Thursday, June 20, 2019

Is Trump Merely One-Upping Obama?

According to Thomas Friedman President Trump has a singular foreign policy goal: to one-up President Obama. It might also be that Trump is trying to clean up Obama's foreign policy messes, but Friedman can barely bring himself to criticize anything Obama did in the foreign policy realm.

One might also retort that Thomas Friedman has a singular foreign policy goal: to defend the Obama administration foreign policy while trashing the Trump foreign policy.

After all, Friedman criticizes everything Trump has done while defending everything Obama did. He implies that Obama was better at the art of the deal.

To Friedman, Trump’s handling of foreign policy bespeaks basic inexperience.

It’s actually the language of someone who has never been around military power and has an exaggerated sense of what it can accomplish. It’s the language of someone who plays a commander in chief — on TV.

It’s not an unfair criticism. In fact, it is for the most part true. But, then again, did Barack Obama have any foreign policy experience when he assumed the presidency? Was Obama ever around military power? As for Trump playing commander in chief, it isn’t true….

And Friedman is correct to point out that Trump often seems to make policy via tweet. Apparently, this confuses his foreign policy team and sows international consternation. Surely, it is not a good thing.

Friedman believes that Trump has no strategy for dealing with any foreign policy issues. And yet, he ought to understand that, in the Middle East, Trump has affected a significant strategic realignment, taking the side of the Sunni Arab nations and of Israel against the Iranian mullahs. Nothing could be more clear.

Instead of appeasing Iran, as Obama did, Trump is squeezing that nation economically. As of now, Iran is feeling the pain. Friedman ought to have noticed that this is a negotiating tactic. Whether or not it works, we will see in time.

So, Friedman praises Obama’s sell out to Iran:

In the case of Iran, Trump and his team have been all over the place. After Trump withdrew America from the Iran nuclear deal — even though Iran was abiding by its terms — his ambitious, sycophantic secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, gave a speech listing the 12 ways Iran had to change at home and abroad — demands that were tantamount to regime change.

Obama, by contrast, made no bones about the nature of his deal with Iran in 2015. It was purely transactional, limited almost entirely to securing a 15-year ban on Iran’s ability to build a nuclear weapon. Obama hoped, but did not predict, that by trading a lifting of economic sanctions in return for Iran’s 15-year abandonment of any nuclear weapons program, Iran would open up more widely to the world and its more moderate forces would get stronger.

The second part did not happen. Iran became a more aggressive regional actor against the Sunni Arab states around it. But it did nothing to threaten the U.S. and was really a tacit U.S. ally in defeating ISIS in Syria and Iraq.

Aside from the gratuitous slur of Mike Pompeo, we do not know whether or not Iran was abiding by the terms of the agreement. In truth, the Obama deal did not allow inspection of Revolutionary Guard sites, so we do not really know.

In return, Obama shored up the failing Iranian regime. He looked away when Iran was murdering its own people. He funneled cash to the ayatollahs, which cash made its way to Hamas and Hezbollah. And it had certainly been complicit in murdering American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Keep in mind, the Obama policy of withdrawal from Iraq and Syria led to the rise of ISIS and increased Iranian influence. As for whether or not Iran threatens American interests, it threatens the world oil supply… which might impact the world economy.

And Friedman continues, blaming Trump for the behavior of Iran and our allies. He is suggesting that Iran would not have been a problem, were it not for Trump. Eli Lake refuted that assertion before Friedman even made it. Note who he considers our allies:

Trump could have gone to Germany, France, the U.K., Russia and China and said: “Let’s improve the Iran deal. Let’s demand the Iranians extend their nuclear weapons freeze for 10 more years — from 15 years to 25 — and restrict all their missile testing to the radius of the Middle East.” If he had, there was a good chance Trump could have achieved a decent improvement on the deal. Instead, he wanted to show that he could transform Iran and one-up Obama.

The weak nations of Western Europe are opposing America because they are fighting for relevance. As for the notion that Russia and China would happily join us in asking Iran, nicely, to add a few years onto an empty agreement, Friedman is dreaming. They are not going to do anything that makes America look like a leader.

Doesn’t Friedman recognize that such a show of weakness would incite Iran to demand more concessions? Such a new deal would do nothing to diminish Iranian influence in Syria and Iraq.

As for North Korea, Trump did reach out to Chairman Kim Jongun. He tried to negotiate. Or better, we should say that he is in the process of negotiating. North Korea has made some constructive steps toward an eventual reconciliation with South Korea… and, as they say, the negotiation game is on. We do not know how it will work out, but surely Friedman is wrong to say that Trump is merely doing what Obama did… that is: nothing.

So, it might be that Trump is out of his depth in foreign policy. But, then again, so was Obama. It might be that Trump should have made nice with Iran. But, then again, Obama tried that; it did not work. The nuclear deal guaranteed the eventual proliferation of nuclear weapons in the Middle East.

As for Trump’s being nice to Chairman Kim, the issue is not Trump’s love of dictators. As William Ury of the Harvard Negotiation Project put it, being nice to your negotiating partner while being tough about what you will accept is good negotiating strategy. I have already written about this. Apparently, Friedman did not read it.

We feel compelled to conclude that Friedman wants Trump to be more like Obama. But then, if America had wanted more Obama in 2016 it could have elected his ex-Secretary of State. If America said anything in 2016, it repudiated the Obama administration, decisively, and even the Democratic party.

We do not know how this is going to work out. We do not know whether or not Trump can negotiate a new trade deal with China. We do know that we would be fools to rely on Western Europe and Russia and China to help solve the world’s problems.


Sam L. said...

I'm reasonably certain that Trump wants to two- or three-up Obama, and I expect it won't be hard for him to to accomplish. Trump's a "happy warrior", and Obama wasn't, neither happy nor warrior.

Sam L. said...

"And Friedman is correct to point out that Trump often seems to make policy via tweet. Apparently, this confuses his foreign policy team and sows international consternation. Surely, it is not a good thing." There's an old military toast, which is highly appropriate here: "CONFUSION TO THE ENEMY!" And Trump does confuse them.