After all the hype the Singapore summit turned out to be damp squib. Apart from the spectacular photo opportunities, the meeting between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un produced no groundbreaking agreement. If anything, Trump was outfoxed by his North Korean counterpart. In this there is a wake up call for Arab leaders who have been overawed by the US President’s bravado.
The man who talked his Arab allies into approving his “deal of the century” on Palestine could not persuade the North Koreans to agree to the verification of their ‘denuclearisation’ programme. All he got was a “firm and unwavering commitment” with no timetable and no clear definition of what denuclearsation actually means.
Like the Korean peninsula the Middle East has been plagued for decades by nuclear controversy. Today, both the US and its Arab proxies speak with one voice on the need for a nuclear free Middle East. The only problem, though, is that while they ignore the threat posed by Israel’s nuclear arsenal, they focus almost entirely on Iran. The latter, it would be recalled, was one of the original signatories of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) in 1968, which Israel has refused to sign.
Whereas Iran’s facilities are open to International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) inspections, Israel, being a non-signatory, has closed its facilities to scrutiny. And, while Iran is subjected to crippling sanctions, Israel is rewarded with diplomatic cover and US military aid in excess of $3 billion annually.
British authors Peter Oborne and David Morrison in their book “A Dangerous Delusion: Why the West is Wrong About Nuclear Iran” argue persuasively that the US and its allies are wholly responsible for the “appalling” suffering of the Iranian people caused by the sanctions regime.
As a weapon often used to bring about regime change, economic sanctions have been dreadfully ineffective. Wherever they were applied, the consequences have always been more harmful to the vulnerable populations than the targeted regimes. This has been the case in Cuba, Iran, North Korea and even the Gaza Strip.
Hence, it is absolutely mind-boggling that some Arab governments continue to support US sanctions against Iran, Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and more recently the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar.
Speaking of human suffering and human rights, the Singapore summit showed that they were the least of President Trump’s concerns. What matters most is his obsession with the cameras and how to make a quick buck. In the same way that he left the 2017 Arab-Islamic-American summit boasting that he secured a deal to sell the Saudis $110 billion worth of arms, so too he disclosed to reporters in Singapore how tantalised he was by the prospect of having a “great condo” on the shores of North Korea.
This is what US foreign policy has been reduced to; a profit-making enterprise driven by personal ambition and greed.
The Singapore summit proved that military threats and promises of economic assistance are seldom enough to change geopolitical realities. Normally, such changes are more likely to come about from meaningful negotiations carried out in an atmosphere of trust, mutual respect and the recognition of nations’ rights. Trump showed little respect or recognition for the concerns of South Korea and Japan, his closest allies in the Asia-Pacific region. Without consulting or notifying them, he told reporters that America “will be stopping the war games” on the peninsula, which in his words were “provocative” and “inappropriate”.
To the extent that this declaration represented a massive concession to North Korea and China, it was equally an insult to Japan and South Korea. Japanese commentator Yoichi Funabashi spoke for many in his country: “So far as thinking in Japan goes, the biggest casualty of this summit is likely to be the credibility of the US as an ally.”
If this is how Trump treats his Asia-Pacific allies, there is nothing stopping him from acting in a similar manner toward the pro-American regimes in the Middle East. In this light, the recent attempts by some countries to end their dependency on US arms may be regarded as too little too late.
Saudi Arabia, for example, is the largest buyer of American arms, accounting for 13 per cent of US arms sales. In 2017 the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimated the value of US arms exports to Saudi Arabia at $3,425 million. Already for 2018, the State Department has approved more than $770 million worth of arms sales and assistance to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
It was no wonder, therefore, that the US remains implacably opposed to Saudi attempts to purchase S400 missiles from Russia.
Last week, Trump’s nominee to head the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs in the State Department, David Schenker, warned that he would dissuade countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Egypt from weapons deals with Russia that could trigger US sanctions.
All told, the Singapore summit must be seen as a wake-up call for Arab leaders. That under the current administration, US foreign policy is fast becoming a destabilising force and a threat to world peace. Despite his self-proclaimed ability to be the ultimate deal-maker President Trump’s performance in Singapore was anything but. Therefore, any talk or hope that his recklessness could deliver peace to the Middle East is simply absurd and delusional. Support for his “deal of the century” should be withdrawn without delay before it’s too late.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.