Do you even remember the missile strikes on Syrian chemical facilities of last weekend? They were a kinda big deal and seemed even bigger a week ago. The strikes were in Damascus, the capital of Syria. The capital was guarded by sophisticated Russian anti-missile system. The regime is protected by Russian military and the land is full of Iranian troops & their militias. Any one who saw the press briefing of Secretary of Defense Mattis noticed how tight he was.
How right was he to be tight & tense? Accidents do happen in military strikes and an accident that resulted in Russian deaths or by some Russian officer acting unilaterally could have created a highly unpleasant situation. Neither Secretary Mattis nor any one else knew for sure how Russian, Iranians or even Assad would react.
1.Is Assad “lucky” for President Trump?
Fortunately all worked out. Actually, Assad’s paid Syrian mobs celebrated in Damascus the next day because no real damage was done to anybody. It is as if Lady Luck smiled again on President Trump by giving him another tide to take. The Lady Luck rolling a tide for leaders to ride reference is from our article of April 8, 2017 about that missile strike by President Trump on a Syrian base.
Remember that missile strike took place while President Trump was hosting Chinese President Xi at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. Actually, the strike took place just before President Trump sat for dinner for President Xi and told him about the strike. It was a brilliant piece of messengering, if that is indeed a word.
You have to admit that Assad is lucky for President Trump. Assad’s chemical attack in April 2017 gave President Trump a perfect opportunity to deliver a message to China & Iran without explicitly saying so. Now a year later, Assad gave President Trump another opportunity to deliver a much clearer and more deadly message.
2. Kim Jong Un
Think again how clear the message was – The US could get Assad in a pinpoint strike in the midst of Russian anti-missile defenses & despite Russian support without harming the civilians in Damascus. And nobody in the world was able to prevent President Trump from doing so.
Frankly, President Trump would not harm Assad personally because Assad is irreplaceable in Syria, at least at this stage. If President Trump gets rid of Assad, the Syrian regime could collapse and President Trump would own that collapse just as President Bush owned & still owns the collapse of Iraq & the ascendancy of Iran.
So to whom was the message directed? Which leader is even more isolated than Syria’s Assad? Which leader, if removed, could be easily replaced without widespread collapse? Which regime is easiest to replace?
Kim Jong Un & North Korea. What would happen if Kim Jong Un were suddenly removed? A replacement from the North Korean military could be found relatively easily. China would step in with troops to prevent an exodus of people and South Korea would step in with money. America & China would work together quickly to ensure stability and to de-nuclearize North Korea, an outcome even more important to China than to America.
Kim Jong Un got the message and, in less than a week, he made a huge & unilateral announcement:
- Donald J. TrumpVerified account @realDonaldTrump – A message from Kim Jong Un: “North Korea will stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles.” Also will “Shut down a nuclear test site in the country’s Northern Side to prove the vow to suspend nuclear tests.” Progress being made for all!
You have to hand it to Kim. Rare is a dictator who senses a big change and adapts to that change to save his regime. For the past 25 years & more, the Kim family has believed that building a credible nuclear deterrent against America was the ONLY way to survive as a regime. No one believed it more intensely than the young Kim Jong Un. That is why he accelerated the development of nuclear weapons and of a long range ballistic missile that could reach America.
Then President Trump came to power and made it clear that he would not tolerate North Korea getting that capability. The message of the April 2017 strike on Syrian air base was for China and for Kim Kong Un. Predictably, Kim Jong Un accelerated his efforts and President Trump began preparing for a unilateral & massive strike on North Korea.
Kim Jong Un saw & heard the message. Luckily for him, a new President took charge in South Korea, a leader who absolutely was against a unilateral attack on North Korea. Kim Jong Un took that tide, participated in the Winter Olympics in South Korea. Then he asked the South Koreans to arrange a summit meeting with President Trump.
As we said, Kim Jong Un is a rare dictator who sees reality rather the reality spun by his sycophants. He realized early that President Trump was very different than the prior three Presidents and the course that protected his regime under the prior three Presidents would actually end his regime under President Trump. So he turned on a dime and asked to meet with President Trump.
President Trump is even a rarer leader. He didn’t worry about image or bestowing credibility on Kim. He saw his strategy working and began the closing process:
- Donald J. TrumpVerified account @realDonaldTrump – March 2018 – The deal with North Korea is very much in the making and will be, if completed, a very good one for the World. Time and place to be determined.
Three weeks later, during Easter weekend, Secretary of State appointee Mike Pompeo flew to North Korea for a secret meeting with Kim Jong Un. Two weeks later came the missile strikes on Assad’s chemical facilities. And now a week after that comes the stunning closure of the nuclear test site and suspension of all nuclear & missile tests by North Korea.
Big progress, as President Trump tweeted yesterday. But President Trump is keeping the pressure on by warning this week that he will walk out of the summit of he can’t get the right deal for America and the world.
Kudos to Kim Jong Un. He does understand that a de-nuclearization deal with President Trump is the only way to save his regime. Actually, such a deal may benefit Kim and protect him from the one enemy he fears the most – China.
Think about it. A denuclearized North Korea under Kim may be the ideal solution for all the big powers in Asia. A strong united Korea that is not inimical to America would be a major strategic negative for China. It would be negative for Japan as well. It would restrict Russia from interfering in Korea. It would also be a negative for America because a strong united Korea could work with both China & Japan and hence be able to stand up to America. Kim doesn’t want to merge with South Korea because it would end his regime and South Korea doesn’t want to merge with North Korea because that expense would impoverish South Korea.
So a Korean peninsula partitioned between denuclearized South & North Korea is in everyone’s best interests for the near future. It will be, in the words of President Trump, “a very good deal for the World“.
Think back to March-April 2003. It took the US military just a week to destroy the then 4th largest military in the world. The entire world was shocked. The awe was total and other dictators were quaking in their boots. Iran sent signals that they wanted to negotiate. Mushaaraf of NaPakistan told his staff “we are next”.
Think what could have been achieved had President Bush installed another general to replace Saddam and kept the Iraqi regime in temporary charge. He could have then moved the US troops closer to Iran and threatened to destroy Iran’s military if they didn’t do a deal with America. Instead, President Bush decided to remove the Iraqi regime and make Iraq a democracy.
It is clear that President Bush had no goals besides removing Saddam and his team at Defense & State had neither any goals nor any plans. So a shock & awe campaign soon degenerated into a disaster for America. Yes, President Bush rescued the effort in 2006 and stabilized Iraq before leaving office in 2008. But he made Iran into the regional power it is today with sway all the way up to Israel’s border with Lebanon.
It is now up to President Trump to reverse that. And a deal with Kim Jong Un will trigger that effort. If Kim agrees to de-nuclearize his regime, then the writing on the wall for Iran will be visible for all to see.
The reality is no one wants Iran in Syria. Turkey doesn’t because Sunni non-Arab Turkey & Shia non-Arab Iran are historical rivals in the Middle East. Russia wants Iranian presence reduced and is working to essentially partition Syria. Russia wants peace in Syria and a triumphant exit while Iran wants to use Syria as another front in its was with Israel. America wants Iran out of Syria to keep it localized in its area. Israel is ready today to go to war against Iranian presence inside Syria. That would be inconvenient for America and hence Israel is being contained.
But once a deal is made with Kim Jong Un, the pressure shifts to Iran. And Iran knows that.
As we wrote two weeks ago in our article Shooting At The Heart – FDR & 1930s Redux?, “the real fight is just beginning and it is a fight for the future of the global trading order“.
The Trump Administration took a big step this week, to quote Stratfor, by “reinstating an order barring U.S. companies — including tech giants such as Google, Qualcomm and Intel — from selling parts, software and equipment to the Shenzhen-based telecommunications giant ZTE Corp“.
As Stratfor added,
- “The development is a huge blow for ZTE, as an estimated 25 to 30 percent of its supplies and components come from U.S. companies. ZTE likely cannot, for example, use U.S.-produced semiconductors or include Google’s Android-based operating system in its smartphones. ZTE has emerged as one of the five largest suppliers of telecommunications equipment in the world, but that status may be in jeopardy now, especially as it faces these challenges during the critical 5G testing, development and rollout period.”
The real fight between America and China is not about tariffs but on the national objectives that are in direct & unavoidable conflict. As Phillip Orchard wrote in Geopolitical Futures this week,
- “The United States’ comparative advantage over lower-cost manufacturers like China is in high-tech goods and services. And the real Chinese threat to U.S. economic and strategic interests is that China eats into this advantage – and then uses its newfound economic heft to try to unravel the U.S. -led postwar order in the Indo-Pacific.”
On the other hand, China, faced with competition from low-cost neighbors, “needs to make a mad dash up the manufacturing value chain“. Phillip Orchard adds,
- “Its blueprint is its “Made in China 2025” initiative, which outlines steps to leapfrog the U.S. as a technological innovator in the industries that will matter most over the coming century (for both commercial and military applications), such as semiconductors, robotics, aerospace, artificial intelligence, green energy and biotech.”
The problem is that, from US viewpoint, China is systematically stealing US technology to achieve its goals to compete with America. This is a long game and a game for the future, first of the Indo-Pacific and then of Eurasia. That makes it a bigger challenge than the challenge Imperial Japan of 1930s posed for President FDR.
Remember FDR got Russia on his side in his conflict with that Japan. Today, Russia seems to be on the side of China thanks to utterly asinine actions by the Obama Administration and the Neocons. A successful deal with North Korea may be what President Trump needs to break the anti-Russia stranglehold on his foreign policy. But all that is for another day.
Let us bring it back to the beginning and say Kudos to President Trump & Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un. May they be successful in making a deal.
And you know who is even more confident than us? The South Korean Stock Market!
Send your feedback to email@example.com Or @MacroViewpoints on Twitter