Trump’s no appetite for war

Giving peace a chance

Thousands of years before the era of Roman empire, Iron Age was ushered into the world with the clank and clatter of the blacksmith's anvil. The transformation from the Bronze Age took place at different times in different parts of the world, but when and where it did, the dark metal brought with it meaningful changes in society, from the way people grew crops to the way they fought wars. With the innovation of iron, the doctrines of war were implanted into human’s blood and philosophy. Since then, war has been considered as an ultimate test for a society or nation and their leaders. History does not forget those leaders (from Revolutionary War’s hero George Washington to Civil war’s Abraham Lincoln’s and World War II’s Franklin Delano Roosevelt) who fought and won military war.

Since the inception of war, there has always been this notion among the great world leaders that victory in the war is the key to greatness. In this regard, we might say that President Trump has been different from the rest of the American presidents till date. If George W Bush went into his successful 2004 re-election campaign embracing his role as a “war president,” Trump may angle to win a 2020 re-election as the nation’s “peace president.” 

It needs no emphasizing that Trump has brought the middle-east on the brink of ignition by cancelling his plans for military action against Iran. Reportedly, the cancelled strike was planned as retaliation for the Iranian’s downing of a United State’s unmanned aerial vehicle over the Strait of Hormuz. The attack marks an escalation with tensions already running high between the US and Iran. There is no denying that the attack brought US and Iran closer to a devastating war but the way Trump dealt with this issue should be considered as a great lesson for the rest of the world.  Despite the presence of hawks like John Bolton in his administration, Trump has showed no interest in putting boots on the ground and no appetite for sucking the bloods of the Iranians. Despite having greater power than Iran, Trump did not deploy his military against Iran.  It was indeed a prudent eleventh hour decision which has saved many Iranian and US lives. At the same time it is also true that halting the momentum of a military strike was a tough task for Trump especially when the political and defense establishment is lined up in favor of it. 

 On the other hand, since Donald Trump came into power in 2017, the world has seen sheer eagerness on the part of the American government to denuclearize North Korea.  Addressing nukes as threats to world peace, Mr Trump has always been very much diplomatic towards denuclearizing North Korea. Although the response to Trump-Kim meeting at the Korean Demilitarized Zone last month spurred skeptical arguments from across the world, this hastily arranged rendezvous has left us with the hope for building a strong relation between America and Korean Peninsula. 

Trump was in the Korean Peninsula over the weekend for a summit meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, but in crossing over the DMZ to meet with Kim, Trump became the first sitting US president to set foot on the soil of North Korea.

In this landmark meeting, Kim and Trump smiled broadly for the cameras, greeted each other warmly, and pledged to continue negotiations. Indeed such gesture of the randomly arranged meeting is a testament of the improving relation between the two countries which have long maintained a distrustful relation with each other. There is no denying that the previous meetings between them have not been fruitful as per expectation. But what has made last month’s meeting special is that the two counterparts met at Demilitarized Zone. And we believe the consequence of this meeting will be more effective than any of the previous Trump-Kim meeting as we like to perceive it as a tool to end the 70 years old enmity in the Korean Peninsula. Many countries around the world may not realize that there was never a peace agreement or a formal end to the war in which up to 4 million people were killed. In 1953, a temporary ceasefire was signed by U.S. and North Korean military commanders, with a recommendation to return in 90 days to negotiate a political settlement. That never happened. It may seem like a technicality, but to millions of Koreans, it’s a reality. Undoubtedly, the meeting at DMZ gives them the reassurance of hurling the holy water of peace in the fire that has been blazing for more than last 70 years.

 However, only a couple of years ago the chemistry between Kim and trump was not pleasant, rather they used to maintain a chemistry that pretty much resembles with the chemistry of oil and water. The North Korean government was testing new missiles capable of hitting the United States while stressing that it would never surrender its nukes. Reportedly In 2017, the country launched 23 missiles, including its first intercontinental missiles that it said had a long enough range to reach the United States mainland. The first missile Kim fired in 2017 flew over Japan as the new US President Donald Trump met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. It was the first North Korean missile of the Trump administration and set the scene for a series of launches that sent missiles higher, further, and with enough power to put most of the world in range. Also Kim and Trump had a war of words in the most undiplomatic and unproductive manner. Trump threatened Pyongyang with “fire and fury” and insulted “Rocket Man” Kim for being on a “suicide mission”, while Kim equally churlishly retorted by calling Trump a “mentally deranged US dotard”.  Indeed such gesturers played an amateur prelude perhaps to war but fortunately underscoring the greater risks of plunging the entire Asia into a massive war the two leaders realized the need for sitting on the negotiation table. 

The consequence was that after year-long display of unusual bellicosity, last year  Kim expressed his interest in denuclearization — at least as long as the process is “progressive and synchronous,” that is, gradual and reciprocity-based. Though Trump did not support such reciprocity-based progressive denuclearization but his diplomacy and prudent policy in terms of dealing with Kim compelled the rocket man to change his theory of diplomacy. Perhaps there is a couple of reason behind Kim’s sudden more diplomatic and congenial and diplomatic decision.  Now if Trump can find a way to de-nuclearize the Korean Peninsula and set the stage for eventual Korean reunification, then Trump will have thrived where Presidents Obama, Bush and Clinton failed inherently.

Pessimists opine that President Trump set foot from the DMZ into North Korean territory because he expects Kim to reciprocate by seeing him in the White House. This is a game of quid pro quo, and the way points for further progress have now been set for the rest of this year and perhaps the first half of 2020 before the next presidential election.  However, we still believe Trump-Kim meeting at DMZ was a remarkable step on the way towards peace and the betterment of the world. But certainly Trump has a long way to go and we hope very soon we will see another Trump-Kim meeting which might help to improve the bilateral and diplomatic relation between the two countries. Certainly there is a list of other potential goals that could be accomplished through their meeting, including a lasting agreement to end the almost 70-year state of war on the Korean Peninsula. (To be continued)

Sayeed  Hossain Shuvro is  Editorial Assistant  Bangladesh Post.