Tensions are rising now in the Middle East and far Eastern Asia, as American citizens push President Trump to take action in Afghanistan and formulate a plan for handling North Korea.
In August, Trump gave a speech to the troops outlining his strategy in the Middle East and gave few details. He said in the address that he refuses to pull out of Afghanistan too soon, lest he create a “vacuum for terrorists.”
International affairs scholar, Political Science professor and Department Chair Matthew Fehrs has a lot of ideas as to what may be prompting Trump’s lack of detail, and how his tactics stack up compared to past presidents.
“The devil lies in how to deal with the North Korean threat,” Fehrs said, before going on to explain that the North Korean regime wants to be recognized as a global power, but the U.S. can’t recognize this without giving weight to their former, less-than-democratic actions.
North Korean officials want to meet one on one with the Trump administration, which may help resolve international tensions regarding their increasing nuclear affluence, but this is the prime way to lend them agency as a political player. Fehrs stipulates that it may be too late now to avoid a nuclear threat.
At this point in time, North Korea has the nuclear power to cause catastrophic damage to their political opponents Japan and South Korea, both of which are U.S. allies housing American troops. The main reason they have not done so yet is that the U.S. would immediately get involved and cause the same level of damage to North Korea, and the People’s Republic would be virtually defenseless.
But all this may change soon. According to an article by Vox, North Korea is in the process of developing and testing a new missile, Taepodong 2, which would be able to reach the U.S. when shot from North Korea’s military bases.
On Sept. 20, Trump gave a speech to the United Nations (U.N.) regarding the increasing threat posed by North Korea. In it, he spoke of Kim Jong Un directly, saying that “Rocket Man is on a suicide mission for himself,” because the U.S. could “totally destroy North Korea” if it becomes necessary to do so. For example, if North Korea waged war in other East Asian soil.
One thing Fehrs emphasized about Trump as Commander in Chief is the power of his words. Trump takes a “fire and fury” rhetoric to North Korea, which may be dangerous. There has been some attempt from within the cabinet to suppress it, Fehrs says, but since cabinet members serve at the pleasure of the president, they more or less have to go along with what Trump says.
Rhetoric matters as well when explaining to American citizens why the U.S. is still involved in Afghanistan. In 2013 Trump tweeted, “Let’s get out of Afghanistan. Our troops are being killed by the Afghanis [sic] we train and we waste billions there. Nonsense! [sic] Rebuild the USA,” but has since gone back on this statement.
While the war may have been started 17 years ago to combat terrorist group Al Qaeda, Trump now states that the war is about ISIS. Fehrs says this is likely for public consumption since Al Qaeda is perceived as less of a threat by American citizens since the death of Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in 2011, the acts of violence committed by ISIS have swayed national attention away from Al Qaeda. As a result, Trump changed his rhetoric to reflect American interests and his campaign promises to fight ISIS.
Another of Trump’s campaign promises seems called into question here. While his “America First” tagline may fare well in the U.S., it doesn’t hold up in terms of foreign affairs. Fehrs speculates that this phrase may have been meant originally to appeal to the values of his supporters in the U.S. When applied elsewhere, it may seem that putting America first would be withdrawing from the war in Afghanistan or severing tensions with North Korea, but things aren’t so simple. Fehrs explains that “We are what we are, and we are a global power. We must be involved.”
Although it may seem easy enough to withdraw troops from South Korea- as presidents have been attempting to do since Nixon- and Japan, things won’t get better if we do. Japan and South Korea have both been long-term allies to the United States, so withdrawing troops is simply not an option.
Of course, it’s nice to think that the end of America’s longest war, as well as frightening tensions with North Korea, is in sight. Unfortunately, when looking to the end, Fehrs advises we think in decades, not years.