When Bombs don’t Work

Raman Swamy

German Chancellor Angela Merkel held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Sochi beach resort. This is despite the fact that relations between Russia and the NATO countries of Europe are probably at their lowest ebb since the end of the Cold War.

Reports indicate that the talks were somewhat tetchy and tense. The two leaders evidently disagreed

on several issues — Syria, Chechnya, Ukraine, sanctions, hacking, immigration, and all that. But what stood out was that they talked. They had a face-to-face dialogue. They made an effort to find ways to move towards peace and stability in Europe and West Asia.

Elsewhere, President Donald Trump sprang a surprise. He announced that he was ready for a meeting with Kim Jong Un. He went to the extent of uttering a few words of praise for the young North Korean leader about whom the entire leadership of the Western world has till now had nothing but contempt, anger and hatred.

This is what the US President said of the man who is castigated as a ‘mad and dangerous despot’: “People are saying, ‘Is he sane?’ I have no idea. I can tell you this, and a lot of people don’t like when I say it, but he was a young man of 26 or 27 when he took over from his father, when his father died, a lot of people, I’m sure, tried to take that power away. He was dealing with obviously very tough people. But he was able to assume power. He was able to do it. So obviously, he’s a pretty smart cookie. I would be honoured to meet with him”.

Trump’s critics are having an apoplectic fit. Kim Jong Un is a threat to world peace, they say, he is a dangerous dictator hell bent on developing nuclear missiles and other weapons of mass destruction. Kim is evil incarnate – he starves his own people to pay for his aggressive military ambitions and executes his own generals and family members if they disagree with him.

How can Donald Trump call him a “pretty smart cookie”? Why does the US President say he would be “honoured” to meet such a despicable and inhuman creature?

The answer is simple. Bombs don’t work. Dialogue does. China’s President Xi Jinping spent a diplomatic weekend at Donald Trump’s private golf resort Mar-a-Lego in Florida last week and among the contentious global issues they evidently discussed was how to deal with Kim Jong Un. They appear to have come to what is a blindingly obvious course of action — just sit down and talk to the young man.

Donald Trump, who is turning out to be the most unpredictable President America has ever had, pulled off another surprise last week – he put in a phone call to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte and invited him to the White House in Washington for talks.

Again there were expressions of shock and disbelief in Washington, London, Paris and Canberra. How can you desecrate the sacred portals of the White House by allowing a foul mouthed murderer to cross its threshold? Do you not know that Duterte goes out on the streets of Manila with a gun and kills drug dealers in cold blood in broad daylight? And that he openly boasts about it and tells his police forces – “If I can do it, why can’t you?!”

Senators and Congressmen from the Democratic Party (and even a few Republicans who still have not got used to having Trump as President) are livid — Have you forgotten, they are screaming, what filthy abuses the Phillipines President hurled at Barack Obama just six months ago? He used gutter language, he came out with unprintable epithets.

In spite of all this, the fact is that Trump has extended an invitation to Duterte. As he sees it, the Phillipines is America’s long-standing ally in Asia and the United States needs the support of all friendly countries in the region to implement its new Foreign Policy Doctrine.

Actually, nobody in Washington has even a clue about what the Trump Doctrine is, or even if such a Doctrine even exists, but Duterte is clearly pleased. Although he has not yet formally accepted the surprise invitation to visit Washington, the Phillipines President has signalled his appreciation with an effusive reaction: “Donald Trump is a realist and a pragmatic thinker. He is a profound world leader, even if he does not seem to be one. He is just like me. I am not that bright but I am very deliberate. Even when I curse at you, I really think it over deeply before I curse at you”.

The Putin-Merkel talks, the Trump-Xi Jinping meeting, the invitation for talks to Kim Jong Un and Rodrigo Duterte and even the visit of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to the White House — all these very current interactions and developments point to one single pragmatic truism, that talking it over can solve many things. Wage peace, not War.

Perhaps the time has come for Narendra Modi to stop thinking about surgical strikes, eye-for-eye vengeance and other frightening military responses. No other Indian Prime Minister has had such success in projecting himself on the global scene as a leader of goodwill as Modi. His numerous excursions during the first two years of his tenure have given him a rock-star image in many world capitals.

Pakistan is a hostile neighbour which can be dealt with more effectively through dialogue, discussions and hard bargaining. Surgical strikes and sabre rattling does not work and can be counter-productive. There is nothing wrong in sitting across the table and indulging in some serious diplomatic hard bargaining.

The best thing is, the search for Peace through dialogue and understanding has suddenly become fashionable again – as Merkel, Xi, Putin and Trump can testify.

Vol. 49, No.47, May 28 - Jun 3, 2017