01.06.2018 Author: James ONeill

Washington’s Old Habits and New Geopolitical Challenges


To absolutely no one’s surprise, US president Donald Trump has announced the cancellation of the summit meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un scheduled to have been held in Singapore on 12 June 2018.

In announcing his decision Trump referred to what was described in the letter he wrote to Kim blaming the North Koreans for the cancellation of the meeting with “the tremendous anger and open hostility displayed in your most recent statement.”

This is a classic example of what the psychologists call “projection”, imputing to someone else what are actually one’s own thoughts and conduct.

The cancellation of the planned meeting did not happen in isolation. It represents a part of a policy structure that is closely linked to a series of statements made in recent weeks by Secretary of State Pompeo, National Security Adviser Bolton, and Vice President Pence on both Iran and North Korea.

Those statements provided considerable insight into how the United States perceives its continuing role in the world, and in particular what it expects of both friends and foe. What it expects are capitulation to US demands and obedience to Washington’s wishes. It does not matter in this context whether the opposition to the United States’ imperial designs comes from allies or enemies.

An early indication as to the true nature of the Trump presidency came with the unilateral withdrawal from the JCP0A, widely referred to as the Iran nuclear deal. That deal had been painstakingly formulated over at least nine years by the five permanent members of the Security Council, plus Germany and Iran, being finally signed and endorsed in an unanimous UN Security Council resolution in 2015.

The US withdrawal was significant in a number of ways. First, it signaled yet again that the US did not consider itself bound to honour international agreements to which it was a party, if at some point its leadership decided otherwise.

Secondly, such a step was taken with a total disregard for the wishes of its European allies, notwithstanding Macron, May and Merkel all trekking to Washington to plead the case for the US to stay in the deal.

Thirdly, the US was not content just to abandon the Iranian deal, it demanded that its European allies do likewise, and most significantly perhaps, threatened them with sanctions if they did not comply with the American demands.

Following the law of unintended consequences, Europeans for the most part

have thus far shown a surprising resilience to such bullying and vowed both to uphold the Iran deal and use its own mechanisms both to protect European companies from the effects of US sanctions, and also threaten retaliatory sanctions of their own.

The latest development was Trump’s newly installed Secretary of State Pompeo giving a speech to the neocon think tank the Heritage Foundation in which the Trump administration doubled down on its decision to abandon the JCPOA with Pompeo issuing 12 demands that Iran must comply with or face further sanctions.

The absurdity and false premises of the demands have been noted extensively elsewhere, for example in Peter Koenig’s recent piece in this journal.

One little noted aspect of that speech was when Pompeo said that the demands placed on Iran would apply to any country in the world that failed to comply with American wishes.

Exactly the same tactics have been applied to North Korea. The US has been in serial violation of the 1953 armistice that marked the cessation of hostilities in the Korean War. Incredibly, it even carried out war games with South Korea immediately after Kim and Moon had reached a groundbreaking accord at Panmunjom.

Last year at the UN General Assembly meeting in September, Trump had threatened North Korea with “fire and fury like the world had never seen”, not only offensive in its own right, but a direct violation of article 2 (4) of the UN Charter that the United States was, at least in theory, bound to uphold.

Nor was Trump’s threat an isolated one. In recent weeks Vice President Pence has threatened war against Iran and North Korea if they did not comply with Trump’s demands. Pence told Fox News that North Korea would wind up like Libya if North Korea did not make a deal. When asked by the interviewer if that could be interpreted as a threat, Pence said “well, I think it’s more of a fact.”

Trump himself a week earlier had similarly drawn a Libyan parallel, saying that Kim “would end up like Gaddafi” if he did not comply with the US demand for complete denuclearization.

National Security Adviser John Bolton, a well-known hater of both Iran and North Korea has also drawn similar parallels between the fate of Libya and it’s murdered President Gaddafi and what awaits North Korea if it doesn’t buckle to American demands.

There are several lessons to be drawn from this unedifying catalogue of American threats and behaviour.

First, it reinforces yet again the fact that the US is not “agreement capable” as it will readily discard any prior obligations and any vestiges of international law to demand its own way.

Secondly, there is cautious scope for optimism that the US’s allies have finally reached breaking point and are actively seeking alternative arrangements, particularly with the nations central to China’s Belt and Road Initiative.

Thirdly, it reinforces the view that what the world is witnessing are the dying thrashings about of a fading hegemon that has failed to grasp the central reality of the current century; that a new multipolar world is emerging. That new world is leaving the failing, debt ridden, corrupt and militarily outclassed American hegemon in its wake.

The world is heartily sick of America’s mafia style leadership: “do as we say and sign here or we will kill you.” The dangerous component to this is that the dying hegemon will fail to learn from its history of repeated tragic mistakes and launch yet again into disastrous wars of choice against North Korea and Iran.

James O’Neill, an Australian-based Barrister at Law, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook.”