Trump’s foreign policy has been a media success. David Brooks has decreed that Trump’s “Lizard Wisdom” is far superior to liberal elitism. Others have called attention to Trump’s fiendishly-clever strategy of brutal attack followed by pull-back to less crazy positions. That approach hasn’t done much for the real world, but it sure has worked with the press.
With North Korea the press turned from hysteria at the “rocket man” rhetoric to admiration when Trump decided to cool it by accepting Kim’s meeting proposal. All that happened, though, is that Kim received a gift that North Korean leaders have wanted for years—certified international status—with no preconditions, which is to say with no commitment to do anything at all.
Kim is running this show for his own benefit. Whether there will be advantages or disadvantages to the US remains to be seen, but Chinese president Xi sure doesn’t look unhappy. And the presumption of success adds pressure on Trump to get an agreement under whatever assurances Kim will accept. The only success in this picture is Trump’s convincing the press of an accomplishment.
Next about China. David Brooks was crowing about a new opening for American cars—ignoring that Xi had already announced an opening for American cars before the trade war. Trump’s trade war with China seems to be following the pattern of North Korea: bluster followed by an agreement that can be trumpeted as “great”. And the press is likely to fall for it again, overjoyed that the trade war has been replaced by “reason”.
In fact the dual trade wars (China and the EU) have greatly weakened the negotiations with China, and Xi can be quite happy with the cards Trump has dealt. The U.S. represents 18% of China’s exports; the EU is almost the same. Trump took half his leverage off the table with the attack on the EU. As far as Xi is concerned—only in his dreams!
The third issue is the cancelling of the Iran nuclear deal. This isn’t a case of bluster and retreat, but it’s another pretty story for public consumption. Trump, Brooks and others talk about the moral imperative (ignoring the nuclear weapons consequences) of imposing sanctions for Iran’s other transgressions. However, not only is it clear that the sanctions strengthen the hand of the fanatical clerics, but also by turning on the sanctions we have just played our last card. We’re simply out of the game in Iran, waiting for rescue by regime change. It’s interesting that we expect ordinary Iranians to love us and hate the Mullahs, because we choose to starve the poor and bankrupt the middle class.
Iran now has no reason (short of war) to care about US policy, a position they succinctly expressed with the immediate rocket attack on Israel. We have taken one more step to complete irrelevancy in the Middle East, this time leading to a possible war and a nuclear Iran.
As Trump has said over and over again: he can’t lose because he owns the press—he’s just too good as copy. On foreign policy you can push that one step farther: the copy is all you get.