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On Both Iran And North Korea, Trump Went To Extremes — And Failed

The legendary Chicago White Sox hitting coach Charley Lau once observed: “There are two theories on hitting the knuckleball. Unfortunately, neither of them works.” Donald Trump could identify. He has two theories on how to eliminate the potential nuclear danger posed by hostile rogue regimes, and neither of them is succeeding.

Trump apparently has never read “Goldilocks and the Three Bears.” He doesn’t believe a policy can be too hot or too cold. He prefers to take things to their logical, or illogical, extreme.

He’s sought to warm relations with North Korea up to the temperature of a Sandals Resort hot tub, even as he has set out to cover the Islamic rulers of Iran with a massive layer of glacial ice. It’s a perfect test of two radically different strategies — radically different from each other and from what his predecessors did.

It’s also a perfect illustration of his willingness to ignore established norms and longstanding alliances. Trump won the presidency shoveling scorn on the prescriptions of experts, and in the realm of foreign policy, he has stuck to that approach.

His trip to Japan was a chance for the president to reaffirm his devotion to Kim Jong Un. A few months after their summit in Singapore last year, he confessed: “He wrote me beautiful letters, and they’re great letters. We fell in love.”

He took Kim’s flattery as proof that his previous policy of threatening North Korea with incineration had worked. But it looks as though he got played like a gullible heiress. Kim traded nothing of value to get the long-prized meeting with the U.S. president, and he offered minimal concessions when they met.

He made a vague commitment to “work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean peninsula,” turned over the remains of some American soldiers killed in the Korean War, and halted nuclear and missile tests. But Kim has continued building nuclear warheads, as well as missiles that could carry them.

When the North Koreans resumed testing missiles in May, Trump chose to indulge them. He tweeted that the tests “disturbed some of my people, and others, but not me. I have confidence that Chairman Kim will keep his promise to me.” Those “others” include Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was hosting Trump at the time and did not share his complacency.

Trump’s attitude exemplifies the sort of naive appeasement that the administration accused Barack Obama of carrying out when he signed a nuclear deal with Iran. Trump made it clear from the start that he had no use for the accord, and last year he abandoned it, over the objections of the other signatories (Britain, France, Germany, the European Union, Russia and China).

His objections were that it didn’t permanently prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons, didn’t stop Iran from supporting terrorist groups or making trouble in neighboring countries, and didn’t keep it from building missiles. But it’s a strange policy to say that because some of the restrictions on Iran last only 10 or 15 years, the solution is to remove them now. Just because a medicine won’t prevent a heart attack is no reason not to take it to treat your diabetes.

Trump claimed that by renouncing the deal and tightening economic sanctions, he would force the Iranians to accept a better deal. But the administration has laid down a list of stiff conditions they would have to accept before talks could even begin — which is what you would do if you had no desire to negotiate.

Tehran shows no sign of altering its behavior in response. Why would it? His two chief foreign policy advisers, national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, both supported regime change before going to work for Trump. The Iranian government may reasonably conclude that nothing it can do will satisfy the administration.

The president has used Iran as a foil for his tough-guy act, warning, “If Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran.” But so far, he hasn’t gotten his way.

What happens when the tough guy does his worst and his adversary doesn’t submit? It’s not clear Trump has a plan for that contingency — any more than he knows how to respond if the North Koreans refuse to give up their nukes.

He is discovering that bluster and bombast don’t work, and craven appeasement doesn’t work. Something in between might be just right.

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapmanand read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

IMAGE: President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un participate in a signing ceremony during a meeting on Sentosa Island, Tuesday, June 12, 2018, in Singapore. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Danziger: Give Peace No Chance

Jeff Danziger lives in New York City. He is represented by CWS Syndicate and the Washington Post Writers Group. He is the recipient of the Herblock Prize and the Thomas Nast (Landau) Prize. He served in the US Army in Vietnam and was awarded the Bronze Star and the Air Medal. He has published eleven books of cartoons and one novel. Visit him at DanzigerCartoons.com.

Once Again Trump’s Policy Benefits Russian Interests, Not Ours

The likelihood that Donald Trump withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear deal for principled or pragmatic reasons is vanishingly small, since he seems to know very little about the agreement. His own defense secretary, who understands the deal very well, advised him that it continues to serve our national security interests. Many observers suspect Trump is merely acting out his neurotic anger against Barack Obama.

However petty Trump’s personal motivations may be, the grave consequences of his action are clear. By breaking an agreement so recently signed by the United States, he will further diminish American credibility on the international stage. By rejecting the entreaties of our European allies — and threatening sanctions against European companies — he will further strain those vital relationships. And by violating the terms of a disarmament plan negotiated with a rogue state, he will weaken any nuclear deal he may eventually reach with the North Korean regime.

So instead of improving American security or benefiting the United States in any way, this ill-conceived announcement instead harms our prospects. Abrogating the deal is already driving up oil prices and may well raise the possibility of another terrible war

Yet there is one state that will quietly applaud Trump’s fateful mistake, the same state that has profited from all his diplomatic fumbling: the Russian Federation.

Like so many stupid, destructive policies foisted on us by this White House — from steel tariffs and anti-Muslim immigration bans to the ruinous assault on the State Department, the FBI, and the intelligence community — Trump’s latest decision seems designed to advance the Kremlin’s agenda.

In theory, of course, the Russians should have wished the U.S. to remain in the deal, since Russia was one of the six international partners (along with China, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany) that negotiated its terms with Iran. And it is true that Russian diplomats at the United Nations and elsewhere delivered a few pro forma admonitions urging the Trump administration to continue the agreement.

Unlike the major European heads of state, however, Vladimir Putin made no real attempt to persuade Trump. The effort to save the deal by the leaders of France, Germany, and Britain was extraordinarily open and creative, almost heroic. Meanwhile, the Russian leader had a perfect opportunity to make his own argument when the US president, against explicit instructions, offered congratulations on Putin’s phony re-election. But he said nothing.

Just days before Trump announced his decision, a top official in the Russian foreign ministry gave away the game when he practically welcomed a U.S. withdrawal. Vladimir Yermakov, the director-general of the ministry’s non-proliferation bureau, not only assured reporters that the Iran deal would continue without the U.S. but gloated: “It might even be easier for us on the economic front, because we won’t have any limits on economic cooperation with Iran. We would develop bilateral relations in all areas — energy, transport, high tech, medicine…”

In short, the Russians plan to rush in where the United States could be doing business — and will have no competition, thanks to that brilliant dealmaker Donald Trump.

Such a bad diplomatic result for his own country is strikingly reminiscent of what Trump has achieved in Cuba — another traditional site of Cold War confrontation where Russian deal-making (and perhaps mischief-making) can accelerate while the stripped-down American embassy sits almost idle. Still only 90 miles from Florida, the island could again become a staging area for Kremlin espionage and influence missions in this hemisphere — including our country.

If Trump didn’t always wrap himself in the flag, proclaim that he’s a nationalist, and constantly bellow “America First,” somebody might begin to wonder why so much of what he is doing benefits only our principal adversary — and inflicts permanent damage on our own country.

The Iran Nuclear Deal Is Still A Good Bargain

The case against the nuclear deal with Iran is reminiscent of what Woody Allen once said: “Life is full of misery, loneliness and suffering — and it’s all over much too soon.” The agreement, critics insist, is terrible and doesn’t last long enough.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, said on NPR Tuesday, “The problem is that the restrictions that the deal puts in place are automatically removed in a few years. This was the core problem of the deal from the beginning.”

If it’s not a good deal for the U.S. and Israel, shouldn’t we prefer that it be over as quickly as possible? The weird logic of the opponents is that because parts of the accord will end too soon, we should end the whole thing even sooner — right now. Their implication is that all the flaws would be acceptable if only they would remain in effect until the end of time.

At his briefing Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stood beside a giant screen filled with two words: “Iran lied.” This assertion was a surprise on the order of finding snow in Siberia. The United States entered negotiations on Iran’s nuclear program precisely because we didn’t believe the claim that it had only peaceful purposes.

Had the Obama administration taken the Iranians to be paragons of honesty, it would not have held out for the most intrusive inspections regime ever imposed on a country. National security adviser Susan Rice said in 2015, “Our approach is distrust but verify.”

The Israelis point out that the inspectors didn’t unearth the files Netanyahu released. They didn’t need to. “All of it was information that the International Atomic Energy Agency already had and has already commented on,” Mark Fitzpatrick, executive director of the International Institute for Strategic Studies, told CNN.

“Even if the documents assembled by Israel are genuine, they do not appear to reveal that prohibited nuclear weapons research and design activities continued in an organized fashion beyond 2003,” Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, told me.

Besides, the nuclear inspectors aren’t supposed to spend their time finding out what the Tehran government did 15 years ago. They are supposed to ensure that Iran is complying with its current obligations, and they’ve found over and over that it is.

The important part of the session was what Netanyahu didn’t say. He didn’t say Iran has violated the agreement.

The White House responded to his slide show with a statement that the disclosures prove Iran “has a robust, clandestine nuclear program that it has tried and failed to hide from the world and from its own people” — and then had to correct the statement to say Iran “had” such a program. Meaning: It no longer does. That would be thanks to the accord.

The deal put severe limits on Iran. It had to give up 97 percent of its stockpile of enriched uranium, dismantle its plutonium reactor and surrender 70 percent of its centrifuges. Inspectors can gain access to any site where they detect suspicious activity. The curbs on Iran are why Donald Trump’s own defense secretary, James Mattis, has said it’s in our national security interest to stay in the agreement.

The president, however, says it must be revised or he’ll withdraw. But why would Iran agree to changes without new concessions on our part? And why would Iran see any point in amending an agreement with a government that feels free to renege on its established commitments?

Some restrictions on Iran’s activities expire after 10 or 15 years. But if the administration would like to see those limits extended, the best hope is to abide by our obligations. Over time, Iran might grow more confident that it doesn’t need nuclear weapons and agree to longer terms.

Trump’s threats are likely to have the opposite effect. They tell the Iranian government it can’t rely on multilateral agreements and had better have a good military deterrent against its enemies.

Trump accuses Barack Obama of sticking him with “a terrible deal.” If the U.S. abandoned the deal, Iran would be free to evict the inspectors and resume the very activities that Netanyahu decried.

At that point, we would be presented with the same choice that the agreement served to avert: Allow Iran to proceed with its nuclear program or start a war to try to prevent it. Talk about a terrible deal.

 

Steve Chapman blogs at http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/chapman. Follow him on Twitter @SteveChapman13 or at https://www.facebook.com/stevechapman13. To find out more about Steve Chapman and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

IMAGE: Ballistic missile is launched and tested in an undisclosed location, Iran, in this handout photo released by Farsnews