President Zigzag

Exclusive: President Trump boasts about his “zigzag” foreign policy as if inconsistency is an attribute in dealing with a fragile world, but his zigzagging endangers backchannel intermediaries handling outreach to North Korea, reports Robert Parry.

By Robert Parry

President Trump’s bellicose speech to the United Nations General Assembly last month sparked a crisis for the behind-the-scenes diplomacy that was then reaching out to North Korea and Iran, with Trump’s comments jeopardizing not only the talks but the credibility of the intermediaries, according to a source familiar with those efforts.

President Trump speaking to the United Nations General Assembly on Sept. 19, 2017. (Screenshot from Whitehouse.gov)

Trump essentially pulled the rug out from under the intermediaries by insulting North Korean leader Kim Jong Un as “Rocket Man,” threatening to “totally destroy” Kim’s nation of 25 million people, and calling for regime change in Iran. Trump’s bluster on Sept. 19 also deepened internal tensions with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson who was privately supporting the secret diplomacy.

The next day, when one of the intermediaries complained about the harm that Trump’s speech had caused, the President glibly explained that he liked to “zigzag” in charting his foreign policy, the source said.

The immediate consequences of Trump’s U.N. speech included ratcheting up nuclear-war tensions on the Korean peninsula and torpedoing a possible diplomatic breakthrough with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. A proposed meeting between Rouhani and Trump around the Iranian president’s trip to the U.N. sank under Trump’s barrage of insults, the source said.

Trump’s “zigzag” approach to foreign policy has similarities to President Richard Nixon’s infamous “madman theory,” in which Nixon pretended to be crazy enough to launch a nuclear strike against North Vietnam in a ploy to gain concessions from Hanoi and its allies during the Vietnam War.

In Trump’s depiction of his business negotiating style, he has hailed the value of coming on tough to soften up a rival. But one problem of this approach in foreign policy is that…

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