Image Matters

In order to solve international problems a political leader often needs international support. On July 4th North Korea gave America what it described as a present by test launching an ICBM. The juxtaposition of those two facts doesn’t look good for America. Let’s explore.

The North Korean problem can’t be blamed on Trump. Hell, I’ll bet two years ago he couldn’t find it on a world map; the scary part is that he still may not be able to. At least the last four administrations have to a large part kicked the can down the road knowing it wouldn’t reach critical mass on their watch. There is plenty of blame to go around on administrations of both political parties. Assuming he has somewhere between three and one-half and seven and one-half years left in office it looks like it may hit the crisis stage under Trump. If nothing else this makes a great case against procrastination!

Every military expert worth listening to says that the United States does not have any good military options in North Korea. A military confrontation could very easily turn into a war. In a conventional war the casualties would easily be measured in the six and more likely seven figures; in a nuclear conflict they would almost undoubtedly climb to eight figures. Measured in human cost it could be the costliest war in human history.

North Korea is led by third generation leader Kim Jung-un whose primary mission is regime preservation. He feels the only way to preserve his family’s regime is by becoming a nuclear power capable of hitting the Unites States mainland. When the ICBM program is fully operational he will have achieved that goal. Playing bully with him (which is what the Tweeter-in-Chief is doing) will only reinforce Kim’s reasoning. America cannot neutralize this threat alone either militarily or what passes for diplomatically in the Trump administration. It will need international cooperation.

As I write this article the President is in Hamburg, Germany for a G20 meeting after a stopover in Warsaw, Poland. So far he has done two simple things right; both of which atoned for previous mistakes born out of ignorance and/or arrogance. In Warsaw he reaffirmed America’s commitment to Article Five of the NATO treaty. In Germany he shook hands with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Has the American Presidency sunk to such a level that we have to give recognition to the POTUS for doing the obvious?

Fortune magazine (a conservative publication) recently ran an article on the slump in America’s foreign image and its direct correlation to Trump. Trump personally came in the lowest of major world leaders surveyed at 22% approval. By comparison Barack Obama was at 64% when he left office, Merkel is at 42%, Vladimir Putin is at 27% and China’s Xi Jinping is at 28%. Trump is getting swamped by conservative Merkel along with being beat by two dictators. He is down 22 points from Obama at 43% in Canada and 35% in Germany. He is down 33 points at 30% in Mexico. The only two countries where we are up under Trump are Russia by 11 points and Israel (not a G20 nation) by 7 points.

The much hyped Trump – Putin meeting is taking place as I write this. I decided not to wait for “results” because we may never have any credible reports of what transpired at the meeting. The communications of the Trump administration on events of this sort (readouts) have been misleading, tardy and skeletal. Does anyone really think I’m naïve enough to take the Russian’s readout as gospel truth?

The Trump – Putin matchup is like asking a high school pitcher to pitch in the Major League All-Star game. Trump thinks he is smart; Putin knows that he is. Trump is a rookie with a miniscule attention span and no desire to learn. Putin has been doing things like this for most of his adult life.

Trump has much he needs to address with Putin. He could use Russia’s influence with others who can help us with North Korea. There are the sometime same but often conflicting agendas in Syria. Trump needs to insist that Putin leave Crimea (like that will happen). There is the matter of American sanctions against Russia and Congress’ desire to increase them.

Oh, and then there is the matter of Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. How does Trump bring that up when he has never completely accepted the fact that it occurred. If he was in fact complicit he can’t bring it up other than to congratulate and thank Putin.

With Trump’s image I don’t see a resolution to any of these challenges. Thankfully the founders had the wisdom to limit the president’s term to four years. The world sees him for what he is; let’s hope the American electorate catches up with the rest of the globe.

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