A recent opinion piece at The Daily Caller by Tony Shaffer suggested, in reference to the Nobel Peace Prize, that “peace is the only prize Donald Trump wants.” What he sees as the president’s extraordinary ability to make a deal and a “no nonsense” approach to diplomacy would make Mr. Trump — in his opinion — a worthy honoree.
Several of Shaffer’s points merit attention. It is easy enough for a president to make war, and Mr. Trump has shown little inclination in this direction, preferring bluster and braggadocio to armed force. War would not, I am persuaded, meet the president’s needs at present, which seem mostly geared toward personal self-aggrandizement and protection of business interests, including his own. Also, unlike other so-called “partisan Democrats and neoconservatives,” I cautiously applaud the president’s efforts at negotiation with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un. As Winston Churchill famously noted, “To jaw-jaw is better than to war-war.”
That does not mean, however, that we should check reason at the door, as Shaffer has so clearly done. Shaffer’s underlying arguments are deeply flawed. While President Trump may want peace, far from being the master of the Art of the Deal and a savvy diplomat, the president has smashed up international norms while achieving almost nothing of value. Even peace in his mind is a dog-eat-dog, bully-thy-friend, and suck-up-to-thine-enemies sort that grievously undermines American influence around the globe.
Confidence in the president’s ability to make a deal is astonishingly naïve, and unsupported by evidence. To characterize the Singapore summit as a “diplomatic miracle,” for example, strains credulity. First, let’s not forget that much of the saber-rattling from North Korea resulted from the administration’s bellicosity, especially from the president himself. Moreover, North Korea has realized its strategic goal of securing nuclear weapons and long range ballistic missiles. If Mr. Trump’s objective is a non-nuclear North Korea, the horse is well out of the barn. “Little Rocket Man” may now have “a very good personality” but that changes nothing about his capacity to inflict instant vaporization on key American allies.
In this light, President Trump’s much-vaunted deal-making skills appear non-existent. There is no deal with North Korea. There is no denuclearization. On more than one occasion, North Korea has made vague assurances in this direction, but that was before it was able to combine a nuclear arsenal with credible delivery systems.
President Trump has no more mastered the art of diplomacy than the art of civility. As we have seen time and again, in the international arena Mr. Trump is at best an offensive bully. In terms of deal-making, Mr. Trump has ruptured alliances, engaged in a minor but potentially growing trade war with America’s closest allies in Europe and North America, and threatened China with significant tariffs. He has accomplished little that will benefit the American people, America’s standing world-wide, or the spread of what used to be considered American values. He has repeatedly cozied up to dictators, overstated his achievements and been thoroughly unreliable as an ally and negotiating partner.
While we may bask in the rosy glow of Singapore for now, the Trump presidency to date suggests that the bromance between the president and Kim Jong Un is far more likely to end bitterly in a Trump Twitterstorm than in North Korea willingly giving up its nuclear weapons. I am certainly not a North Korea admirer, but Kim Jong Un — “very, very smart,” according to the president — knows that Mr. Trump, far from being a skilled diplomat, is an erratic, inattentive, and duplicitous deal-breaker. North Korea may be a vicious autocracy, but its leaders are not stupid. They played the president in Singapore and will continue to do so as long as it achieves their end of remaining in power.
At some point, the president may be faced with whether to use the “big stick” that Shaffer suggests. Thus far he has shown little propensity to do this. Certainly he has bullied where he can, and spurned allies and adversaries alike. But in very many instances he has exhibited weakness, while trumpeting strength. He has done nothing about Russia, or Assad in Syria. He has done little about Iran – another example, if one is needed, as to why North Korea will never trust Mr. Trump. He has failed to curtail China’s influence. Time and again we see appeasement of the thugs of the world tarted up as Trump’s Art of the Deal. Nothing could be further from the truth.
As one of the “world’s globalists and elite academics” Shaffer despises, I am happy to acknowledge that Donald Trump may indeed want peace. His willingness to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was a bold step that we can hope pays dividends. But while Shaffer’s wide-eyed optimism about eventual denuclearization is rather heart-warming, he seems utterly duped about the prospects for North Korea to do what it says it will. The track record isn’t good, either for North Korea to follow through or for President Trump to secure a lasting strategic deal.
Eighty years ago, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain stepped off a plane from Munich, waving a piece of paper he and Adolf Hitler had signed, and promising “Peace in our time.” It is possible that President Trump’s trip to Singapore will result in positive, peaceful developments on the Korean peninsula, but arguing he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize now is akin to rushing to award one to another deluded and overconfident leader upon his return from Germany in 1938.
Stephen Hague (D.Phil., Oxford) holds a post in modern European history at Rowan University in Glassboro, New Jersey, with a special focus on Britain and its global engagement from the eighteenth to the twenty-first centuries. He also serves as the director of the Rowan Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.