Victor Davis Hanson surveys President Trump’s foreign policy, focusing on China, Iran, and North Korea. Hanson argues that Trump’s recalibration of our policy towards these three nations has succeeded in placing maximum pressure on each to alter its policies. He warns, however, that as the pressure mounts, so does the prospect of dangerous provocations.
Trump’s policies towards China, Iran, and North Korea are improvements over President Obama’s. As Hanson observes, Obama (and his predecessors) largely “overlook[ed] systematic Chinese trade surpluses, flagrant violations of world commercial norms, neocolonial provocations throughout Asia, stealing U.S. patents and copyrights, product dumping, currency manipulation, and technological appropriation.”
Trump is the first American president to face up to the reality of the threat China poses to the U.S. and to the world.
Trump also halted U.S. funding of Iranian aggression throughout the Middle East. In addition, U.S. sanctions have helped produce mass protests throughout Iran. While it’s unlikely that these protests will topple the regime, they probably advance the day when the regime will fall.
Trump’s outreach to North Korea means that, for the first time, an American president has a personal relationship with a North Korean ruler. Trump now knows the previously inscrutable Kim Jong Un.
This is a step forward because it reduces the possibility of nuclear war by miscalculation.
But to say that Trump has improved our policies towards China, Iran, and North Korea is not to say that his policies have yet been successful. Trump’s goal is to make a favorable deal with the leaders of each of these adversaries. This is the goal one would expect from the “art of the deal” president.
However, no deals have yet been made. Moreover, it seems highly unlikely that Trump will be able to make a satisfactory deal with Iran or North Korea, and not particularly likely that he will make a satisfactory one with China.
Hanson acknowledges that it’s difficult to envisage the mullahs renouncing their nuclear intentions. As he puts it, “such a loss-of-face move is apparently about the worst conceivable scenario for the revolutionary Shiite theocracy.”
It’s not too difficult to envisage Iran doing the opposite — pushing hard to develop nuclear weapons. What is Trump prepared to do to prevent them from succeeding?
Hanson also acknowledges that North Korea isn’t about to give up its nukes. Without them, Hanson correctly says, North Korea is nothing.
This likely means the U.S. is going to have to live with a nuclear North Korea. Because of Trump’s relationship with Kim Jong Un, we are better positioned to do so.
The problem, though, is that North Korea will want to leverage its nuclear status into financial advantage. It might well do so through provocative military action.
How would Trump respond?
Trump might well reach a deal with China, but would it be favorable? Trump’s advantage is that our economy is humming along, while China’s is slowing down. This might change, however. And even if it doesn’t, China, a dictatorship, has the advantage of being able to wait Trump out — certainly for another year, and probably for another four if it comes to that.
It’s not Trump’s fault that he hasn’t yet succeeded with regard to Iran, North Korea, or China, and that he might not ever succeed. In each instance, circumstances and the policies of certain of his predecessors left Trump with a big mess to clean up, as he often complains.
But our great presidents (with the obvious exception of George Washington) inherited even bigger messes from their predecessors. They found a way to clean them up.