Donald Trump may have actually done something right when it comes to North Korea

The US president seems on the brink of denuclearising the country ahead of his summit with Kim Jong-Un, but in Venezuela, his interference is becoming hazardous

Monday 25 February 2019 19:00
Mike Pompeo contradicts Donald Trump to say North Korea is still a nuclear threat

Like a faulty shopping trolley, the foreign policy of the Trump administration seems utterly unable to steer anything like a safe and predictable path.

This has had mixed consequences. First, foreign entities, friend and foe alike, have in front of them the most wayward president in decades. It used to be called, in the Nixon era, the “mad monk” theory – that the president was so volatile he might do anything, adding credence to the force of America’s nuclear deterrent, for example.

Here, Donald Trump’s strange irascible Twitter-based diplomacy may have yielded some unexpected benefits.

This is most obviously symbolised in the imminent summit meeting between the president and the “supreme leader” of North Korea, Kim Jong-un.

After all, no one would have predicted that Mr Trump would claim that he had “fallen in love” with “little rocket man” as he once called him.

Indeed their mirror-image vanity seems, bizarrely, to be on the brink of delivering a peaceful conclusion to the Korean War, still technically only in a state of ceasefire since 1953.

As they approach their second meeting, in Vietnam, the peoples of East Asia can contemplate a future where Pyongyang is no longer randomly loosing off missiles in the general direction of Tokyo, Seoul or Hawaii.

Mr Trump’s hardball tactics – or at least the impression of them – may also have softened China’s attitude towards striking a more durable trade relationship with the United States.

Both nations’ policy misjudgements resulted in the “global imbalances” that have helped destabilise the world economy over the past decade – America’s insatiable appetite for Chinese goods, and China’s equally unquenchable desire to accumulate US government debt.

With some adjustments in tariffs and currency levels on both sides, a source of tension between the two economic superpowers – first and second in the world – will at least be ameliorated.

The viral video clip of the US president publicly contradicting his own trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, about the meaning of “memorandum of understanding” has overshadowed the fact that the White House has postponed the imposition of fresh tariffs on Chinese products.

That is a decision of huge significance for the world economy: it has reduced the risk of a global recession.

Against all of that we have the president’s counterproductive attitude to Venezuela, where Caracas doesn’t know what he is going to do yet, and it isn’t helping.

There is no doubt that President Maduro, like President Chavez before him, has impoverished his people and eroded their human rights. He is presently set upon a course of denying them vital aid coming over the border from Colombia.

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It is indefensible – but Nicolas Maduro has the unexpected gift of being able to claim that the convoys carrying food and medicines are merely symbols and tools of Yankee imperialisms.

Sending the US vice president to Colombia to anoint the alternative, self-proclaimed president, Juan Guaido is a grave tactical error, for much the same reason.

Mr Guaido would be better off building his own domestic political base – it cannot be so difficult in current conditions – rather than posing as a stooge of the Trump White House. It is a curious affair, and one that can only inflame the fissile situation in Venezuela. Indeed, the violence has already begun.

Mr Trump is a man full of surprises, and mostly unpleasant ones. His relationship with Russia is unfathomable; his wanton destruction of neighbourly relations with Canada and Mexico is deeply detrimental to US interests; and his alienation of old US allies in Europe and Nato is completely futile.

In Venezuela, he is taking far too close an interest in its internal affairs to achieve what America wants and the people of Venezuela need – a peaceful transition to a new politics, if not a new regime.

Yet, for all that, he seems on the brink of denuclearising North Korea, and of a Korean peace treaty, a feat that has evaded every president from Eisenhower to Obama. For a change, the world should wish President Trump well.

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