate who had presciently warned against the Iraq War in particular and Middle Eastern entanglements in in general, and the Republican primary electorate and then the Electoral College didn’t seem to notice that the two positions were irreconcilable. The contradictions are more stark now, and if Iran decides to escalate the tensions to a point of limited war with the now-bolstered American troop presence in the Middle East, which they’re crazy enough to do, Trump can either seem weak on Iran or bring America into yet another Middle Eastern entanglement. In either case, we’ll expect Trump to explain he handled it perfectly.
Trump broke with five decades of presidential foreign policy by agreeing to meet directly with the North Korean dictatorship, and came back “tweeting” that the nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula was at long last over. He claimed that he and Kim had forged not only a friendship but a love affair, and exchanged the most beautiful letters, and he even talked about doing a real estate deal to build hotels and golf courses on North Korea’s beautiful beaches. Now that they’re clearly having a lover’s spat Trump can either play the abused spouse or admit that his personal diplomacy had failed and deal with a level of brinksmanship that none of his more cautious predecessors ever faced.
All this comes shortly before Congress reconvenes and all the branches and various “deep state” agencies of government are back at work, which means all the impeachment stuff will be back in the news and Trump will be largely preoccupied with that. We hope Trump and the rest of you enjoyed a brief holiday respite from the news, because it starts again today.

— Bud Norman

“Little Rocket Man” and the “Dotard” Meet

As tempting as it is to make light of that tawdry president-and-the-porn-star affair, the more important story on Thursday was President Donald Trump accepting an invitation for a face-to-face sit-down with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-Un. The talks will concern such such weighty matters at North Korea’s lately impressive nuclear weapons program and the 68-year-old war the has never officially ceased on the Korean peninsula, and involve two of the flightiest figures on the world stage.
In the nerve-wracking lead-up to the negotiations Trump had taken to calling Kim “Little Rocket Man” and “tweeting” taunts about his height and weight, with a better command of the English language and a more subtle wit Kim had retorted by calling Trump a dotard, both had exchanged threats to utterly annihilate the other’s country, and the introductions should be awkward. The opening position that Trump has vowed not budge from is that North Korea never forswear its nuclear ambitions, Kim is holding just as fast to his country’s bedrock position that it will never do so, so the rest of it will also probably prove complicated.
Still, it’s a hopeful development, if you’re the hopeful sort. The past 68 years of carefully calibrated diplomacy by Republican and Democratic administrations alike haven’t solved the increasingly worse problem on the Korean peninsula, so a first-ever face-to-face meeting between the North Korean and American heads of state might be worth a try. “To jaw-jaw is always better than war-war,” as the great Winston Churchill famously said, and an international negotiation attended by such serious fellows as Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson might prove more useful than the recent “twitter” wars of schoolyard taunts. Trump’s opening position is quite sound, his administration has successfully imposed international economic sanctions that are having an apparent effect on North Korean’s thinking, and the past 68 years of Republican and Democratic administrations have bequeathed him some hefty military leverage as well.
Still, if you’re not the hopeful types it raises the unsettling question of what could go wrong. Kim is pretty much the madman that Trump portrays, but he’s got rational if self-interested reasons for his own unwavering position, and his conventional weaponry’s constant proximity to South Korea’s capital and most populous and friendship with formidable neighbor China also give him some significant leverage. He’s also got a point, alas, about Trump being something of a dotard.
Trump ┬ácomes into the negotiations from a somewhat weaker political position, as Kim is an absolute dictator who can have have any critics quieted, while Trump, to his apparent disappointment, is not. Trump has to deal with brouhahas about porn stars and steel tariffs and his son-in-law and “dreamers” and that “Russia thing” and his desultory opinion polls and whatever he last “tweeted” about, so for now he needs a big win in the media more than does Kim. If a big win turns out to be a 69th straight year without a nuclear conflagration we’ll take it, and Trump might as well, but there’s no telling with this guy. We’re reassured by some of the remaining non-son-law and very serious fellows remaining in Trump’s administration, but the face-to-face is tentatively scheduled for early May and given the recent turnover there’s no telling how many of them will still be around.
In any case, we’ll hope for the best, even though we’re not really the hopeful type.

— Bud Norman