Yesterday, the administration announced that it was re-instituting sanctions against Iran. These are the sanctions that had been suspended in the wake of the deal to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons that had been signed by President Obama along with leaders from the United Kingdom, Russia, France, China, Germany and the European Union. The goal of that deal had been to trade Iran’s nuclear weapons program for relief from some of the sanctions the international community had leveled upon it. In general, international organizations found that the deal was working.
President Trump had a problem with this deal, in particular the fact that it was negotiated by the Obama administration. Without any basis in fact, with the opposition of much of the international community, and with the support of only one state actor — Israel — the administration repudiated that deal. The other signatories are working feverishly to save the deal without the United States, only further isolating us and giving opportunities to foreign companies that could otherwise to to U.S. firms.
This policy change was not a surprise. Trump had campaigned against the Iran anti-nuclear deal prior to the election. Despite his hard-line rhetoric, our allies in Canada and France in particular lobbied him hard not to take this step. Their efforts were, unfortunately, only wishful thinking.
History can teach us about the wisdom of this decision. One of the monkeys on the back of Trump’s presidency is North Korea, a hostile nation that almost certainly developed and tested nuclear weapons, as well as the missiles to carry them abroad, since Trump had been elected president. Despite Trump’s claims to the contrary in the wake of his “summit” in Singapore with Kim Jong Un, North Korea has continued with its nuclear program unabated. Indeed, the “great negotiator” Trump gave up our commitment to joint military exercises with the South Koreans in exchange for… nothing. If the Iran nuclear agreement was a bad deal, what is this?
Indeed, CNN reported this morning that North Korea wants another summit this year with Trump. If you think Trump got us a good deal with North Korea during the last meeting, ask yourself why they want to meet with him again so soon. Don’t kid yourself. We are no better off with regard to the North Korean threat. They are now a member of the nuclear club and intend to stay there.
In reality, I have a little sympathy for Trump here. While it is annoying to watch him claiming credit for the economic boom that Obama built up, Trump has good reason to complain about the fact that the North Korean problem should have been dealt with long ago. Truly, it is unfair that this problem has been left for him to deal with. While it is true that his actions in response to the problem have been questionable at best, he is not to blame for the crisis. Somebody should have done something about this problem long ago.
And in fact, somebody did. Perhaps the closest we came to war with North Korea since the 1953 armistice was during the Clinton administration. That was back before North Korea had nukes, but they clearly wanted them. On the brink of war, a deal was reached that would exchange a cessation in North Korea’s nuclear program for relief from international sanctions and for help developing a civilian nuclear program. Sound familiar? Indeed, this deal was the basis for what was done in Iran.
So what happened? We all know about the election of 2000, when another Republican won the Presidency despite losing the popular vote. Shortly after 9/11, President Bush gave a speech to Congress written by David Frum in which he detailed the “axis of evil”: Iran, Iraq and North Korea. Now, we all know that this speech was part of his effort to get the U.S. to go to war against Iraq under false pretenses. Nevertheless, it did succeed in announcing a policy that led to the repudiation of the nuclear deal with North Korea.
So here’s what happened with North Korea. A Democratic president attempted to address the problem of a hostile nation developing nuclear weapons. In pursuit of that goal, the administration reaches a deal with that hostile nation to stop the nuclear weapons program in exchange for sanctions relief. Then, a Republican administration with a minority of the vote comes into office and repudiates the deal. Less than twenty years later, a new administration must deal with the reality of that hostile power being in possession of nuclear weapons that pose a serious threat to us and an existential threat to some of our allies.
That sequence of events is not just relevant to North Korea. Except for the final act in that play, all the other steps are exactly the same as what has happened in Iran. In other words, Trump, who clearly knows nothing about history, is dooming our country to repeat it.
The Pew Research Center reported that other countries have very negative views about the U.S. leadership under Trump. It is shocking which countries report such views, including Canada, Germany, France, South Korea, the U.K. and Australia, to name a few. These are our closest allies who helped us defeat communism and supported us in Afghanistan after 9/11. What is especially notable is how contrary these results are to similar data from the end of the Obama presidency.
Of course, none of these people are at a Trump rally, nor are the majority of Americans who oppose him. As a result, to Trump, their opinions really don’t matter. But in the long term, considering that these countries are many of our most loyal allies, their opinions should matter to the rest of us.