Observations of an Expat: Told You So

May 25, 2018 Asia , Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , United States

AP photo



Tom Arms



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 was no surprise that the Trump-Kim summit scheduled for Singapore in June was likely to be postponed indefinitely. The White House was trying to rescue it. They may have succeeded, but it was 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 does 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 Gaddafi reluctantly abandoned his nuclear weapons programme in return for American protection. But when the Arab Spring arrived, Gaddafi was overthrown and murdered with Western support. Bolton has also gone on record advocating a pre-emptive nuclear strike against North Korea.


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





Tom Arms

I am a journalist, entrepreneur and historian with extensive experience in print, web and broadcast journalism. I started as a diplomatic correspondent, wrote several books (The Falklands Crisis, World Elections On File and the Encyclopedia of the Cold War), and then in 1987 started my own business (Future Events News Service, www.fensinformation.com) which over 25 years established itself as the world and UK media’s diary. Our strapline was: “We set the world’s news agenda.” I sold FENS in December 2012 but retained the exclusive broadcast rights to all of FENS data. To exploit these rights I set up LookAhead TV which produces unique programmes which “Broadcasts Tomorrow Today” so that viewers can “Plan to Participate.” LookAhead has appeared regularly on Vox Africa, Radio Tatras International, The Conversation and Voice of Africa Radio.

In addition to being a syndicated broadcaster and columnist on global affairs, Tom is also available for speaking engagements and can be contacted on TwitterLinkedin and email[email protected].

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