President Trump : What Does It Imply
Vol 10 Issue 6 Jan - Feb 2017
What does the Maverick President hold for the world
Monday, February 6, 2017
Donald Trump took over as the 45th President of the United States of America after what has been the most divisive campaign in US history. Keeping to form, he began his inauguration dancing to the song ‘Do it my Way’ and on the first day of his presidency announced that he would make widespread changes to Health care, Climate Action Plan and other issues. It promises to be the start of – to use a Trumpism - an ‘Unpresidented’ presidency.
Trump’s victory is a reflection of the wave of inward looking nationalism that is sweeping the world. His policy of ‘Put America First’ promises the building of a wall between Mexico (which will be paid for by Mexico), withdrawal from the Trans Pacific Partnership, a renegotiation of NAFTA, reneging on climate change agreements and emphasis on ‘Buy American, hire American’ which will impact world economies. His vow to ‘eliminate radical Islamic terror’ and ‘reinforce old alliances and form new ones’ can create new foes and make unlikely friends and overturn the world order on its head.
His choice of team is telling. Rex Tillerson, former CEO of the gas and oil giant, EXXON, who has strong personal and business ties with Russia, takes over as Secretary of State. General James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, former C-in –C Central Command, comes in as Secretary of Defence. Most of his team comprise of fellow billionaires with little government experience. They will help Trump implement his vision in avenues ranging from the fight against terror (which he has vowed to eliminate), Russia (which he considers as an ally), China (enemy No 1) the United Nations (a cozy club), US allies (who should learn to pay for US protection), climate change (which he disregards) and a host of other issues that will impact the world directly.
The US – Russia – China Triangle
The decades long hostility between the US and Russia (including the former USSR) may just thaw with the personal chemistry between Trump and Putin, whom he describes as ‘A great guy’. The unusual interest that Russia took to influence US elections in favour of Trump will give a new angle to US –Russian ties in the Trump era.
The trend has already been set. In a parting act, President Obama imposed fresh sanctions and expelled 15 Russian diplomats for their role in hacking the US elections. Even before taking over, Trump indicated that these sanctions could be revoked if Russia ‘proves helpful in battling terrorism and reaching other US goals’
This implies that he will give Russia a free hand in Syria – and perhaps add US firepower to help crush the Islamic State – enabling the rise of Russian influence in the Middle East. His cozying up to Russia is likely to cause concerns with European allies. With the elimination of sanctions, Russia can pursue its nationalistic agenda with greater zeal and expand its influence in Georgia, Ukraine, Crimea and Eastern Europe without restraint – a disquieting prospect for its neighbors.
Is Trump hoping for an alliance between USA and Russia on the lines of the G 2 alliance between US and China proposed by Obama in the initial years of his presidency? This may edge out China from its cozying up to Russia and will be disconcerting to it. At least in the initial years. Yet, traditional US-Russian rivalry and the mutual suspicion and hostility that exists in the establishment will invariably prevail. There will be again redefining of ties, but perhaps, by then, the damage would have been done.
While Trump reaches out to Russia, he makes no bones of his antagonism to China which he accuses of everything from stealing US jobs, unfair trade practices, artificial devaluation of the Renminbi, and its expanding envelope in the China Seas. Trump has turned time-tested protocol on its head by speaking directly to the Taiwan President TsaIng-Wen. This is viewed as being against the ‘One China’ policy which USA has endorsed for 40 years. Trump in any case has publicly stated that even the ‘One China’ policy is negotiable, which has raised hackles in Beijing. Provoking China in his early days is a harbinger of things to come. Will it see a greater US engagement in the China seas, will there be a reinforcement of the ‘Pivot to Asia’, will US increase its presence in the Pacific and will adventurism provoke a clash in the disputed islands? Watch this space.
Foreign Policy Revisions
Besides Russia and China, virtually every aspect of US policy could come under revision. Europe is worried about US commitment to NATO (which Trump termed as ‘obsolete’). Its traditional allies Japan and South Korea may not have the US security umbrella, especially now that Trump wants them to pay for their own defence. There will also be a steady erosion of ties with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, especially since the US is no longer dependent on their oil. One of the major triumphs of the Obama legacy, the US –Iran Nuclear Deal, which Trump called ‘the worst deal ever negotiated’ could come under revision. Should Trump junk the deal, it will push Iran back into isolation, revamp its hostility and perhaps create a new epicenter of terrorism
Trump has vowed to eradicate ‘Radical Islamic terror’ but how will he go about it. The Islamic State will be more vehemently targeted in Syria and Iraq, but the US may continue to play second fiddle to Russia there. Afghanistan is still unfinished, but how strong is it on Trump’s radar. Will he ramp up US activities against the Taliban and Al Qaeda there or will he let the present drift continue. More importantly how will he deal with nations that sponsor terrorism and harbor it on their soil? His dealings with Pakistan remain to be seen. His hardline policies can make him lean heavily on it. But then, he may equally adopt Bush’s policy that it is an essential ‘frenemy’ and needs to be cultivated. As the US prepares to leave Afghanistan, will it agree to a Pak sponsored deal that brings the Taliban in a power –sharing arrangement there? Also with Trumps propensity for making statements that are against the establishment line, he could make an utterance on the ‘K’ word which could be interpreted beyond all proportion and further impact Indo-Pak relations.
Impact on India
Over the past ten years or so Indo-US ties had been assiduously built up by President Bush and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and then Obama and Modi. The direction it will take now will depend greatly on the personal chemistry between Modi and Trump.
Indian economy will be affected by his protectionist policies. Indian-US trade is $109 Billion annually and India has a healthy trade surplus with the US. Indian IT companies send over 60% of their exports to the US garnering over $150 Billion in revenues, which may now reduce as US companies may stop outsourcing. Also the futures of over 1 million Indians working in the US will be in jeopardy, if the H1 B visa is made more stringent.
Strategically, a US-Russia rapprochement will make the US less dependent on India to counter China. The US would still require India as a strategic ally but would not go out of its way to accommodate our strategic concerns. Ties with Japan, Vietnam, and Australia thus will be significant. It would be best to maintain a distance from the coming US-China chill, and focus purely on our own strategic interests. We would also need to tread carefully if USA decides to revoke the US-Iran Nuclear deal. That will affect our own dealings with Iran. The use of Chahbahar port, which forms is a linchpin in our strategy towards Afghanistan and Central Asia will then be delayed by years.
The next four years will usher in major economic and strategic changes. It will require pragmatic, hard-nosed negotiations to hold our position, maintain our interests and take our place in a world order that is likely to be reshaped in the Trump Era.