Does Donald Trump deserve the Nobel Peace Prize?
Published by The Mail on Sunday (13th May, 2018)
When Donald Trump took the presidential oath of office 16 months ago, he promised ‘the hour of action’ had arrived. For all his many faults and foibles, no one could accuse the property tycoon of failing to live up to this pledge.
His short period in power has lurched from one crisis to another, many self-inflicted by a man who delights in crass stunts and stirring up trouble.
These are rollercoaster times, even for a former reality television star who became the world’s most powerful man. Brushing aside growing domestic furores over dubious payments to his lawyer and links to dodgy Russian oligarchs, Trump is pushing forward fast on three foreign policy fronts that could reshape the world order.
They are all huge gambles – and the stakes could not be higher.
His supporters praise his boldness as proof he will Make America Great Again. But his detractors and most diplomats warn his dramatic steps could unleash dark consequences for the United States, key allies such as Britain and billions of people around the planet.
I am a pessimist over his gung-ho actions on all three fronts: Iran, Israel and North Korea. These are three of the world’s most explosive places and I fear his posturing stance, defying norms of diplomacy, could backfire dreadfully.
Yet as much as I dislike the man, with his bigotry, silly tweets and bombastic brand of politics, I must be honest. It is just possible that it takes a maverick President prepared to challenge all conventions to unlock some of the most intractable problems of our age.
Yesterday, North Korea announced it will begin dismantling its nuclear test site in less than two weeks, with journalists invited to witness the process.
The news came in the same week that three American detainees held captive in North Korea were returned home, to be greeted at the aircraft door by Trump himself.
Even by the showman President’s own self-adoring standards, it was a compelling piece of theatre and an extraordinary development in America’s dealings with the rogue state. In less than a year, Trump has gone from childishly taunting ‘Rocket Man’ and threats of unleashing ‘fire and fury’ to calling Kim Jong Un ‘very honourable’.
That has led some Republicans, and South Korea’s President, to suggest Trump wins the Nobel Peace Prize. Absurd? Well, perhaps it might turn out no less absurd than his predecessor Barack Obama winning the prize at the outset of his Presidency.
For all his articulacy, charm and smartness, Obama’s passive style – dubbed ‘leading from behind’ – achieved little of consequence on the great global issues. Today, ‘No Drama Obama’ has been replaced by the most unpredictable – and at times infantile – US President I have seen in my lifetime. A man who needs his name or cards with pictures reportedly inserted in security briefings so he keeps reading them.
Obama’s one big foreign policy breakthrough, apart from being in the White House when US special forces found Osama Bin Laden, was the 2015 Iran nuclear deal dumped by Trump last week.
This drives a wedge between the US and Europe, especially France which stands to lose substantial trade with Tehran as sanctions are reimposed. Theresa May rightly joined her counterparts in Paris and Berlin to condemn Trump’s daft decision.
Yes, the deal was flawed. But it brought a rogue state back into the international fold – and the United Nations said Iran was honouring the pact. Ominously, Iranian leaders are already muttering about restarting nuclear enrichment to higher levels than before.
Trump’s team believes tougher sanctions will restrain Iran’s military adventurism as funds dry up and force it back to the negotiating table. Some even hope this creates sufficient pain to provoke dissent on the streets and prompt regime change.
This would be a big win for the White House. Yet we should not forget that for all Trump’s tough rhetoric, the seeds of Iran’s renewed strength were sown by the disastrous invasion of Iraq, followed by Western timidity over Syria. It extended its footprint by filling vacuums.
After pleading with Trump not to rip up the deal, French President Emmanuel Macron warned the decision would lead to war. Already the missiles are flying.
Israel accused Iran of launching a rocket attack on the Golan Heights, called up reservists and carried out air strikes on Tehran’s forces in Syria. And Saudi Arabia blamed Iranian allies in Yemen for firing at its capital Riyadh.
These highlight tensions rising across the Middle East tinderbox, already home to cruel proxy conflicts in Syria and Yemen.
Trump is turning up the heat on two simmering struggles that could dwarf even these two terrible wars – the ancient split between Shia and Sunni Muslims, plus the depressing Israel-Palestine struggle. The threat of a nuclear arms race in this volatile region is terrifying.
Trump’s next big gesture comes tomorrow: opening the US embassy in Jerusalem – 70 years to the day after Israel declared independence – to mark recognition of the divided city as its capital. He puzzled diplomats by reversing decades of US policy with this concession while asking for nothing in return.
It is a bitter irony that in so doing Trump may be fanning the flames of potential devastation in one region, just as he is receiving plaudits for moving a step closer to averting Armageddon in another.
Asked this week if the release of the North Korean prisoners was his proudest achievement, Trump said that would come when ‘we denuclearise that entire peninsula’.
On that front, I still have cause for profound scepticism. Kim Jong Un may have pledged to destroy his nation’s nuclear test site, but many experts suspect it had already partially collapsed back in September.
Besides, it seems unlikely the family dictatorship running the world’s most repellent regime will give up the protection afforded by weapons of mass destruction that it spent decades developing. Not least when history shows North Korea uses peace talks to hide military and weapons build-ups.
The President’s defenders say North Korea shows how his self-confidence, inconsistency and flamboyant lack of caution can wrong-foot foes as well as friends. They believe he can defy all usual laws of diplomacy.
The concept of this shallow and vain character following his predecessor on to the Nobel podium seems risible, but if Trump pulls off peace in any of these turbulent hotspots with his disruptive approach to diplomacy, he deserves it.
Sadly, I fear his naivety is only stoking, not solving, the world’s great problems.