Trump’s Big, Bold, Risky Experiment

Insights, analysis and must reads from CNN's Fareed Zakaria and the Global Public Square team, compiled by Global Briefing editor Jason Miks.

May 8, 2018

Trump's Big, Bold, Risky Experiment

President Trump has embarked on a risky experiment with his decision to walk away from the Iran nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on Tehran. He appears determined to break the regime, writes David Sanger in The New York Times. It's a path that could lead to confrontation – and even war.

"Trump and his Middle East allies are betting they can cut Iran's economic lifeline and thus 'break the regime' by dismantling the deal, as one senior European official described the effort. In theory, America's withdrawal could free Iran to produce as much nuclear material as it wants – what it was doing five years ago, when the world feared it was headed toward a bomb.

"But Mr. Trump's team dismisses that risk: Tehran doesn't have the economic strength to confront the United States, Israel and the Saudis. And Iran knows that any move toward 'breakout' to produce a weapon would only provide Israel and the United States with a rationale for taking military action.

"It is a brutally realpolitik approach that America's allies in Europe have warned is a historic mistake…" "Under Donald Trump, America has proved itself to be unreliable – untrustworthy to its negotiating partners, and unfaithful to those who made sacrifices and took risks at our behest."
  • But now that he has made the decision…America should promote reform in the country in hopes that the countdown to democracy is quicker than the one for acquiring nuclear weapons, writes Eli Lake for Bloomberg.
"Iranians will be the authors of their liberation. They will not succeed because of a policy decision in a foreign capital. Trump must refrain from choosing leaders, arming factions or invading Iran. The Iranian people must lead; the West must support," Lake says. Are France and Germany "peaceniks who care about nuclear non-proliferation and desire world peace? No, their support and that of the European Union for the JCPOA [Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action] is motivated primarily by rational self-interest. It translates into dollars: valuable trade with Iran. The European Union was Iran's largest trade partner before the imposition of sanctions and clearly has an interest in recovering that position," Gopalan writes. "Moscow is too dependent on Iran's forces in Syria to ensure control and stabilization. It cannot afford to alienate its essential military ally on an issue where Iran's position has more legitimacy in Moscow's eyes than Washington's," Frolov writes.

"The best Moscow can do under the circumstances is to try to form a common position with the EU, China and Iran to keep the JCPOA in place irrespective of what the US does in its moment of madness."

China Should Be Furious About Team Trump's Demands

The demands on trade that Trump's top economic officials laid out in China last week are humiliating, writes Martin Wolf in the Financial Times. "The US administration is either so foolish that it does not understand this or so arrogant that it does not care."

For example, the "call for a reduction of the bilateral deficits by $200 billion (up from $100 billion) is ridiculous. It would require the Chinese state to take control over the economy — precisely what, in other respects, the US demands it not do," Wolf writes.

The US demands are "a violation of the principles of non-discrimination, multilateralism and market-conformity that underpin the trading system the US created. It should be ashamed of itself. It ignores the overwhelming probability that this will not reduce overall US deficits, particularly given US fiscal irresponsibility. It ignores the inevitable adverse effects on third countries."

"[T]he idea that the US will be judge, jury and executioner, while China will be deprived of the rights to retaliate or seek recourse to the WTO is crazy. No great sovereign power could accept such a humiliation. For China, it would be a modern version of the 'unequal treaties' of the 19th century."

Is the Global Strongman Club About to Get a New Member?

Malaysians head to the polls Wednesday. A win for Prime Minister Najib Razak's party could see the induction of a new member to the global strongman club, suggests Joshua Kurlantzick for the Washington Post.
"Najib looks set to potentially transform Malaysia, which has been a semi-authoritarian state with some degree of the rule of law, into a more illiberal, politically Islamicized autocracy. Najib's parliament recently passed an anti-fake news law that seems designed to quash discussion of politics and generally chill free speech. The ruling coalition also has overseen, in recent years, a broad crackdown on freedom of expression, jailing civil society activists and writers on sedition and other charges."
"The demonization of minority groups would probably increase, too. Like many other illiberal populists, Najib, who presents himself internationally as a moderate, tolerant leader, has in recent years focused his rhetoric within Malaysia on 'others,' targeting groups he identifies as outsiders."

Will China Throw a Wrench in the Kim Talks?

News that Kim Jong Un paid another visit to China this week is a reminder that Beijing is determined not to be sidelined as a potential meeting between Kim and Trump nears. Don't be surprised if China throws a wrench in the works of upcoming talks, suggests Minxin Pei in the Nikkei Asian Review.

"Beijing's determination to avoid marginalization and loss of influence on the Korean Peninsula will greatly complicate the upcoming negotiations between Trump and Kim," Pei argues. "The ideal outcome for China is the continuation of the current stalemate, albeit stabilized by diplomatic activities that drag on fruitlessly. To bolster Kim in the hope that the North Korean dictator will not give away the store, Beijing might promise aid in order to encourage him to stick to his most likely middle-course: freezing, but not dismantling, his weapons programs."

"To be sure, this could be a perilous course since the Trump administration would be incensed by Chinese interference and retaliate. But for China, facing additional American ire in the context of a looming cold war between Beijing and Washington is a cheaper price to pay than losing a key client state."



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