James George Jatras
Analyst, former U.S. diplomat and foreign policy adviser to the Senate GOP leadership
In the aftermath of US President Donald Trump’s cancellation of his scheduled June 12 summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, the gathering clouds of global conflict are getting thicker and darker:
Korea: The cancellation is a triumph for Trump’s national security team, most if not all of whom were horrified at the prospect of his meeting personally with Kim. (There was no telling what the Big Man might agree to if he met Little Rocket Man face to face. What if Korea actually were denuclearized? There would be no more excuse for keeping American troops on the peninsula! Disaster!) From the team’s perspective, scuttling the meeting altogether would be the best outcome, but derailing the date and cranking the nasty rhetoric back up will do for now. Talk of a Libyan model, even more than inclusion of B-52s in exercises with South Korea (which Trump reversed), got the job done. Now it’s imperative for the national security establishment to load Trump up with nonnegotiable demands (maybe patterned on Pompeo’s Iran provocation; see below) that Kim would have no choice but to refuse on the chance the summit gets rescheduled through the frantic efforts of South Korea’s Moon Jae-in – and maybe of Trump himself, if he still wants a shot at that Nobel Peace Prize. Pyongyang’s continued willingness to talk will register in Washington as desperation and an invitation for renewed pressure.
Iran: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has delivered to Tehran what only can be deemed an ultimatum. It makes Austria’s 1914 demands on Serbia look mild in comparison. Ultimata are designed to be rejected, "justifying” whatever action the threatening power has already decided upon. Tehran is being told to dismantle its entire regional security presence – or else. The "or else” means initially a campaign of destabilization (assassinations, fomenting domestic unrest, and insurrections by disgruntled ethnic and religious communities; see Syria 2011) or, if that fails, direct military action (see Libya 2011 and Iraq 2003). To trigger the latter look for a false flag or contrived "Iranian attack,” such as a naval incident in the Persian Gulf (see Gulf of Tonkin 1964). Also targeted by the ultimatum are the European countries aghast at US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. In addition to smacking secondary sanctions on our satellites (officially, "allies” and "partners”), the harshness of Pompeo’s terms is designed to spook the Europeans into the vain hope they can restrain a reckless US bent on war by meeting Washington halfway (or three-quarters of the way, or nine-tenths of the way...) in helping to corner Tehran. Watch to see who will crack first: London, Paris, or Berlin?
Syria: Despite Trump’s repeated assertion that he wants to get Americans out of Syria, there is reason to think we are digging in further. This has nothing to do with defeating ISIS. Rather, along with a planned buildup of Saudi and other foreign Sunni troops in the US- and Kurd-controlled zone, the principal target is Iran (see above). US policy in Syria is driven by Israeli and Saudi hostility to Iran, and Pompeo’s list of nonnegotiable demands includes withdrawal of Iranian (and Hezbollah) forces from that country. It is a mystery how the US, whose troop presence in Syria violates international law and probably American domestic law as well, has the right to demand the departure of forces present legally by invitation of the internationally recognized government. Punctuating US determination to confront Iran were new strikes this week against Syrian government forces, while Israel flaunted its first-ever combat use of the US F-35.
Ukraine: The level of fighting on the Donbas line of control has intensified. Meanwhile Kiev forces show off tests of the Javelin antitank missiles they received from the Trump administration, which the Obama administration had earlier declined to provide. Ostensibly intended to deter a Russian attack – in which case they would make little difference – the Javelins could be used in an offensive against Donbas forces (perhaps in concert with an attack on the Kerch bridge connecting mainland Russia to Crimea) followed by a call for insertion of international peacekeepers. Russia considers the FIFA World Cup from June 14 to July 15 a prime time window for such an assault. A Dutch report assigning blame to – surprise! – Russia for downing MH17 comes at an opportune moment.
Balkans: Prestigious think tanks call for "action” to intensify the same policies that have made a wreck of the Balkans for a quarter of a century. Why? To counter Russian influence, of course! The only shortcoming in US and European policy is that we haven’t been aggressive enough.
Sitting at the geographic and political junction of these seemingly disparate theaters of active or potential conflict is the US establishment’s entrenched hostility to Russia. Despite the accelerating unraveling of the anti-constitutional plot to dump Trump by elements of the US Deep State (in the CIA, FBI, Department of Justice, and elsewhere) together with their British counterparts (MI6 and GCHQ), the effort’s primary policy objective was achieved: President Trump has been blocked from his oft-stated desire to improve ties with Moscow. Addressing the regional issues above – any one of which could reach dangerous crisis proportion at any moment – would be far more feasible with Washington and Moscow working in cooperation instead of at cross-purposes or daggers drawn. But instead, we have a new cold war care of James Clapper, John Brennan, Christopher Steele, Peter Strzok, Stefan Halper, and their ilk – possibly even including Barack Obama.
In some ways this second Cold War is even more dangerous than the first one. The instincts of restraint and prudence that had been built up over decades of confrontation have atrophied. While both the US and Russia still maintain massive nuclear arsenals, new military technology has continued to make rapid progress in such areas as hypersonic weapons and cyber-warfare. Also, while during the first Cold War American and Soviet planners consciously sought to avoid direct contact between their forces in Third World proxy wars, today American and Russian forces come into perilous proximity to one another. Given Washington’s relentless determination to press Moscow to the brink in every theater, the consequences of even an unintended clash are not given the gravity they demand.
It is impossible to know from outside of Trump’s own mind to what extent he has abandoned his pledge to improve relations with Russia (or never meant it in the first place), or whether he might simply be biding his time to make his move. But it is clear what that move must be if there is any possibility of cutting the Gordian knot that binds shut the gate to rapprochement: Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin should meet in a formal and substantive summit at the earliest possible date. A productive understanding between the United States and Russia must start at the top, on the personal level or it will not happen at all.
To that end, recently this analyst joined other activists in posting the following petition on the official White House website:
Created by J.J. on May 21, 2018
‘Ronald Reagan famously said: "A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought. The only value in our two nations possessing nuclear weapons is to make sure they will never be used.” Unfortunately, today a new Cold War between the US and Russia again poses an existential threat to the people of both nations and to the whole world. Therefore, we urge President Trump to follow in the steps of Ronald Reagan and to start a direct dialogue with President Putin in search of solid and verified security arrangements. As President Trump said repeatedly "only haters and fools” do not understand that good US- Russia relations are also good for America. By all indications President Putin feels the same way for his country. A summit should be arranged as soon as possible.’
The petition is open for signature until June 20. When signing, use of Gmail is recommended to facilitate registration of your vote.
No one should imagine a White House petition can by itself change the direction of American policy. However, if there are elements on Trump’s team who are not entirely against the idea of a summit, a show of public support may serve to strengthen their case against those opposed.
Most important is a constituency of one: Mr. Trump himself. If Trump was at all willing to hold a summit with Kim because of his handful of nukes, he can certainly do so with the leader of the one country on the planet with enough nuclear weapons to destroy the US.
Obama got his Peace Prize presented to him on a platter simply for getting elected while being black. By contrast, if Trump wants his Peace Prize he’s going to have to work for it. With Kim off his dance card, he’s got plenty of time to take a spin with Putin.