Donald Trump, as you may have heard from the Secretary of State this week, is not very bright. He had the good fortune to be born wealthy, and, well, that’s pretty much it. Except that Trump’s ignorance is turning out to be a big issue for the entire world.
As was clear well before the election, Trump has only one negotiating technique: Bluster and threaten. In last two weeks, we’ve been reminded that Trump tells his negotiators to act as if he’s crazy and uncontrollable—which may be the easiest acting job on Earth. And we’ve seen again that Trump’s one and only tactic is to drop an offer on the table, splutter like any counteroffer is a deadly insult, and threaten to leave the room if he doesn’t get his way. That was fine when the worst thing that could happen when negotiations fall apart was that a condo in downtown Mumbai went without an official Trump nameplate, but the stakes are a little higher now.
During the campaign, Trump frequently announced that if he couldn’t get what he wanted from America’s partners in NAFTA, he would walk away from the table. Or if China wouldn’t agree to his terms on trade, he’d walk away from the table. The problem with that answer is that it makes no sense whatsoever. No trade deal is simply the worst trade deal possible.
And even that isn’t as awful as how Trump has played this tactic when it comes to nuclear agreements. At this point, Trump has signaled he will take the first step in walking away from the Iran agreement next week. To which the response in Iran will probably be parades and a week-long holiday. They may even order up a few Trump statues. It took years of forging international agreements and the imposition of crushing international sanctions, easily as tough as the ones now applied to North Korea, to bring Iran to the table and bring about an agreement that has halted its development of nuclear weapons. The only thing keeping Iran in that agreement is the concern that breaking the terms would lead to a return of the sanctions regime. How can Iran escape the agreement without worrying about the price of bread in Tehran? Let Donald Trump do it for them.
They cannot believe their luck.
If America steps away from the Iranian agreement even though Iran is certified to be following the agreement … America doesn’t win. And the odds of ever getting together the international consensus that would be required to bring are back to the table aren’t slim to none. They’re just none.
Which brings us to North Korea, the place that’s the obvious receiving end of numerous threats during the week which culminated on Saturday with the statement that “only one thing will work” when it comes to getting Kim Jong Un to put down his missiles.
At this point, it’s not clear whether Trump is continuing his one negotiating tactic of acting crazy and threatening to leave the table, or if he’s genuinely crazy enough to act. It is clear that it no longer matters. Because there’s no one to negotiate with. Donald Trump has nothing that Kim Jong Un wants. He did, a few days ago, before Trump made it blindingly clear that a treaty with the United States has no value. But now, no, Trump has nothing to offer. Now we’re all just balanced on the edge of when Kim Jong Un decides that using his weapons is less risky than holding onto them.
I would sincerely like to beleive that Trump is sitting on some super secret technology that makes him sure the United States could disable North Korea’s weapons before they could sling a missile at Tokyo or let off an artillery barrage at Seoul. But it’s a very good bet that he’s not. It’s just that … Donald Trump is not that bright.