How Trump exploded America’s absurd moralism about foreign affairs


The Singapore summit between President Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un appears to have mostly been a farce in which the American president (due to a mixture of ignorance and misplaced bravado) mistook a mutual restatement of vague goals regarding denuclearization of the Korean peninsula for some kind of diplomatic breakthrough. Because of that misunderstanding, the future of relations between the United States and North Korea remains fraught and highly risky.

Yet there is one respect in which the meeting was unambiguously positive: the fact that it happened at all.

Americans love to think well of themselves, especially when it comes to questions of moral purity. We imagine ourselves on the side of the angels, an exceptional nation that stands for human rights and democracy and against tyranny in all of its forms. Because of these assumptions, we like to divide the nations of the world into two categories: those belonging to the “free world” (of which the U.S. is the undisputed leader) and everyone else, ranging from the merely corrupt to the actively malevolent.

For the nations we place in the latter, most sinister category, the only supposedly acceptable outcome is isolation, quarantine, reprimand, and denunciation. The message is: We’re too good for you; you’re too foul for us. We won’t even talk to you. Or if we do talk to you, it will be in the form of chastisement and hectoring demands. And we certainly won’t trade with you. More likely we’ll impose economic sanctions, ensuring your people suffer and remain poor, because the internal workings of your country are our business, and the way we’ll force a change is to goad your people into rising up and overthrowing your government, and maybe even by helping them to do this through various covert means.

These moralistic assumptions frame discussion and analysis whenever an American president dares to gesture toward engaging in normal diplomatic relations with the leadership of non-democratic countries. Barack Obama faced it for talking with the governments of Iran and Cuba, and so did Ronald Reagan in his efforts to reach arms-control agreements with the Soviet Union. Such acts of engagement are invariably ridiculed as telegraphing weakness or, worse, a capitulation to evil.

We saw this reaction throughout coverage of the Trump-Kim summit.

Just look at how the American and North Korea flags have been placed next to each other, as if Pyongyang and Washington are equally worthy of …read more

Source:: The Week – Politics


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