Trump and North Korea: what happens when the US is governed by a shock doctrinaire.
The Guardian relays this remark made by Will Ripley, a CNN reporter, after he read out loud to North Korean officials Donald Trump’s letter in which he announced that he was canceling the proposed talks with Kim Jong-un: “There was a real sense of shock amongst the people I was sitting with.”
Here is today’s 3D definition:
The most appropriate reaction — and sometimes the only appropriate one — to official written statements drafted by US President Donald Trump
We may need to revise or expand Naomi Klein’s famous thesis, The Shock Doctrine. Let’s call her version “Shock Doctrine 1.0” and begin elaborating a new thesis specifically for Donald Trump: “Shock Doctrine 2.0.”
The neoliberal strategy that achieved its goals in the way Klein describes relied on people not being aware of the perpetrators’ intention to shock. She analyses the methods by which disasters could be used to implement surreptitiously policies that resulted in the restriction of citizens’ rights and transferred power to the masters of the neoliberal economy, corporate-led oligarchy, effectively eroding democratic government. Externally administered shocks — 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, ISIS — encouraged Americans to sacrifice what were once considered precious liberties, voluntarily entrusting an increasingly militarized power structure with their “security.”
Trump innovates by boldly initiating the shock himself rather than posing as victim. His next book could aptly be titled, “The Art of the Shock” or “The Shock of the Deal.” Whether it’s the Paris climate agreement, the Iran deal, talks with North Korea or simply characterizing vast regions of the world as “shitholes,” Trump has refined a new shock doctrine, closer to the effect of a stun taser than to the sensory deprivation Klein cites as the origin of her shock doctrine.
President Trump’s letter to Kim Jong-un contains a number of shocking statements, the most obvious of which is this one: “You talk about your nuclear capabilities, but ours are so massive that I pray to God they will never have to be used.” This is just the latest of his thinly veiled threats that Trump believes are the key to establishing a strong negotiating position.
In response to Trump’s letter, Abraham Denmark, former deputy assistant secretary of defense for East Asia, in a series of eight tweets brilliantly deconstructed Trump’s letter, pointing out, for example, “Coming just a few hours after NK demolished it’s nuclear test site, it guarantees that the US takes the blame for undermining diplomacy. NK comes out looking like the reasonable one.” And this: “North Korea is in a stronger position, Kim has far more legitimacy, China is more engaged, South Korea has invested a lot into diplomacy, and the U.S. role is more circumscribed.”
When your intention is to shock, undermining your own diplomacy becomes nearly inevitable.
Klein’s thesis described a carefully crafted strategy of managing shock. Trump’s Shock Doctrine 2.0 reveals the opposite: careless mismanagement of the shock he seeks to provoke. But that doesn’t mean it won’t produce positive results for the rest of the world. Seen from a neutral historical perspective, Trump’s actions have succeeded in unblocking a situation that for decades was mired in Groundhog Day repetition attributable to the “careful management” of previous administrations. Many people fear that Trump, with his visibly unstable personality, may be ready to lead the world to the brink of nuclear war. And that is precisely what Shock Doctrine 2.0 is all about. As Trump himself summed it up under the guise of optimism, “Everybody plays games.” The question is, “what game and what stakes?”
It now appears that talks will move forward, despite or rather because of Trump’s volatile behavior, meaning the president has lost the leverage he believed he had when he first announced his decision to cancel the talks without consulting South Korea. In January, President Moon Jae-in showered praise on Trump for provoking the Korea talks. Trump’s sudden decision to cancel the talks caused Moon to lose face, which as anyone who has studied Asian culture knows is an absolutely disastrous approach to negotiation.
In an unrelated story from TASS, the Russian news agency, concerning US relations with Russia, Vladimir Putin sums up the real issue: “We, along with our U.S. partners, must agree on some uniform rules of behavior … Trust exists or it doesn’t, and then nothing good can come out of anything. And then the element of force is the only thing that remains, and this might lead to tragedy.”
When Putin is the one taking the moral high road and insisting on the value of trust, the US appears to be nothing more than the most vainglorious inconsequential bully on the block. If the talks do take place, Trump will claim credit, but his impact on the results will be seriously diminished.
*[In the age of Oscar Wilde and Mark Twain, another American wit, the journalist Ambrose Bierce, produced a series of satirical definitions of commonly used terms, throwing light on their hidden meanings in real discourse. Bierce eventually collected and published them as a book, The Devil’s Dictionary, in 1911. We have shamelessly appropriated his title in the interest of continuing his wholesome pedagogical effort to enlighten generations of readers of the news.]
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