Thursday, June 14, 2018

North Korea, President Trump and the Mouse that Roared

Almost five months since I last said anything on President Trump. Now we have the tentative agreement with North Korea. As Neil said, That was quite a show!

In my last comment I said that the two things that I was watching most closely now in regard to President Trump were trade and foreign policy.

On the trade side, the question was the impact of Mr Trump's approaches on free trade and on globalisation. I said in comments:
It will be clear from the way that I framed the context that I see this as a significant threat. Here I am taking the common threads in Mr Trump's remarks from the campaign through to the present, taking man as he says.
Since then we have had the US tariff actions and the emerging response including the G7 outcomes.

On the foreign policy side my focus was on global insecurity, the reshaping of the US's international role and the impact of the stances it has been adopting. There I said in part:
"For much of the time since the Second World War, Australia has operated within a relatively stable international relations and security framework. The American Alliance has been central to that. New developments such as the rise of China posed a challenge to that framework, but few Australians (me included) expected a situation where instability and uncertainty in US foreign policy itself would become a significant challenge.What do Australia and all US allies do now?"
In  comments, I noted that I ddidn't see this as necessarily a bad thing, but it was unsettling. I thought that it was  unsettling for the US too in ways that I wasn't sure were properly recognised there as yet. The US is used to doing its own thing, used to being in the lead with others following. As the US withdraws from certain activities such as the agreement on climate change or the TPP, other countries step up.

I went on that I did think that the international policy of the Trump administration had been less isolationist, more in tune with the past, than was feared. However, the pattern was still uncertain. Some of the local effects were captured in the title of Hugh White's recent Quarterly essay, "Without America: Australia in the new Asia."

Like most, I have no idea what the North Korea deal really means. Like most, I hope that it works. A lot of the commentary on social media in particular has not been especially helpful because it is so set within existing perceptions of Mr Trump. I suppose that I would say two things in response.

First, the question of whether North Korean Leader Kim Jong-un is a brutal dictator is neither here nor there in a world where realpolitik dominates. President Trump has certain objectives based on his perception of US interests and is prepared to go to some lengths to achieve them. In threatening the US mainland Kim Jong-un forced a response from a President who appeared actually prepared to use force. The result gives the North Korean regime much of what they had been seeking.

I am not the first to notice the resemblance to that classic book and film, the Mouse that Roared.

Secondly and more importantly, I think that the episode may shows not so much a US withdrawal for the Pacific but a redrawing of the lines based on new perceptions of US strategic interests.

No comments: