Morning Call: pick of the papers

The ten must-read comment pieces from this morning's papers.

1. Miliband and Clegg's relationship is starting to thaw (Observer)

There has been a notable political climate change behind the scenes, with the Lib Dem and Labour leaders spending more time together, writes Andrew Rawnsley.

2. 'War on terror' is a tempting defence, but it isn't that simple (Independent on Sunday)

We must understand the strange alliances in Mali to unravel its complex, conflicting loyalties, says Patrick Cockburn.

3. David Cameron had to tackle the future before the past (Sunday Telegraph)

Al-Qaeda and its affiliates mutate faster than we work out how to defeat them, writes Matthew d'Ancona.

4. Dave puts EU policy in the hands of his indulgent auntie (Mail on Sunday)

Angela Merkel wants to keep Cameron in the EU family but her willingness to indulge him is not infinite, writes James Forsyth.

5. Scottish independence is fast becoming the only option (Observer)

Even to a unionist like me, an Alex Salmond-led government is preferable to one that rewards greed and corruption, says Kevin McKenna.

6. Obama’s handed them the rope. Will Iran or Israel hang itself first? (Sunday Times) (£)

If the US were slowly to distance itself from Jerusalem, Israelis may have second thoughts about their swerve to the extreme, writes Andrew Sullivan.

7. Will practice make perfect for the PM? (Independent on Sunday)

Cameron's response to the Algeria hostage crisis fitted fluently into an interventionist foreign policy, says John Rentoul.

8. Bankers must behave - or be shackled (Mail on Sunday)

Even the near-collapse of the world financial system has not curbed this sector’s bad habits, says a Mail on Sunday editorial.

9. British fair play lies dead and buried (Observer)

In the sporting arena and in other areas of our national life, gentlemanly conduct is now an alien concept, writes Nick Cohen.

10. Norway's 'fax democracy' is nothing for Britain to fear (Sunday Telegraph)

Britain might exercise more influence over the European single market outside the EU than in it, says Christopher Booker.

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Leader: Trump's dangerous nation

From North Korea to Virginia, the US increasingly resembles a rogue state.

When Donald Trump was elected as US president, some optimistically suggested that the White House would have a civilising effect on the erratic tycoon. Under the influence of his more experienced colleagues, they argued, he would gradually absorb the norms of international diplomacy.

After seven months, these hopes have been exposed as delusional. On 8 August, he responded to North Korea’s increasing nuclear capabilities by threatening “fire and fury like the world has never seen”. Three days later, he casually floated possible military action against Venezuela. Finally, on 12 August, he responded to a white supremacist rally in Virginia by condemning violence on “many sides” (only criticising the far right specifically after two days of outrage).

Even by Mr Trump’s low standards, it was an embarrassing week. Rather than normalising the president, elected office has merely inflated his self-regard. The consequences for the US and the world could be momentous.

North Korea’s reported acquisition of a nuclear warhead small enough to fit on an intercontinental missile (and potentially reach the US) demanded a serious response. Mr Trump’s apocalyptic rhetoric was not it. His off-the-cuff remarks implied that the US could launch a pre-emptive strike against North Korea, leading various officials to “clarify” the US position. Kim Jong-un’s regime is rational enough to avoid a pre-emptive strike that would invite a devastating retaliation. However, there remains a risk that it misreads Mr Trump’s intentions and rushes to action.

Although the US should uphold the principle of nuclear deterrence, it must also, in good faith, pursue a diplomatic solution. The week before Mr Trump’s remarks, the US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, rightly ruled out “regime change” and held out the possibility of “a dialogue”.

The North Korean regime is typically depicted as crazed, but its pursuit of nuclear weapons rests on rational foundations. The project is designed to guarantee its survival and to strengthen its bargaining hand. As such, it must be given incentives to pursue a different path.

Mr Trump’s bellicose language overshadowed the successful agreement of new UN sanctions against North Korea (targeting a third of its $3bn exports). Should these prove insufficient, the US should resume the six-party talks of the mid-2000s and even consider direct negotiations.

A failure of diplomacy could be fatal. In his recent book Destined for War, the Harvard historian Graham Allison warns that the US and China could fall prey to “Thucydides’s trap”. According to this rule, dating from the clash between Athens and Sparta, war typically results when a dominant power is challenged by an ascendent rival. North Korea, Mr Bew writes, could provide the spark for a new “great power conflict” between the US and China.

Nuclear standoffs require immense patience, resourcefulness and tact – all qualities in which Mr Trump is lacking. Though the thought likely never passed his mind, his threats to North Korea and Venezuela provide those countries with a new justification for internal repression.

Under Mr Trump’s leadership, the US is becoming an ever more fraught, polarised nation. It was no accident that the violent events in Charlottesville, Virginia, culminating in the death of the 32-year-old Heather Heyer, took place under his presidency. Mr Trump’s victory empowered every racist, misogynist and bigot in the land. It was doubtless this intimate connection that prevented him from immediately condemning the white supremacists. To denounce them is, in effect, to denounce himself.

The US hardly has an unblemished history. It has been guilty of reckless, immoral interventions in Vietnam, Latin America and Iraq. But never has it been led by a man so heedless of international and domestic norms. Those Republicans who enabled Mr Trump’s rise and preserve him in office must do so no longer. There is a heightened responsibility, too, on the US’s allies to challenge, rather than to indulge, the president. The Brexiteers have allowed dreams of a future US-UK trade deal to impair their morality.

Under Mr Trump, the US increasingly resembles a breed it once denounced: a rogue state. His former rival Hillary Clinton’s past warning that “a man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons” now appears alarmingly prescient.

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear