Flat White

Stuff happens

14 June 2018

12:33 PM

14 June 2018

12:33 PM

Everything is inevitable. Stuff happens. This is how international relations work.

The US-North Korea summit was always going to happen and the fact that it was held at a theme park inevitable. It is a metaphor after all and now we can all move on.

And other stuff was also always going to happen too. Stuff like the recent move of the US embassy to Jerusalem was inevitable.

International affairs are funny like that – a perpetual motion machine where things eventually happen even as you keep telling yourself they never should or will.

Marketing has taken over how it works – society and politics need to undertake constant change or the brand dies. A business – or nations – must always grow. Diplomats don’t talk this way but it’s really all the same.

North Korea? This is a nation still technically at war with the South even after 60 years. So putting aside whether these are wise or poor decisions the real question becomes not how has this happened but rather why didn’t it happen sooner?


Those outraged and surprised by the Jerusalem embassy move should know this has been the policy of the much-hated Trump but also president’s Obama, George W Bush and Clinton. It’s just nobody wanted to own the next move.

Many argue that this is what diplomacy is about – managing delicate situations to avoid a greater harm – but often it also plain political inertia masquerading as statesmanship with leaders unable to make a decision on how to act. Bravery is not a particularly twenty-first-century political trait.

Still, the shock and awe over these events will continue and the reactions to them equally inevitable: presidents will claim they deserve a Nobel Prize for bringing peace, Palestinians will riot at the perceived injustice and die.

Driving these historical surges are the personalities of our leaders. Often these seem like set pieces with the players reacting in character just as expected by both friends and enemies. Or more likely as a potentially bloodthirsty marketing opportunity for cynic politicians. Both Kim Jong-un and Trump declare themselves vessels of peace or whatever.

In marketing terms, this is the big reveal, the next big thing.

And Kim? He doesn’t want to be a great leader or even a professional tyrant. Tyranny isn’t all that it is cracked up to be. It’s so last year ever since they stopped running favourable fashion spreads of Syrian President al-Assad’s wife Asma in the bloodthirsty pages of Vogue under the heading ‘desert rose’.

Kim wants to be a political car salesman just like the rest of them. Psychologically he wants to matter on the world stage

This is why things can’t stand still and it’s why attempts to freeze foreign affairs in amber and to stop the clock are always doomed to fail. Last time it was the fall of communism – Reagan demanded they ‘tear down this wall’ and they did and then apparently that’s when everything was going to stop. But it didn’t.

Historian Francis Fukuyama started referring to it as the ‘end of history’. But then we got Putin in Russia and with the eyes off the ball it got worse and we got bin Laden and 9/11. It turns out the void must be filled. Of course, that led to Afghanistan and Iraq and because of that here we are with Trump. It’s that perpetual motion machine thing again.

It is one of the great mysteries of world affairs that we constantly attempt to manage this inevitability when really it is managing us or at least our world leaders. To think if we just do this one thing, this one time and the world will ground to a halt and it will all be ok.

Michael Scammell is a freelance writer

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