Small World: Winning and losing at diplomacy

Henry Precht

By Henry Precht

BN Columnist

I hope you’re paying attention — taking notes, maybe — because Americans are being treated to a series of free lessons in good and bad diplomacy: What works for peace and prosperity and what threatens us with loss of lives and treasury.

I refer, of course, to our promising dealings with North Korea and our destructive relations with Iran. The former has been a country which the U. .has derided, sanctioned, threatened and generally kicked around. We were led out of that trap by new liberal leadership in South Korea. Three dual-national American prisoners have been released, a U.S.-North Korean summit has been scheduled, and there is the prospect that nukes may be banned from the Korean peninsula. All good stuff.

Behind the scenes there are two factors certainly at play: The determination of the young North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to end his country’s isolation and consequent backwardness, plus the Chinese desire to reduce the American military presence in their neighborhood (which, ostensibly aimed at North Korea, also poses a strategic problem for China). We should also give a measure of credit to our president for taking advantage of the openings presented to him by the Asians.

Now, let’s turn the page and a couple of continents to examine that graveyard of well-intentioned but failed diplomatic endeavors, the Middle East. First, let us observe that we enter the region with a full load of bad baggage. The United States is afflicted by a president who is ignorant, inexperienced in foreign relations, and may not be overly endowed intellectually. Worse, he is surrounded by men who are inflexible, hard-line ideologues. They know what they want — power; he knows that he wants — praise and political gain. They want an advantage for Israel and Iran as an enemy. The latter is highly useful as a distraction for the legally-besieged leadership of Israel and also of Washington.

So, Mr. Trump cancels U.S. participation in an international agreement designed to prevent Iran from working on a nuclear weapon for 15 yeas with rigorous U.N. inspections to guarantee that. Three European countries plus Russia and China joined President Obama in that carefully negotiated agreement. They haven’t followed the Trump plan to quit, however. In fact, the only nation to applaud his action has been Israel. Some observers think that the main reason for Trump’s dropping out of the agreement was to deny Obama the credit for a major foreign policy achievement. Just like his dropping Obama’s work on climate change and trade agreements, Trump wants to erase from history all his predecessor’s achievements.

But back to the Middle East. While Iran took the U.S. withdrawal from its agreed responsibility in stride and vowed to carry on, Israel launched a ferocious air attack on Iranian forces fighting the Islamic State in Syria. (They were provoked, says Mr. Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister. There was, of course, no damage to exhibit from the Iranian “provocation”). The Washington reaction was naturally to bless with approval the Israeli aggression. Never mind that Iranian forces are in Syria to fight our mutual enemy, the Islamic State.

Trump’s threatened sanctions against European firms that continue to do business with Iran may well result in counter actions by the European Union — i.e. a damaging trade war with no conceivable benefit for the U.S. in prospect. Worse, any escalation in the Israel-Iran clashes could set the entire region aflame. Better gas up and get set for more taxes. Let’s pray for no American casualties.

Meanwhile, remember the huge deal the president promised us? His son-in-law would negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement. We don’t hear much about that any more. Instead, our president has provocatively moved the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, which is also claimed by the Palestinians. They, in turn, have reacted by dropping out of the so-called peace process.

It may be that in the months ahead, Mr. Trump’s partner, Mr. Netanyahu, will be sent to prison on corruption charges. It may also be that Mr. Trump will find himself in legal tangles at home. Who knows? What we can know for certain is that the American people will, as in the Iraq war, be losers from his presidency.

Henry Precht is a retired Foreign Service Officer.

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