Aggressive, divisive tone

TRUMP'S PRESIDENCY

Donald Trump who still remains a mystery, in his recent interview to The Times of London, admitted that the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was possibly the gravest error in the history of the US and likened it to throwing a rocket into a beehive. This is the boldest and most honest admission of the failure of US’ Iraq policy.

It’s too early to say if it will have a soothing impact in the Arab world, but logically, it should change their perception about Trump. Unintentionally, the new US president might have triggered a process that might, in the long-run, not only bridge the chasm created by his threat to ban Muslims from entering the US but also paint the US in a more constructive light.

However, this positivity will evaporate if he shifts the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, president’s special envoy to West Asia, expected to “broker a peace deal in the region”, fails to deliver.

Trump might use his business acumen to deal-making in international relations. Borrowing Milton Friedman’s view that there is not anything called a free lunch, he is telling American friends and foes: if you want something from the US, you must be prepared to pay back in return.

While it might work in certain cases bilaterally, it is questionable if it will work in regional and global context; major powers often forge alliances and partnerships for national strategic considerations and not for quid pro quo. His message to Russia that he might work towards lifting of sanctions if it agrees for the reduction in nuclear warheads is a smart move.

Mutual understanding on this issue and broader thaw in the US-Russian relations, notwithstanding all the raging controversy about Russian President Vladimir Putin’s reported attempts to influence the US presidential election, could have a positive fallout on the situation in Syria and lower tension between the NATO and Russia that followed the Russian annexation of Crimea from Ukraine. But an overtly pro-Russian slant might not go down well with the US intelligence agencies and several senior leaders of the Republican party.

As the second largest economy and world’s largest manufacturer and exporter with burgeoning foreign exchange reserves of over $4.3 trillion, China poses the biggest strategic challenge to the US interests with exponential expansion in her global political, economic and military clout. No US president can remain a passive spectator to China’s increasing assertiveness and territorial claims in South and East China Sea in total disregards to the territorial claims of her neighbours.

Trump has dumped the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) but if he does not replace it with an effective alternative and the much touted US Pivot/Rebalance towards Asia remains in limbo, he will unwittingly be facilitating further expansion in China’s global economic and strategic influence. In this backdrop, Trump’s accusations against China of currency manipulation and publicly questioning the sanctity of US’ “One China Policy” betray the same hardnosed deal-making instinct.

It is unlikely that Trump would begin his innings with a crisis in the Sino-US relations; its disastrous consequences for both might act as a strong deterrent. He might be raising the stakes to eventually strike a deal with China. He is aware of the huge economic content of the Sino-American relationship and thousands of American jobs that depend on it. So, notwithstanding all the huffing and puffing, eventually, economic considerations will dictate Trump’s foreign policy towards China.

Trump has caused unprecedented concern and anxiety among his friends and foes as he ridiculed the annual World Economic Forum where Chinese Premier Xi Jinping made his maiden appearance, besides a host of other issues. He extolled the virtues of globalisation and likened protectionism to ‘locking oneself in a dark room without sunshine and air’, trashed the UN as a place to “have nice time”, called NATO as “obsolete” and  described German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decisions to take refugees as “catastrophic mistake.”

Iran deal

Trump threatened to cancel the nuclear deal with Iran, reiterated his intention to build “the best wall” along the border with Mexico and claim reimbursement, asked the European allies and South Korea to pay for the US security protection; warned the Japanese and German car manufacturers to face 35% import duty on their exports to America, cautioned American companies against sending jobs abroad, and formed a Cabinet of billionaires, generals and Wall Street executives, basically Conservative rightists.

Trump’s inaugural speech echoed his campaign’s aggressive and divisive tone. Instead of smoothening ruffled feathers, he has caused more ripples by his protectionist and anti-immigration rhetoric. Though India’s major IT companies TCS, Infosys, Wipro and HCL are worried about his approach to H1B visa, immigration and increase in visa fee, Trump asserts that he would be India’s best friend in the White House. Ultimately, business prospects will drive the US relations with India.

The US defence exports to India, having reached $15 billion in the last five years, will continue to increase with all the three wings of the defence forces holding long shopping lists and India having signed the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement with the US which has  anointed New Delhi as its major defence partner. The Make in India, Smart Cities Mission, sectors such as infrastructure, water management, energy, clean energy, IT, space research, healthcare, agriculture and education offer business prospects for American firms. Indian Americans roughly account for 1% of the US population and their 1% representation in the Congress should prove to be a valuable bridge for closer India-US relations.

Above all, Trump cannot counterbalance China’s expanding regional clout without forming a partnership with India, Japan, Asean, Australia and possibly South Korea. His stock in India will rise and fall according to his handling of Pakistan, for in the Indian perspective, Pakistan remains the epicentre of terrorism.

(Ambassador Kumar was Consul General of India in Chicago, USA)
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