Observations of an ex pat…Told you so

It is so satisfying to say: “I told you so.”  It is also very annoying. It is, however, one of my life goals to be as annoying as possible to President Donald Trump and his misguided followers.

Being honest, however, I must admit that I am voicing the four-word  admonition  early in the Korean diplomatic ballet. This leaves me vulnerable to a devastating return volley of “I told you so’s” from the legion of Trump supporters.

I am willing to risk it.

It is no surprise that the Trump-Kim summit scheduled for Singapore in June is likely to be postponed indefinitely.  The White House is trying to rescue it. They may succeed. It is unlikely. The proposed summit was a poorly executed rush job. It raised unreasonable expectations for the American and world public . Its probable failure may have saved the Nobel Peace Prize committee from a difficult and embarrassing decision.

There are several reasons for the indefinite postponement: Lack of input from professional American diplomats; administration job changes;  US withdrawal from the Iran Nuclear Accord; lack of pre-summit diplomacy; diplomatic semantics; continuing US-South Korean military manoeuvres and the personalities involved.

Staffing levels at the US State Department have been cut by almost a third. Many of its senior posts remain unfilled.  It is only this week—16 months after his inauguration—that Donald Trump has nominated someone to fill the important post of ambassador to South Korea.

Yet another military man—Admiral Harry Harris, commander of the US forces in the Pacific—has been chosen for the job. Admiral Harris was originally destined for Canberra as the US ambassador to Australia. The newly-appointed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo diverted him to Seoul, much to the annoyance of the Australians who are angry that they are still without a top US diplomatic representative.

Of course, one of the reasons for delays everywhere is the revolving White House door. Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had earmarked a top foreign policy academic—Dr Victor Cha for the post in Seoul. But Dr Cha failed the Trump test when he told the president he would not support an attack on North Korea.  Cha and, not long afterwards, Tillerson were out the door.

Admiral Harris, is a strong proponent of what is called “sustained forward American presence” in the Asian region. This means keeping troops in South Korea and Japan and strong military ties with Taiwan. This conflicts with the goals of both North Korea and its Chinese backers.

Beijing wants the summit to be the beginning of the end of the American military presence in Asia. It then wants to fill the vacuum left by American withdrawal. Pyongyang wants international guarantees—especially American—that the hereditary communist dictatorship of the Kim family will be protected.

To this end Kim Jong-un is prepared to use his nuclear toys as a bargaining chip. He is prepared to give them up in return for aid, trade and sovereignty guarantees. But he argues that any American guarantees are worthless unless they are accompanied by the withdrawal of the American nuclear umbrella and US ground troops in South Korea.

For Kim, the term de-nuclearisation refers to the entire Korean Peninsula and beyond.  To Trump, it refers to North Korea.

This gap might have been bridgeable if the Trump Administration had a credible foreign policy reputation. Unfortunately, it idoes not. The decision to pull out of the Iran Nuclear Accord has left Pyongyang and Beijing doubtful that the former wheeler-dealer property mogul will keep his word.

Hawkish National Security Adviser  John Bolton reinforced Pyongyang’s fears when he recently said that the US could follow the Libyan model.  Dictator Muammar Gadaffi  reluctantly abandoned his nuclear weapons programme in return for American protection. But when the Arab Spring arrived,Gadaffi was overthrown and murdered with Western support. Bolton has also gone on record advocating a pre-emptive nuclear strike against North Korea.

Pyongyang has responded with another verbal volley and  a threat to back out of the summit. Trump says: No, no, that’s not what Bolton meant. I say: “I told you so.”

* Tom Arms is the American-born membership secretary for Tooting Lib Dems. His Observations of an Expat appears regularly on Lib Dem Voice and in a number of US newspapers. Tom also lectures on foreign affairs, presents a weekly broadcast on world affairs for American radio and is working on a book about Anglo-American relations.

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • John Marriott 25th May '18 - 12:22pm

    Guess you can say “Goodbye” to that Nobel Peace Prize, Mr President!

  • Geoffrey Payne 25th May '18 - 1:10pm

    As I read the article I was wondering if you would pick up the number 1 reason, and you did at the end;
    “Hawkish National Security Adviser John Bolton reinforced Pyongyang’s fears when he recently said that the US could follow the Libyan model. Dictator Muammar Gadaffi reluctantly abandoned his nuclear weapons programme in return for American protection. But when the Arab Spring arrived,Gadaffi was overthrown and murdered with Western support. Bolton has also gone on record advocating a pre-emptive nuclear strike against North Korea.”
    This is the key reason. John Bolton believes that the US is a very powerful nation that can do what it likes. He is spoiling for a war, and what he said was probably deliberately intended to bring one about.

    This is not a trivial matter. A war in this case would be a nuclear war, so this is deadly serious.

  • Steve Trevethan 25th May '18 - 5:11pm

    What is a “nuclear toy”?
    In which ways are nuclear weapons and nuclear toys similar and different?
    Is the U.S. really trying to “rescue” a meeting which it undermined?

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