Many observers believe that the U.S. president's threats to North Korea and Venezuela are causing America to lose credibility, but the former business tycoon's approach has the advantage of catching speakers off guard.
President Donald Trump has made another vague threat of armed intervention, this time against Venezuela instead of North Korea. Is there any method to the apparent madness of the U.S. president? Those who subscribe to the traditional rules of the game consider his foreign policy to be disastrous. Through his tweets, the president frequently fires off nonsensical threats devoid of facts which his associates then contradict, try to dampen or scale down. This is usually followed by great unrest, media headlines but no apparent consequences – resulting in the U.S. losing credibility. The psychological impact of repeating such threats is to lessen their effect. As people get used to the perception of a swaggering president – a braggart with a big mouth – few continue to pay attention. This is a criticism coming from both the Democratic and Republican establishments.
It should be remembered, however, that the establishment does not exactly have the best track record in terms of foreign policy. For example, neither Democrats nor Republicans have managed to stop the North Korean nuclear program. The problem has survived three U.S. presidencies: Clinton, Bush and Obama. The North Korean threat has reached its current state – with missiles and nuclear warheads reportedly capable of reaching the United States – precisely because every previous approach has failed. To place all blame on the incompetence of Trump would reveal historical amnesia. Pyongyang has been openly laughing at the U.S. for the past 20 years as the Chinese continue to prop up the failed regime economically while politically condemning its nuclear ambitions.
The Trump approach has the advantage of being genuinely different – resembling the disruptive and destabilizing tactics of a Silicon Valley startup. In the digital economy, there are those who theorize that innovation stems from destruction and that progress is born from struggle. If we reason along these lines, some method begins to appear among the madness. Employing the traditional tools of diplomacy, the U.S. has achieved nothing with the Pyongyang regime or its Beijing protector. Perhaps introducing a jolt to the system through the unpredictability of Trump’s moves will cause something to change. The example of Venezuela demonstrates that even reasonable and moderate appeals from someone like Pope Francis are not always enough to move a crazed regime from its hard line approach.
Accusing Trump of squandering U.S. credibility is only partly justified. President George W. Bush caused more damage with the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Even President Barack Obama is not free from blame because of his inconsistency during the Arab Spring when he was critical of President Mubarak but supportive of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, and set a "red line" warning on Assad's use of chemical weapons. So far, Trump has not actually done anything significant, but his threats have yielded a small domestic advantage. The Rasmussen Reports daily presidential tracking poll found that likely U.S. voters who approve of Trump’s job performance jumped six points from 39 to 45 percent following his strong statements toward North Korea.