Is it just me, or is an increasing amount of world news bizarrely contradictory? Counter-intuitive, indeed? Perhaps it’s all that fake news, generated by hugely powerful forces manipulating the colossal digital potential of the Internet. But the latest manifestation is not something I can blame on Russian intelligence interfering in elections, nor on the sheer wealth that allows Donald Trump to manipulate the media in his turn.
Nonetheless, Donald Trump lies at the heart of my current state of bewilderment. Everything about his Presidency of the US appears counter-intuitive to me. He ran a bizarre campaign, promising to “make America great again“ – through viciously intolerant, racist, Nationalistic and isolationist policies – and found himself elected.
Next he embarked on a war of words, trading insults with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un. The North Korean, dubbed “little rocket man” by Trump, responded by firing off one test missile after another. The world suddenly appeared a more dangerous place than it had been for decades as the propaganda and missile launches escalated.
Then suddenly Kim became all smiles and offered peace. Some observers reckon his test-programme had collapsed (or, at least, his test-site had), rendering the whole thing a bluff, a fig-leaf for Kim’s failure. One would have to be brave (or foolish) to believe that! But the hard truth (hard, that is, for this wishy-washy democrat) is that belligerent talk by two alpha males, unfortunately the leaders of two heavily-armed nations, will now be heralded as the harbinger of peace.
While I deplore bellicose rhetoric by national leaders, I acknowledge those holding contrary opinions may note that it’s not the first time this has happened. Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan got tough with the Russians: ultimately Reagan was able to claim the credit (though sharing it to some extent with Russia’s Mihael Gorbachev) for calling a halt to the arms-race, initiating a period of “de-nuclearisation” and bringing about the end (for a time) of the Cold War and, arguably, the collapse of communism in Europe.
I’m disgusted when I hear Trump deride the efforts of Barack Obama to create peace around the world and his achievement of that non-nuclear treaty with Iran (a fragile agreement, but an agreement, nonetheless) as feeble and useless. Instead, he’ll get tough. Iran will probably restart its nuclear programme: and the world has become that bit more dangerous again.
I wonder if Trump has a childish self-image of himself as standing up to the school bully. “My dad’s bigger than yours!” My nuclear arsenal is bigger than yours, he boasts. But the fall-out of that spat’s escalation is likely to be rather more terminal than two fathers fighting in the playground.
How long has humanity been claiming to be civilised? Two millennia? Five, perhaps, if you go back to ancient Egypt and Assyria. Yet, even now, self-professed tough guys continue to pour scorn on the futility of dialogue, let alone democratic government: and, under the guise of standing up for his country, Russia’s own strong man Vladimir Putin subverts neighbouring countries, interferes across the Middle East, cynically blocks UN peace initiatives, and mocks this country’s justifiable outrage at the Russian-sponsored nerve-gas attack in Salisbury.
Perhaps this is all merely an inevitable consequence of the prevalence of fake news, and possibly of our acceptance of it. But there’s a dangerous contradiction in the claim that talking tough and issuing threats brings warlike opponents to the peace table. History is full of too many examples where it’s done the opposite and given rise to conflict of unimaginable ferocity.
Counting on that kind of counter-intuitive strategy for a positive outcome is a high-risk decision. Indeed, it’s completely counter-intuitive – and perilously wrong-headed.