The American president, who said he was ready to use force against Pyongyang and threatened to launch a military operation in Venezuela, is shaking up world diplomacy.
Those who feared an isolationist in Donald Trump will have been wrong all along the line. Far from falling back on his American Levantine, here he is brandishing his club as a policeman of the world in the face of North Korea, threatening to use force if the latter continues to taunt America and its neighbors, and if it does not renounce nuclear weapons. Trump also threatened to launch a military operation in Venezuela, an unexpected show of muscle that caught Nicolas Maduro's regime by surprise and sent shock waves across Latin America. Improvisation of an impulsive president? In the case of Venezuela, many in Washington think so.
Faced with North Korea, things are quite different even if the questions abound. According to a source close to American intelligence who confided in Le Figaro, "12 military scenarios are being studied" and the national security apparatus is "ready to act but will do everything to avoid a war". Pentagon boss James Mattis, National Security Adviser HR McMaster and the Secretary of State are said to be "on the move", with Trump playing his "showman role". The populist group, led by Steve Bannon, would try to push for armed intervention.
Georgetown University political scientist Joshua Mitchell is not surprised to see Donald Trump step up to the plate on the question of the military option against North Korea. “Neither isolationist nor interventionist in the sense of the neoconservatives, he is a realist and a nationalist, who wants to get out of the multilateral framework to return to a classic power game,” he says. Trump sees North Korea as a problem for the security of the United States and its allies and he wants to act, notes Mitchell. “To understand, you have to go back to his inauguration speech, that moment when he took on the idea of disrupting the system both internally and externally. The other key element is his basic philosophy: when you get hit, hit harder. It is difficult to imagine that Trump accepts to be humiliated by the boss of North Korea, Kim Jong-un”, continues the professor. “Trump made it clear. The negotiation efforts of his predecessors to end the nuclearization of Pyongyang came to nothing. He is warning the North Koreans and the Chinese that the time for backsliding is over and will go to battle if necessary,” predicted Mitchell. Researcher Balbina Hwang, a former associate with the State Department's Asia desk and associate professor at Georgetown, agrees. “Don't forget that Donald Trump is from Queens, New York. His psychology is to never back down. I think he is capable of doing what no president has done before him,” she speculates.
For decades, the behavior of American presidents who have had trouble with North Korea has been recurrent: a mixture of "condemnation and procrastination", summarizes the former national security adviser to Nixon, Henri Kissinger, in the Wall Street Journal. “Pyongyang's conduct has been deplored. Warnings issued… But its nuclear program has only accelerated,” he recalls. “We forgot, but our presidents have always yielded to the North Koreans, confirms researcher Balbina Hwang. In 1968, when an American spy ship was boarded by North Korea, and the regime detained and tortured the sailors on board, no forceful action was taken!” Many other crises have arisen, under Carter, under Clinton, under Bush father and son. Former ambassador Chas Freeman, a great specialist in Asia, believes that the big mistake was never to have had any substantive negotiations with North Korea to resolve its visceral paranoia, in short, "to have treated it not as a country, but as a nuclear problem". The result of "this mixture of alarmism and complacency is that North Korea now has the elements of a nuclear deterrent and it is too late to change that."
Only here, there is now Donald Trump, who considers “unacceptable” the idea that Pyongyang could strike American soil with nuclear missiles. Is he serious or is he bluffing to get the North Koreans to give in and the Chinese to act? The first interpretation is that Trump is “only expressing his impulsiveness against the advice of his entourage, notes a high-ranking Western source. A hypothesis that could lead to an uncontrolled rise to the extremes”. The second interpretation is that Trump's warrior language is calculated: in this case, "either he is hiding a confidential dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang, or he is showing a desire to break with the "strategic patience" of his predecessors, or he is moved by domestic political considerations, aimed at making people forget the investigation into its Russian connections", notes the same source who believes in fact "in a probable mixture of all these elements".
Trump's pressure, particularly economic, to get the Chinese to help him in any case raises doubts among specialists, who believe that Beijing neither wants nor can "solve the North Korean problem". "Korea in its history has been invaded 72 times, most often by the Chinese, the mistrust is total," says Chas Freeman. Those who think otherwise point out that China, if it wanted to, could make Pyongyang give in by strangling it economically because it provides all the nuclear technology. "China is figuring out that the United States is not bluffing," said a source close to intelligence, seeing a glimmer of optimism there.
The current geopolitical maneuver is all the more uncertain and delicate since Donald Trump is today a commander-in-chief contested and despised by a large part of his country's elite, ready to do anything to weaken him when he needs to appear credible, as shown by the criticisms which fuse on its handling of the violences of Charlottesville. From there to think that Trump might be tempted to embark with both feet on an uncertain external adventure to close ranks, there is only a step that some commentators are already sketching out.
Source: © Le Figaro Premium – North Korea, Venezuela: how far is Trump ready to go?
See 2nd line of the 2nd paragraph: Lapsus calami? fall back on his Aventine one of the hills of Rome and not on his laventine one of Mitterrand's qualifiers.