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Seven Days in May

March 9, 2018

In February of this year, the Washington Post reports, the National Security Council conducted a study that has led to formulation of a policy of “Maximum Pressure” toward the North Korean communist regime. This policy calls for “maximum pressure,” but not regime change.

Springing a name that never existed before to describe Trump administration policy is curious. If one listens to what President Trump actually said, he was prepared to attack North Korea not merely to destroy its ballistic missile capability, but the regime itself.

That strikes me as “regime change.”

So, what’s going on?

If reports are accurate that Chief of Staff Kelly and Secretary of Defense Mattis are attempting to force removal of National Security Advisor McMaster, a policy that refutes the intentions of President Trump will not endear the President to NSA McMasters.

There are other issues to consider as the President plans for a meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jon Un. An immutable principle of foreign policy is that policy should serve the national interest. That can be calculated correctly, or incorrectly, but calculated it must be in a process of review by knowledgeable professionals.

No such system is in place in the Trump Administration. In fact, this President thinks he is good at deal-making and that meetings with heads of states should be held in person in order to negotiate a “deal.”

There are a number of factors that will make up any “deal, ” whether the instrument of processes of evaluation by professionals or the instinct of a former businessman.

Here they are:

1) Sanctions against North Korea, a regime that has starved its people in the pursuit of military capability, are working. North Korea may be motivated to seek a “deal” that removes sanctions;

2) North Korea is a surrogate of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). That authoritarian regime is now led by a permanent leader committed to the preservation of personal power and the regime’s civil religion of Maoism. The PRC has long term interests aimed at the Republic of China (Taiwan) and Japan. U.S. Navy carrier groups within striking distance of the PRC are not in the PRC’s long term interests.

3) As 2018 Congressional elections approach, President Trump is politically vulnerable. He must maintain GOP control of the U.S. House of Representatives. If the Democrats achieve a majority, they will immediately introduce a resolution to Impeach the President.

4) The Trump Administration has nominated and confirmed former Iowa Governor, Terry Branstad, as Ambassador to the PRC.  The U.S. no longer recognizes the Republic of China as the legitimate government of China and the government on Taiwan is recognized by only 19 nations including the Vatican. Informal relations are conducted in the U.S. by the “Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office.” The Trump Administration has no U.S. Ambassador to South Korea. The Trump Administration’s Ambassador to Japan is former Tennessee investment banker, William Hagarty IV.

That alone is depressing.

Conclusion: The cohort of U.S. Ambassadors in the region are untried and, in the case of South Korea and Taiwan, nonexistent. At the U.S. Department of State, President Trump’s belief that “we have too many people” has led to few if any staff appointments.

Though the U.S. Foreign Service owes its first allegiance to the U.S. Foreign Service, if knowledgeable, conservative, political appointees were in place to oversee their actions, the Foreign Service can provide valuable information and relations with nations in the region. In their absence, and the absence of a security process to evaluate the national interest, a May meeting of President Trump and Korea’s Kim Jong Un is very risky.

President Trump is dyslexic and reads with great difficulty.  Support documents, even if produced by experts, would not be read and the President will rely on cable television for basic knowledge. The President, therefore, will be unprepared for formal proposals touching on sanctions, North Korea’s ballistic missiles, and the reality that North Korea will negotiate in bad faith.

Even if President Trump gets the trophy he seeks–abandonment of North Korea’s nuclear missiles–we must assume that this regime will do the opposite. I am reminded that after the fall of the Soviet Union, American officials discovered ballistic missiles hidden in Bulgaria that were supposed to have been destroyed. And that was with a communist regime we trusted!



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