The Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from talks with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is an act of great diplomatic deceit.
To be clear about what preceded this decision: Vice President Mike Pence made reference to the US’s neoconservative actions in Libya – which led to the death of Muammar Gaddafi at the hands of a militia, who filmed themselves sodomising their former President with a bayonet before they killed him – by saying that North Korea could be subject to “the Libya option”.
North Korea reacted in an alarmed way at such an association, and then Trump has accused Pyongyang of “anger” and “hostility”.
This is, quite frankly, absurd. We now have to think that these talks were a set-up, a set-up to discredit the North Koreans, and a set-up that the North Koreans, and we as keen international observers, moved towards with cautious optimism.
However, it may be that the only party to be discredited is Washington with the last vestige of the Trump administration’s foreign policy credibility just evaporating out the Oval Office window – and they did it to themselves; no one else exposed them.
A degree of trust had developed between the two sides and this had led to Mike Pompeo’s visit to Pyongyang in April, as well as a generally more positive mood to the negotiations. Now we are faced with a North Korean regime that may feel it has had its fingers burnt from opening itself up just a little.
Trust in diplomacy takes time to build and even more time to rebuild once lost. For example, rightly or wrongly, suspicion is still the overwhelming diplomatic position when dealing with Russia, and the Cold War ended almost 30 years ago. So perhaps Washington didn’t intend for there to be this level of trust.
The situation reminds me of 1914 when Austria-Hungary sent a list of demands to Serbia following the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand – a list that Serbia was not meant to be able to accept – only for Belgrade to accept the demands. Austria-Hungary was left perplexed about what to do.
The rest is history. Although it’s important to point out that I don’t think the North Korea scenario is even close to another world war.
North Korea may have been correct when it said that Mike Pence’s comments associating the North Korean situation to Libya and Gaddafi were simply “stupid”. But this was probably a gracious response from Pyongyang that offered an olive branch to others within the Trump administration so that the negotiations wouldn’t disintegrate.
Pyongyang has since issued another statement saying that it is prepared to talk in the future. This is positive as they could quite easily have returned to the aggressive rhetoric of old.
However, the likelihood is that Pence’s comments were not “stupid” but part of a strategy, however ill-founded that strategy may be. All in all, though, North Korea is fast becoming the reasonable and more credible party in all this.
I looked upon these talks with cautious optimism but I’ve said for a long time now in various articles and interviews that the fundamental causes of Korean peninsula tensions with the US – Western access to natural resources within North Korean territory and US-led global capitalism’s irresistible desire to find new markets – have not been openly acknowledged enough.
The aspects of (de)nuclearisation and reunification of the peninsula – secondary concerns to the primary capitalist dynamic – were thrust forward as low-hanging fruit but the real substance remained hidden.
However, the cancellation of the summit meeting in Singapore between Trump and Kim likely tells us that no progress had been made with regard to the opening up of North Korea to global market forces and that Pence’s shot across the bows may have been motivated by this concern.
It is the Republican Party that primarily represents the political interests and aspirations of US multinational corporations and we should remember that many of these industries and interests benefit from tensions with North Korea.
If the North Korea threat reduces, then the buoyancy of these industries can be threatened. Indeed, after a prominent television news interview across the BBC World network in July last year, in which I downplayed the threat of nuclear war and North Korea’s military capability, I myself received some flak in the form of aggressive emails from political PR firms in the US with strong links to the Republican party.
So what does the future hold for US-North Korea relations? Certainly North Korea has learned a lesson about the disingenuousness and lack of trustworthiness of the Trump administration.
However, perhaps this shouldn’t be all that surprising, as Trump’s tendency towards xenophobia – Mexicans are rapists et al – during his election campaign was more likely a vehicle for his political power than his actual thoughts on the subject.
What Trump’s retreat may also do though is create an opening within international news media circles where North Korea can fill the void that has been created by the further discrediting of the Trump administration with Pyongyang’s own narrative.
That narrative may not be met with widespread sympathy just yet but certainly North Korea now has an emerging international platform to speak to the world that it didn’t have before.