If it works, it works, however much diplomacy shudders at the methodsby Simon Jenkins / May 11, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in June 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
The antics of Donald Trump over Iran and Korea raise two questions. One concerns his capacity for coherent thought, the other is whether the antics might just work. Might the madcap mix of bombast and blather, willy-waving and mouthiness just achieve foreign policy goals that are beyond up-market diplomacy? If so, a lot of textbooks are going to need rewriting.
In the light of the seemingly-shambolic anti-diplomacy on Iran, it is already easy to forget the remarkable shift from screaming abuse to hugs and kisses in Korea. A logjam has loosened, and timber is flowing down- stream. As I write, at least, there is détente. Washington must be reckoned part of the cause. Even where Trump appears bent on vandalism, as with the Iran deal, he is more concerned with posturing as a troublemaker than driving through a consistent policy. To risk opening a hot war in the Middle East and threatening to bomb Iran seems extreme, but if we’ve learnt one thing, it’s to not take Trump’s words at face value, but await the consequences of what he has (or as often has not) actually done.
Trump’s arrival at the White House was novel and alarming. His foreign policy amounted to off-the-cuff slogans, apparently untutored by aides or think tanks. Some of it was mad, such as the outrageous views on immigration. Some was vengeful, such as the promise to tear up Obama’s signature deal with Tehran. But Trump could also sound refreshing. He told Nato it was out of date and must “rethink its core purposes.” He wanted the US out of Iraq and Afghanistan. He at least claimed to oppose the failed era of western interventionism, and described George W Bush as “a liar and war criminal.” His only idea on Syria was to “bomb the shit out of ISIS.” He was fed up with Chinese export-dumping and thought the UN useless. As for Vladimir Putin, Trump was embarrassingly eager to move on from confrontation.