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Will Iran and North Korea Capitulate to Trump?

Trump’s tough talk is likely to backfire.

American presidents have spent countless hours negotiating with adversaries to reach mutually bearable compromises on matters of security. The Trump administration, however, doesn't believe in negotiating or compromise. It believes in making demands and issuing threats to force the other side to capitulate.

This is how the administration approaches both Iran and North Korea. In a speech Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listed 12 concessions that will be required of Iran, from ending all its nuclear activities forever to withdrawing from Syria to cutting off aid to armed militant groups in the Middle East.

Pompeo realizes Iran may not leap to make his wishes come true. So he has a couple of clubs in the closet.

The first is "the strongest sanctions in history," which would leave Iran "battling to keep its economy alive." The second is to go after "Iranian operatives" and their surrogates and "crush them." If Iran restarts its nuclear program, he thundered, "it will mean bigger problems than they'd ever had before."

This strategy matches what Donald Trump used toward Kim Jong Un: Demand the regime give up its nukes; apply "maximum pressure" through sanctions; and warn of "fire and fury." Trump claimed a historic breakthrough by arranging a summit with Kim next month.

But the North Koreans haven't given up anything important yet, and they've threatened to cancel over the denuclearization demand—which Trump softened Tuesday. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani spurned Pompeo: "Who are you to decide for Iran and the world?"

Trump and his advisers, however, think they have made both regimes an offer they can't refuse: Capitulate or die, either by economic strangulation or by a barrage of U.S. missiles. There is no reason to think either will comply.

Both tactics have been tried before. We maintained a trade blockade on communist Cuba for more than half a century, and the government survived. So did Iraqi President Saddam Hussein under stringent sanctions in the years between the first and second wars with the U.S.

Our experience with North Korea is discouraging. In 1994, after President Bill Clinton ordered a military buildup on the peninsula, it signed an agreement to abandon its nuclear quest—only to be caught cheating years later. President George W. Bush tightened sanctions and rattled sabers in response to the violations, to no avail.

Iran may see nothing to gain from buckling under. John Mearsheimer, an international relations scholar at the University of Chicago who visited Iran in December, told me, "My sense is that most of those who negotiated the nuclear deal regretted it, because the sanctions have never really been taken off." Having tried once to escape sanctions, the regime is unlikely to trust any U.S. commitment.

Nor is it clear the administration can make sanctions hurt as much as they once did. Before, we had the cooperation of China, Russia, and the European Union, none of whom is behind us now. North Korea has always had help from China—which may not be willing to do more to squeeze its economy.

"I've studied every instance of economic sanctions since 1914; Trump's plan flies in the face of virtually every study of economic sanctions," Robert Pape, another University of Chicago professor, told me. The main debate among experts, he says, is about whether, as a rule, sanctions are "marginally ineffective or counterproductive."

The administration places its ultimate faith in the military option. It thinks Iran and North Korea would back down rather than invite war.

But the Tehran government may figure it could survive a U.S. attack and restart its nuclear program at sites our bombs couldn't reach. It could retaliate by launching missiles at Tel Aviv.

North Korea, which has dozens of nuclear warheads, probably believes it could deter an attack by vowing to vaporize Seoul, Tokyo, or even Washington. There is also the risk that China would enter the fight against us—as it did in 1950.

When the Bush administration invaded Iraq, it promised a quick and easy triumph, only to find itself in an endless bloody slog. If Trump fails to get his way and opts for war, the consequences could be disastrous in the case of Iran and apocalyptic in the case of North Korea.

It's nice to dream that we can impose our preferences on the world by issuing commands. But as Defense Secretary James Mattis has been known to point out, the enemy also gets a vote.

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  • Nardz||

    Wait, what's the point of this article?

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Daily dose of TDS by Reason staff.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    To give the president more of what he wants. Everyone is talking about Trump 24/7.

  • Tom Bombadil||

    I think the point is: Any approach any President takes is the wrong approach because don't stick it in crazy.

  • ||

    The point is it's better to engage in empty political theatre they've become accustomed to than....well, TDS is the rest.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    To make clear that Trump is so awful we should hope that North Korea defies him, I guess.

  • DajjaI||

    Every knee shall bend to the TrumpKimAtollah.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    Knees are already busy bending to ObamaPutinHillary.

  • Yellow Tony||

    I'm disappointed and sad that I was too late to participate in the latest article about the NFL. It was beautiful, fertile soil for shitposting. I own quite a few keyboards, and I was going to plug them all into my beautiful daughter, PC Tower (Priscilla Cutie Tower is the full name. She's a magical girl (PC) too!), for maximum Kaos. Hell, I'd even break out my USB pedals, legion of thinkpads, and whatever else I can find in my smegma-producing, amputee-filled, pube-infested basement. But alas, my job as my neighborhood's local creep is a demanding one. Those ice cream trucks don't drive themselves (Yet!); those park benches need me jacking off on them while I look at little girls' panties; those kids playing youth sports aren't going to be ogled and yelled at by the air; and those dogs won't get a Rusty Venture by themselves either! So yes, while I am vexed about not being able to attend the party, I am also filled with self-fulfillment. After all, if everybody is only to enjoy themselves, who will help perpetuate daily life?

  • Yellow Tony||

    Quite a few, actually:
    - 'x's are often thrown into words to make speech and writing more inclusive and arousing. It's fucking annoying, and it's xaping English.
    - Thanks to pansexuality being ubiquitous, dickgirls are a thing, but before I was jettisoned to this dimension, women haven't yet dared to venture forth with getting balls stuck to them. It's lame. I hope this is different when (if?) I return.
    - Stossel is dead. One of the reasons the Libertarian Moment™ succeeded is because he and his mustache built a special mech that granted Reason™ to every single person in the United States. Sadly, while piloting the dammed thing, plot dictated that he die. His mustache survived, and is now living in the John Stossel Memorial Facial Hair Museum.
    - Code Geass' second season was a disappointing ride--oh wait.

    I've omitted some, but I don't want to overload your mind with all these revelations.

  • Yellow Tony||

    Also why'd you change your name? Did you get b&? The Tony jacking parties are a lot more boring now.

  • Tom Bombadil||

    Don't worry. The NFL is featured again above in the Reason Roundup.

  • Yellow Tony||

    Also, fuck Bolton. But that's tacit, right?

  • Tom Bombadil||

    Goes without saying.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    The Trump administration, however, doesn't believe in negotiating or compromise. It believes in making demands and issuing threats to force the other side to capitulate.

    Oh Chapman, its like you don't even have a grasp on reality and know what people are doing around you.

    I would get that TDS under control as it will only get worse as more and more Democrats lose seats in 2018, 2020, and 2022 and Trump winning reelection in 2020.

  • Mickey Rat||

    Maybe Chapman's preferred negotiation strategy is to concede his most important point up front to to gain his partner's trust?

  • Tom Bombadil||

    "Partner's Trust" was my handle at Adulterers.com

  • John||

    Damn. I wondered who had taken that one. You bastard.

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    I believe "Little Rocket Man" is still available if you wanted it.

  • John||

    Sadly, I am already too well known by my current name to change it now.

  • sarcasmic||

    Well known here or at Adulterers.com?

  • John||

    Adulterers.com. But my name is secret.

  • Tom Bombadil||

    Is your password 'password'?

  • Leo Kovalensky II||

    Reason should give credit where credit is due. Trump has come a long way in negotiations with Kim. Releasing the hostages, dismantling a nuclear test site today, agreeing to meet are all positives that libertarians should be celebrating.

    We'll see how things play out. I think we should all be cautiously optimistic at this point. Hopefully the strategy works, and we've certainly come a long way on NK compared to the "Fire and Fury" warnings.

  • John||

    We will see. But even if things fall through, I don't see how we will be any worse off than we were. And as I explain below, whatever your criticisms of Trump, being unwilling to compromise is not a valid one.

  • mtrueman||

    "being unwilling to compromise is not a valid one."

    Trump has shown himself to be vacillating and indecisive. It's worse off than before. A more cunning leader would have maneuvered North Korea into cancelling the meeting, and Iran cancelling their arrangement. Trump's background is show business. He should know that appearances are important, and the show must go on.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    One must remember too. Its the media passing along tales of fire and fury to the American public.

    Nobody really knows what will happen with a meeting.

    It would be funny if Kim Jung Un is arrested in Singapore for international crimes against humanity though.

  • Brett Bellmore||

    To be perfectly fair, I think the test site was dismantled by a nuclear bomb. But, yes, it seems amazing to see people not notice that Trump's approach to NK has actually been more productive than that of prior administrations.

    Somebody at another site claimed that Trump was well suited to dealing with 3rd world dictators, because he dealt with the Mob in the building trades, and they're basically the same thing.

  • ||

    RED LINES!

    What color will Trump use?

    I would go for Salmon Pink.

  • Frank White||

    Nor is it clear the administration can make sanctions hurt as much as they once did. Before, we had the cooperation of China, Russia, and the European Union, none of whom is behind us now. North Korea has always had help from China—which may not be willing to do more to squeeze its economy.


    Oh no! We won't have the super-effective assistance of Europe, China and Russia? We're doomed. DOOOOOOOOMED!

  • ||

    The EU is Spike.

    USA is Chester.

    That's about EU foreign policy in a nutshell vis-a-vis the United States.

  • John||

    I honestly don't see how anyone with any honesty or contact with reality could claim Trump does not believe in negotiation or compromise. Trump has compromised time and again. He compromised with China over trade. He is compromising with Mexico and Canada over NAFTA. He compromised with Europe over defense spending. You can debate whether those compromises were effective or Trump's policies a good thing. But to claim he won't compromise is totally at odds with the facts.

    Chapman continues the increasing trend of Reason to refuse to give honest arguments or facts in support of their position. If Reason thinks it was a mistake to leave the JCPOA or to push China and Mexico for trade concessions, fine. Those are reasonable and honest positions. Holding reasonable and honest positions, however, does not excuse reason of the responsibility of presenting honest arguments and facts in support of those positions. Chapman and increasingly others on the Reason staff seem incapable of doing that especially when it involves the President.

  • sarcasmic||

    Chapman works for the Chicago Tribune. So he's not part of the Reason staff.

  • John||

    But they publish him as much or more than any member of the reason staff. Reason chooses to publish him. It, therefore, is accountable for the quality of the views he presents.

  • sarcasmic||

    I don't know why they choose to publish him. But he's not staff. As long as you're gonna gripe about people not being honest, you might as well be honest yourself.

  • John||

    He is not staff.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    Mike Pompeo may be a warmongernig asshat, but did he stand to attention when the National Anthem was played? In that case, that makes him a real patriot!

  • John||

    So wanting to sanction a country that murders and oppresses its own people and is has been the largest state sponsor of terror for decades causing untold amounts of death and destruction all over the Middle East makes one a warmonger?

    Do you even know or care what the words you use mean? If you think the US should have stayed in the JCPOA, fine. But, Pompeo's disagreement with that does not make him a warmonger. And calling him one is just your admission that you really can't explain why he is wrong.

  • chemjeff radical individualist||

    But did he stand to attention when the National Anthem was played?
    That's what really matters, John!

  • John||

    Yes, you have nothing intelligent to say about this subject and are just emoting. We already knew that. Come back when you have anything intelligent to say.

  • Iheartskeet||

    Whats missing here is "do this instead".

    Its clear what were doing with NK before wasn't working, and although RMag has supported the Iran deal, the country with the most to lose (Israel) thought it wasn't working. I'm inclined to think Israel wasn't being reckless in opposing the deal.

    I find it odd that for all RMag's anti-interventionism, it supports interventionism-lite via agreements like the Iran deal.

    It would be more consistent if they made a more full-throated Libertarian case:
    Withdraw all of our troops from abroad
    Let any county develop nukes and missiles (NK, Iran, Saudia Arabia, SKorea, Japan, etc.)
    Strengthen our defensive measures (ABM etc.)

    If the US is going to take a position of limiting nuclear proliferation, an interventionist mindset and accompanying military capability come with the territory. Reason seems to want it both ways.

    I say fish or cut bait.

  • John||

    I find it odd that for all RMag's anti-interventionism, it supports interventionism-lite via agreements like the Iran deal.

    I find that odd too. The trigger for the Iraq war was Iraq's refusal to comply with an inspections regime. The problem with international agreements is that enforcing them quickly becomes a matter of international and national credibility. Leaving the JCPOA gets the US out of the responsibility for enforcing it. Yes, we still are trying to prevent Iran from getting nukes, but since we are no longer in the JCPOA, we have a lot more flexibility in doing that and will not face the dilemma of either going to war to enforce it or not enforcing it and losing credibility.

    Avoiding international agreements and the responsibility for enforcing them and some kind of international system is page one of the book on anti-interventionism. Reason's position on this issue just doesn't make sense. If leaving the JCPOA is bad, it is bad because doing so will allow Iran to get the bomb. Reason, claims leaving the JCPOA is bad but then turns around and says Iran getting the bomb is no threat and the US is the source of the conflict. If that is true, then leaving the JCPOA should not matter. Moreover, if the US is the source of the conflict, I don't see how it becoming less engaged is going to cause a war. Does Reason think Iran is going to go to war because of US sanctions? Or that the US implementing sanctions means it must go to war?

  • ||

    "Trump's tough talk is likely to backfire."

    Yes, because the last decades have been littered with successes via 'traditional' (ie bull shit) foreign policy.

  • John||

    Chapman and reason's position has always been that Iran is not a threat and is not going to build nukes. If that is true, how is the "tough talk" going to backfire?

  • lap83||

    It's like someone rationalizing their abusive partner's behavior. They are a good person but if they were to push me down the stairs, I probably deserved it

  • John||

    Reason has a terrible habit of claiming that the US is somehow responsible for any behavior, no matter how bad, that their enemies engage in.

  • ||

    They assume interventionism always = bad blow back.

  • Iheartskeet||

    I get it...Vietnam, Iraq.

    I wonder is Reason would argue that we should have just let South Korea be taken over during the Korean war ? I mean, it had all the negatives: No democratic history, poor and with no US interests at stake, ruled by a corrupt autocrat, on the other other side of the world, and the loss of which would not matter to US security.

    In short, by any standard, Reason should argue against defending them.

    Yet, we intervened anyway. Now, 70 years later SK is a model of progress. If we hadn't intervened, it would all look like NK.

    I'm cool to interventionism myself, but honestly we did the right thing.

  • Robert||

    Why Trump signal free kick?

  • phandaal||

    So the fact that NK just demolished their main test site has to be pretty awkward then, huh? It's not often that you get to see TDS get blown the fuck out in real time.

  • Azathoth!!||

    All RDS all the time.

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