The sudden cancellation of the joint statement on February 28 at the end of the Trump-Kim Summit in Hanoi, Vietnam, was one of the most complex and contradictory historical events in my memory. Of course the adlib briefing by Donald Trump and Mike Pompeo immediately after was not complex at all. It was a banal show for the media that avoided talking about much of anything other than process.
Trump spoke about his “strong relationship” with Kim Jong-un, Shinzo Abe, Xi Jinping and Moon Jae-in, sounding like a late-night comedian who is trying to make up content to plug up a sudden hole in the program.
But the positive phrases that Trump threw out could not distract everyone from the growing catastrophe around the world. His sweet words about his “productive time” with Chairman Kim did not serve as a fig leaf to cover up the increasing risk of war on every side.
Let’s be honest. North Korea is not an overwhelming threat to world peace but rather an island of relative stability in the dust being stirred up as the global order that was established in 1945 at the San Francisco conference comes crashing down. The fact that North Korea is a closed and repressive state puts it in good company.
But the United States, now stripped of all expertise in government, the analysis of issues and policy having been radically privatized, and the culture warped by an extreme concentration of wealth, is slipping into a combination of isolationism and militarism that makes just about anything possible.
That structural transformation, more the opposition in congress to the reduction of sanctions back home, or the tawdry testimony of Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen, was the reason that the Hanoi show did not produce anything.
But the world is not standing still for Trump. India and Pakistan, two nuclear powers, stand on the edge of war, in no small part due to the crude political games played by the United States in an attempt to limit Chinese influence. The United States military continues to interfere throughout Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa with impunity and the new congress seems to be powerless to rein it in.
South America has been thrown into chaos by the imposition of the far-right government in Brazil of ?Jair Bolsonaro that threatens not only to make force the favored means of resolving political issues, but which embraces the reckless anti-intellectual drive for profit and plans to destroy the Amazon forest, thereby hastening human extinction.
At the same time, the Neo Con twins Elliot Abrams and John Bolton are working overtime to push for regime change in Venezuela. They want to take down the government of Nicholas Maduro and seize control of the oil for multinational corporations. In a grotesque move, the right-wing senator Marco Rubio posted photographs on his Twitter account of the Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, suggesting that Maduro would be tortured and murdered in a similar manner for resisting the United States.
Much of the drive to seize resources is being driven by the oil and coal barons the Koch brothers, Charles and Andy. They are a big force in the scramble to get their paws on the coal, gold and other resources in North Korea that would be best left alone beneath the surface.
That is to say that the summit with Kim Jong-un cannot be understood if one does not know that the economic miracle that Trump describes is actually an economic miracle for global investors, not for North Koreans. Engagement with North Korea cannot be detached from the more hostile moves taking place in Iran and Venezuela.
But that is only half the story. The push of John Bolton to withdraw the United States to withdraw from the INF treaty (Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty) has set us on the track to a major arms race which will be far more dangerous than what happened in the1950s because the technology is so much more advanced. That insanity, combined with the unilateral termination of the nuclear deal with Iran guarantees a massive arms race between Germany, Russia, China, the United States, Turkey, Japan, India and Iran that may well end in world war. All of those countries are likely to have nuclear weapons in the not too distant future.
We can be sure that Kim Jong-un and his advisors are aware of the growing chaos. Behind Kim’s smiles at the banquet was pure dread. The summit succeeded because both sides were willing to embrace a profound form of self-deception.
The kind words Trump had for Xi at the press conference does nothing to obscure the fact that the Pentagon is making concrete preparations for a war with China. This situation will not get better now that Trump and those around him have embraced sanctions as a form of trade policy and see the threat of war have as a means of squeezing value out of other countries.
To put it more bluntly, the unleashing of the United States military under the command of psychopaths and without any civilian control could be the greatest catastrophe in human history.
The response from Democrats in the United States, and from many conservatives in South Korea and in Japan, has been a pile of criticisms that purposely ignore how Trump ignores international law, panders to his fascist base, and embraces of militarism.
The failure of the United States to demand that all nations adhere to the non-proliferation treaty, the betrayal of Iran and the decision of the Pentagon to develop a new generation of nuclear weapons for the cost of 1 trillion USD in blatant violation of that treaty are taboo topics.
The rise of anti-intellectualism and the decay of the media
The politics behind the Trump-Kim summit was not simple; the geopolitical shifts taking place today are profound. As the governments of nation states are compromised, and taken over by private interests, politicians increasingly are forced to do the bidding of the super-rich. The roadmap for understanding our world changes from day to day.
Yet the media sees its role as presenting the world in a manner that pleases multinational corporations and investment banks. Media has become, after all, just a business, a form of public relations. There is no intellectual inquiry into the actual state of the world. Moral issues are irrelevant in decisions about news content. Most reports serve to confuse and mislead.
The only content offered in the reports about the summit were details about how the train taken by Kim Jong-un progressed to Hanoi, how barricades set up outside the hotel and the fine points of diplomatic protocol.
The media is dead and a deep wave of anti-intellectualism has swept the United States, and many other nations that makes critical analysis impossible. Not only is Trump incapable of conceiving of the dangers of our age, but an increasing number of citizens, addicted to on-line games, pornography or social media have been reduced to babbling fools incapable of understanding complex issues.
In a sense the critical question at the end of the summit is not: “When can another summit be held?” but rather “How can we create a culture of communication in which the discussions between institutions are related to the real issues of our age?”
Finally one should ask, what topics were that were left off the agenda for the summit in Hanoi?
Well, what are the important topics of our age?
The rapid concentration of wealth in the hands of the few was a topic that clearly neither Trump nor Kim wants to discuss. The crisis of climate change which threatens to turn Korea into a desert, combined with the degradation of the air because of unregulated pollution and the increasing use of coal for power was also off limits. The danger of nuclear war and of the growing arms race in the region could not be mentioned (even though it is the central cause for North Korea’s insecurities) because of the tremendous profits to be made through the arms industries in the United States, Russia, Japan, China and South Korea. Just as before the First World War, armaments and the threat of war are a major source of profits.
The entire focus of the summit was on how North Korea would give up its nuclear weapons. A small concern in comparison with the thousands of nuclear weapons held by the United States as it threatens more and more wars and refuses even to declare no first use of nuclear weapons.
But that problem will not be solved through another summit meeting. That problem will only be addressed if we have dialog wherein the real concerns of citizens are reflected, and a discourse on real threats in international relations based on scientific analysis is central. Such a transformation will require a change of culture, not of policy or of administration.