Don’t get me wrong. It’s delightful to watch Donald Trump discombobulate the bipartisan American national security and foreign policy establishment with his impulsive assent to talks with DPRK leader, Kim Jong-un. He’s got the Republican and Democratic party and media figures in a tizzy trying to figure out how to respond to such seemingly radical out-of-the-box peace-mongering, which disrupts the ways in which the Republicans want to valorize, and the Democrats demonize, Trump for their respective bases.
It’s particularly instructive to see Democratic pundits like Rachel Maddow sniping at Trump for the kind of peace initiative they would have lauded from any Democratic president. Just as they did with welfare in the 90s, the Democrats are now trying to outflank the Republicans on the warfare front. It’s hard to figure out whether Republicans or Democrats are more embarrassed by the prospect of a successful Trump-Kim summit. Another example of the salutary Trump-effect: stripping the pretense that either pole of the two-party system has any real interest in stable, global peace.
Neither party should worry, however. There’s only a small chance such an encounter will lead to a lessening of tensions on the Korean peninsula, and the net result, even in the best case, will not fundamentally change the dangerously aggressive posture of the United States in the world. Indeed, it will likely increase the chances of war elsewhere. In a very real sense, all the possible outcomes are bad.
Let’s walk through it.
First of all, this meeting is not a sure thing. The fact that Trump said “Yes” today doesn’t mean he won’t say “No” later today. Trump’s action here leapfrogs the national security establishment, and you can bet they’re apoplectic about it. This isn’t Nixon going to China, an initiative that was carefully prepared in advance through his National Security Advisor, Henry Kissinger. Nor is it Obama’s Iran deal, which was a long-term, multinational effort. There is no strategic vision or political thought about the Kim meeting beyond the Donald’s narcissistic conviction that he’s the greatest deal maker of all time. This is a trademark Trumpian impulsive response to a second-hand verbal invitation.
So we have figures like Eric Edelman, George W. Bush’s undersecretary of defense, pointing out: “[T]here is no letter from Kim. This was an oral message conveyed by North Koreans to the South Koreans. What they actually said, what they heard him say, and then what they transmitted to Trump could be two or three different things, and it’s not like we haven’t had that in the past. There can be elements of wishful thinking here and so I think people really need to be approaching this with a great deal of caution.”
Indeed, there is already a lot of fudging about whether there are “preconditions.” Marco Rubio says, “I think there are preconditions.” According to CNN, Sarah Sanders “said that the North Koreans did promise something: ‘They’ve promised to denuclearize.’” And former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson insisted that “talks” with North Korea are not “negotiations,” and that Trump’s “willingness to chat with Kim Jong Un shouldn’t be construed as anything more than that.”
What’s worse, from the establishment perspective, is that South Korean President Moon Jae-in is in the lead on this. It sets a very bad precedent to have the leader of a client country—whose job is to be compliant with American war-mongering even if it threatens his own territory and people—pull the imperial overlord into a meeting that hasn’t been prepared in advance and creates expectations of a stand-down of American military aggression. That way lies the threat of peace.
The national security establishment has been working very hard on Trump since he opened his mouth to accept this meeting. If there’s too much momentum to cancel the thing entirely, well then, they’ll make sure it’s not a real “negotiation” or anything. More like the TrumpKim coffee klatch. Not sure the DPRK is going to be interested in that. As even the New York Times admits, it’s going to be hard for the North Koreans to enter into any deal with Trump, after seeing how he’s living up to the Iran accord.
Therefore, as much as I’d like to see a meeting that ends up with a substantive de-escalation on the Korean Peninsula, I’m putting the chances of any meeting at all at no better than 50-50.
So, bad outcome one: No TrumpKim meeting at all.
Even if there is a TrumpKim meeting, by the time it happens it’s likely that Trump—who, again, has no grounding strategic vision or political principle—will have been worked on so thoroughly that it will be just another occasion for each side to re-state its position and go home in a huff.
The threat of peace diverted. The result of that will be more pressure for military action against North Korea.
So, bad outcome two: A TrumpKim meeting that ends in failure.
But let’s presume for a moment that a serious meeting does take place, that Trump himself, or with some allied faction of the establishment, pushes the envelope and comes up with an agreement that seriously, for an extended time, ratchets down the tension in Korea. Let’s imagine a non-aggression agreement that would involve North Korean de-nuclearization in exchange for a reduction in American-South Korean forces and war-games. Maybe even a peace treaty.
What then? (Besides the schadenfreude of watching Democrats try to explain why Trump doesn’t deserve as much credit for this as Obama does for the Iran deal.)
What then is that the American aggression and the real chance of war would ratchet up elsewhere. There is no chance, none, that such an agreement in Korea would be made without being followed up by—indeed, without being predicated upon—intense pressure from the political and media establishment, and a strong desire by Trump himself, for military action in some other theater.
Trump will be told, by all around him and the voice within: “You now have the peacemaker credit. You’ve got to go for the strongman medal. You’ve proven your diplomatic skill. Now you’ve got to put down an enemy, score a win by military force. Then they’ll have to respect you. Then you’ll be really presidential.” The voices of Pentagon militarists and neocon imperialists and Zionists are not going to abate, and will only get louder. And they are correct in telling Donald Trump that such a win will garner him bipartisan praise.
We all know the venues: Ukraine, Syria, Iran, Venezuela.
Notwithstanding any of candidate Donald Trump’s noises about being less antagonistic toward Russia and less interested in foreign wars, the Trump administration has already approved the transfer of new anti-tank weapons to Ukraine and has already attacked Syrian and Russian forces in Syria. In the person of Trump’s UN Ambassador, Nikki Haley, it just renewed the threat of military action in Syria: “it is a path we have demonstrated we will take, and we are prepared to take again.”
In the Ukraine and Syrian theaters, the United States is in direct confrontation with Russia, and on the knife-edge of escalation into serious, possibly nuclear, war. And though that is tempting for some American unilateralists, there have to be many in the defense establishment wary of the risks. This may be especially true since Putin’s revelation of new Russian weapons systems, the most relevant of which is the already deployed 2,000-kilometer-range, air-launched, Mach-10 hypersonic missile, Kinzhal [Dagger], which, if functional as claimed, is an unstoppable Carrier Group killer.
In Syria, the United States doesn’t need to depose Assad. It can keep the pot boiling with jihadi enclaves and an occasional bloody-nose attack, in a way that won’t provoke a forceful Russian response. In Ukraine, it can similarly keep the war on the Donbas going without forcing direct Russian intervention. This keeps weakening and distracting adversaries, but it’s not that decisive win.
The other two venues—Iran and Venezuela—provide different opportunities for American military aggression.
Iran is certainly the prime target for Zionist neocons, who wield unsurpassed influence on American interventionist policy. From their point of view, destroying Syria has always been a prelude to attacking Iran, and, at this point, with the likely prospect of the Syrian government’s survival for the near future, they are ready to move past the foreplay and get right to the main event. During the campaign and from day one in office, Trump has always been with them in his antagonism toward Iran, and his determination to scupper the Iran nuclear deal should be understood by everyone as clearing the way for the military attack that has been the intended culmination of neocon interventionist policy in the Middle East for at least fifteen years.
There’s the added consideration—which also, in their minds, argues for the sooner the better—that Russia does not (yet) have a military presence in, or alliance with, Iran. Once the United States launches an attack on Iran, it will not stop until (it thinks) it has destroyed every intended target and the socio-political regime of the country. No bloody-nose; complete evisceration. Any Iranian-Russian military alliance must be announced before any such attack, precisely in order to prevent it by putting the United States on notice that it would mean World War III. Conversely, Russia must know that any after-that-fact military defense of Iran would also mean WWIII; the United States knows Russia knows that, and would expect that knowledge to deter any belated Russian intervention.
Any attack on Iran, with or without other countries’ direct involvement, will be a catastrophe for the region and the world. The American regime does not care about that. It only cares about whether it can get away with it without major damage to the U.S. or Israel. There are many—too many—agents of that regime whose obsessive, delusionary, imperialist and Zionist calculus makes them want to believe they can get away with it. If Korea’s taken off the table, they will use that to argue that they can, and they will find a receptive audience in Donald Trump. We can only hope there are still enough responsible players in the American military and foreign policy apparatus to resist them.
Which bring us to the last, and easiest, target: Venezuela.
An American military attack on Venezuela will not start WWIII. Russia is not going to defend Venezuela. The region won’t explode. The United States has been itching to get rid of the Bolivarian Revolution, and it can do so with military means and compliant proxies. With a modicum of direct American involvement, it would be a military walkover. And it looks like—in stealth mode, under the media radar—the U.S. is getting ready to strike.
As Ajamu Baraka warns: “Violent regime change is now clearly the objective of the administration. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for the Venezuelan military to overthrow the government while on a visit to the region and reports have surfaced of military forces from Colombia and Brazil being deployed to their respective borders with Venezuela.”
And Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers point out that Marco Rubio has called for a military coup in Venezuela, and that Admiral Kurt Tidd, head of Southcom, has suggested that the socio-economic crisis in Venezuela—caused by the American and oligarchic economic war—demands military action for, oh yes, “humanitarian reasons.” Zeese and Flowers also think: “A military attack on Venezuela from its Colombian and Brazilian borders is not far fetched.”
President Trump himself has announced: “I’m not going to rule out a military option.”
Sure, there will be some political repercussions. The OAS will bark, but Venezuela’s neighbors themselves will have bitten. And, of course, per Baraka: “[I]it will result in mass slaughter and the dictatorship that the United States pretends to be opposed.” But the Republicans and Democrats and the New York Times will applaud. For humanitarian reasons.
So my guess for bad outcome three of TrumpKim talks: A successful meeting that results in an accord on the Korean peninsula and an increased threat of American military attack elsewhere. There are four venues where such aggression is at risk, but I think Venezuela is the Goldilocks target. Not too small: It’s a significant country, after all, with the largest oil reserves in the world, and a long-standing progressive government that’s been a big thorn in the gringo boot on Latin America for almost twenty years. Not too big: It’s no military match for the United States, and nobody’s going to start WWIII to defend Venezuela. Just right. A decisive win, at little apparent cost.
TrumpKim meeting or not, there’s no peace coming. Because it’s not Korea. And it’s not Trump. It’s American imperialism, which is under new economic and military challenges, has lost all its “soft power” legitimacy (outside the American media bubble), and needs to keep the cauldron of perpetual war at a constant, precariously sub-critical, boil. If the explosion doesn’t come in Korea…well, it’s a hell-broth of trouble.