The United States has a long history of betraying “allies” and going back on agreements. A few examples include:
–The decision to recognise Philippine independence from Spain only to then replace Spain as the imperial overlord of The Philippines.
–The covert Wall Street funding of the Bolshevik Revolution in the USSR only to then wage a Cold War on the Soviet Union.
–The staunch opposition of the US Congress to going to war with Germany to being an enthusiastic participant in the Second World War.
–The strong US alliance with Saddam’s Iraq followed by two major wars against Saddam’s Iraq.
–The support of the Afghan Mujaheddin and Taliban followed by the Taliban’s overthrow by the US in 2001.
–Fighting Serbian/Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević in the early/mid 1990s only to embrace him during the 1995 Dayton Accords and then going to war against him and ousting him in 1999.
–Opposing the the Khmer Rouge in the early 1970s only to covertly support them against Vietnam and the USSR throughout the late 1970s and into the 1980s.
These are just the most strident examples of US betrayal and hypocrisy on a very long list.
Because of this, it goes without saying that the US has set a clear precedent for going back on deals seemingly entered into in a spirit of good faith on both sides. Iran just experienced Donald Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the 2015 JCPOA (Iran nuclear deal) in spite of the UN finding that Iran is fully compliant with the original agreement and in spite of the protestations of Washington’s traditional European allies.
This has led many in Iran to voice a resounding scepticism regarding the Korean peace process insofar as many Iranian commentators do not feel that Kim Jong-un should place an ounce of trust in Donald Trump or any other American leader. While the US may betray the DPRK, using the JCPOA as a specific precedent is ultimately misleading and unhelpful for the following reasons.
The DPRK is geographically fortunate and Iran is geographically cursed
The north east Asian region that is home to the DPRK is among the most stable in the world. South Korea, China, Russia and Japan are nations whose societies and governments are not only wealthy and strong but incredibly stable to the point of being largely predictable. None of these countries are prone to aggressive war and while China and Russia are too powerful for the US to actively destabilise without causing a world war to end all world wars, Japan and South Korea are close US allies.
The fact that the DPRK has not been invaded by the United States since the 1950s is as much because of America’s fear of starting a new war beside the Chinese and Russian nuclear armed superpowers as it is by the DPRK’s own nuclear deterrent which in any case will likely soon be a thing of the past. Likewise, South Korea and Japan have sought to avert such a war as they realise that they would be the penultimate victims of such a conflict, along with North Koreans themselves.
By contrast, the US has invaded and continues to occupy Afghanistan and parts of Iraq with total impunity. Iran’s neighbours to the east and west are therefore filled with US bases, as are the anti-Iranian Arab monarchies a short boat ride across the Persian Gulf. Likewise, with Iraq being the only thing standing between Iran and Syria’s border, it is fair to say that Iran is surrounded by hostile US assets throughout its region.
So while Iran’s region is one that the US has a long history and present stance of treating recklessly, in recent decades, the US has tended to tread more lightly in the DPRK’s region. Because of this, there is less of a danger of the US using the Korean peace process as a delaying tactic before inevitably reverting to a policy of pressure as was the case with the JCPOA from the beginning – however cynical this might sound.
It’s the “Israel” Lobby, Stupid!
While the DPRK has always been a staunch supporter of Palestine and indeed goes much further in terms of rhetorical support for Palestine than most Arab states in 2018, North Korea is ultimately very far removed from the Palestine conflict both in terms of geography and in terms of its ability to influence the situation militarily, financially or diplomatically. As a state whose population is 0% Muslim and 0% Jewish, there is also no strong emotional attachment to the issue in the way that there is in Iran. For the DPRK, the issue is one of many anti-imperialist causes rather than one of opposing confessional imperialism and standing up for the rights of Muslims to worship in some of their holiest sites that are currently under occupation.
By contrast, Iran is not only nearer to Palestine than the DPRK in terms of geography but Iran has armed allies in Syria and Lebanon, two states which both border occupied Palestine. Because of this, the always powerful and increasingly right-wing “Israel” lobby in the United States leverages its influence against Washington to force the development and implementation of American foreign policy that tends to be a carbon copy of Tel Aviv’s official policies.
Because Donald Trump had close links to many Zionists even before becoming President, it shouldn’t be a surprise that if all US Presidents tend to follow the lead of the “Israel” lobby, that Trump should take things that much further and follow the most extreme elements of the lobby. As Tel Aviv is pursuing stridently anti-Iranian policies under the Netanyahu regime, so too is the United States.
While there is a right-wing staunchly anti-communist Korean lobby in the US, its power is nothing when compared to the “Israel” lobby. Therefore, peace in Korea could be a vote winner because of the clear Cold War style optics of detente, while it could in no way be described as a vote loser the way that anti-Zionist policies could see the “Israel” lobby waging open war against an American political candidate.
The Obama factor
Finally, there is the most petty but nevertheless very real factor of Donald Trump tending to oppose anything and everything championed by Barack Obama and his political allies. While Donald Trump’s peace process with the DPRK has all the trappings of the made for T.V. Presidency that is the Trump administration, Obama’s JCPOA was always a source of contention for Trump. In fact, just about everything from health reform to foreign policy is a source of contention for Trump if the policies in question have anything to do with Barack Obama. Thus, it is not difficult to see why the JCPOA was an extremely easy target for Trump irrespective of any other global developments.
Iran has suffered the perfect storm of living in a neighbourhood that the US treats with less respect even less than its Latin American backyard, combined with being on the receiving end of the well oiled and incredibly well funded “Israel” lobby’s wrath. When one then realises that Donald Trump loves most things “Israeli” and hates just about all things Obama, it is frankly surprising that Trump didn’t withdraw from the JCPOA sooner than he did.
By contrast, even if the US rejected the peace process, the US cannot realistically do much more to the DPRK apart from sanctions, sanctions and more sanctions. When one then realises that sanctions clearly cannot go much further than they already have, one realises that a hostile US policy towards the DPRK would amount to little more than a protracted war of words that would not have changed the status quo. Furthermore, China and Russia would simply not tolerate a major war on their border and the South Korean and Japanese people feel exactly the same way, as would the 32,000 American servicemen still stationed in South Korea.
When you combine these harsh realities with the fact that making peace with the DPRK makes Trump look Presidential and strong at home while going against Tel Aviv is something of a political death sentence for any US leader, it is clear that while the JCPOA was doomed from the beginning, the Korean peace process will likely succeed in some form, even if it takes a form less desirable than the optimistic proposals discussed earlier today.