We have all heard by now of President Donald Trump’s latest escapade. The Breaker of Deals, who is ironically said to have been a deal-maker in his other life as a businessman, broke another deal on 8 May when he withdrew the US from the Iran Nuclear Agreement. By Baffour Ankomah
The withdrawal has angered friends and foes alike, to the point where a furious French Economy Minister, Bruno Le Maire, has said Europe should not allow the US to be the policeman of the world’s economy. “Do we want to be vassals deferring with a curtsy and a bow to decisions made by the US so that the US polices the world economy?” Le Maire asked as France condemned moves by the US to impose sanctions on companies trading with Iran.
Trump has a-dead-goat-fears-no-knife mentality, and it’s not good for the world. Not many people held him in high esteem when he campaigned for election in 2016, and not many do now. So he doesn’t care what others think or say about him.
Mr Trump reminds me of a certain Talayi George Sogcwe of South Africa. On 12 November 1996, The Guardian (of London) reported, via its Johannesburg correspondent David Beresford, that Talayi Sogcwe, “worried about what people would say about him at his funeral, decided to stage his own death to hear exactly what they thought. With the cooperation of his wife and six children, Mr Sogcwe, a health worker, arranged the ceremony from his home village of Zwide in South Africa’s Eastern Cape.
“Dressed in his best suit and playing dead in a coffin, he made his entrance at a gathering in his honour. Hundreds of mourners packed the yard of his small home near Port Elizabeth for the sombre occasion. Relatives dressed in black wept as speakers representing his family, neighbours and colleagues recounted the story of his life and sang his praises as Mr Sogcwe, aged 65, listened from the comfort of the coffin.
“After more than two hours of sad words and eulogies to his hard work, Mr Sogcwe rose from his coffin to pronounce himself happy that his friends had passed his test. ‘I am satisfied they spoke the truth about me and not lies, as is often the case when a person is dead,’ he said. Mr Sogcwe explained afterwards that he had another motive – saving loved ones the cost and trouble of organising a funeral when he does die. It cost nearly £1,000 but the £200 coffin will be kept for him at the local undertakers. With the funeral orations already delivered, all his wife and children will have to do is bury it with him inside.”
In many ways, Trump’s philosophy reminds me of Mr Sogcwe’s. A real character from the Old Testament, Trump does the most unthinkable of things and then retires into his closet and listens to the reactions of his colleagues and the world. That gives him a great buzz.
“This man,” says The New York Times, “who, apparently because of one book and a reality television show, has a reputation as a deal-maker despite a skein of bankruptcies and lawsuits, has been piling up quite a record of scuttled agreements that he suggests ‘never, ever should have been made’ and broken promises for a ‘better deal’ .”
Iran derangement syndrome
Trump’s latest escapade, as the others before it, has made a mockery of the value of America’s signature on international agreements. “In truth,” says The New York Times columnist Roger Cohen, “Trump was led to this decision not by any serious calculus about the deal, but by his susceptibility to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Saudi fury at Iran, the pressure of conservative American Jews who support him, and his iron principle that whatever Obama did must be bad. He succumbed to ‘Iran derangement syndrome’, a well-known American condition.”
Now that Trump has surrounded himself with hawks like John Bolton as National Security Advisor, and Mike Pompeo as Secretary of State, the world must brace itself for more high jumps.
My worry is that men like Trump are mere mortals yet while in power, they think of themselves as super human beings who have the power of life and death in their hands. Sadly, they refuse to see how that power impacts on the lives of people who live far away from them and their future generations.
When George W. Bush and Tony Blair truculently decided to bomb Iraq in 2003, little did they care about the plight of Iraqis of today. When Bush and Blair again decided to impose economic sanctions on Zimbabwe in 2001, they did not think about the Zimbabweans of today. When the US and Britain conspired to overthrow Kwame Nkrumah in the 1960s, they did not consider the fate of Ghanaians of today. When the US (again) and Belgium decided to eliminate Patrice Lumumba in 1960, they did not consider the plight of the Congolese of today.
Yet the actions of these men do have long-lasting consequences for countries far and wide, and their future generations. As such, all of us should be concerned when leaders like Trump engage in antics like the ones Trump is currently engaged in over Iran. I say this as a resident of Zimbabwe, whose economy is still suffering from the effects of the Bush and Blair sanctions of 2001, effects that have persisted over the past 18 years and are still making Zimbabweans suffer unnecessarily.
Much of the world is afraid to say how nonsensical is the notion that the US, France, Britain, China, Russia, India, Pakistan and even Israel can have nuclear weapons – “the most deadly weapons on earth”, to borrow Trump’s words – and yet be the same countries that impose sanctions on others for daring to follow their lead in acquiring nuclear weapons too.
If nuclear weapons are indeed the world’s most deadly weapons, why are the US and the others keeping theirs and yet preventing the rest of us from having them?
On 10 October 2003, The Guardian ran a story on John Bolton, the then-US Deputy Secretary of State for Arms Control, the same Bolton who is now Trump’s national security adviser. Asked about Israel’s nuclear weapon capability, Bolton replied: “The issue for the US is what poses a threat to the US.” On Iraq, he said: “The purpose of military action [led by Bush and Blair] was to eliminate the regime… The real security risk was the regime.”
So Israel and the others can keep their nuclear weapons because they are not a threat to the US. That reminds me of what Madeleine Albright, US Secretary of State (1997-2001) said in February 1998 about bombing Iraq. “If we have to use force,” Albright said, “it is because we are America. We are the indispensable nation. We stand tall. We see further into the future.”
It is the same arrogance that Trump is displaying in his dealings with the world today, the arrogance that John Hope Franklin, the African- American historian, condemned. “We [America] are so powerful and so presumptuous that it makes us unattractive, almost unbecoming,” Franklin said. “We don’t treat other countries and people right. Power without grace is a curse. We have undertaken to spread democracy when we ourselves are not democratic. How so? Our presidents are elected by electoral colleges, not directly. And our military is not democratic. There is no draft. Bush’s children and my children do not serve.”
Perhaps Trump does not have ears to hear Africa, but I will urge Africans to speak out on the existing Animal Kingdom of nuclear weapons. Four legs good, two legs bad.
As my colleague, Anver Versi, wrote in NA (April 2017): “How America deals with Trump is their own business but we in Africa cannot afford to take a sanguine view and believe the tempest will not affect us profoundly.” Africa matters in the world. So let’s speak out. NA