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Crystal-balling Trump’s key foreign policy footprints

MR josseBy MR Josse
KATHMANDU: As the shock and awe of Republican nominee Donald J. Trump’s stunning electoral triumph over Democratic nominee, former Secretary of State Hillary R. Clinton, wear off, it may be useful to attempt a selective, broad-brush sketch of its likely global impact.
Before plunging headlong into such a dicey exegesis, bear in mind that because Trump is a rank outlier in American politics – who, to boot, comes with a heavy baggage of unconventional thoughts and overarching concepts – including putting “America first” and “making America great again” – it might be hazardous to jump to facile or categorical conclusions, just yet.
To be sure, more can be asserted with greater confidence, as Trump gets his transition team together and comes to grips with the nitty-gritty of governance/policy formulation before his inauguration as the 45th US President, on 20 January 2017.
Until then, it would be sensible to remember that the American president-elect – and, by extension, the world – is entering largely unchartered waters.
Apart from the unconventionality of Trump’s weltanschauung, one must note that, essentially, he is not an ideologue. Moreover, he has already indicated he may be far more flexible on his pre-election priorities than many imagined, though not, presumably, to the extent that the popular mandate so convincingly won for basic political change is irremediably altered.
That said, the possibility that a Trump administration could be more isolationist than those known in the recent past cannot be shrugged off; his recurrent emphasis on the grandiose scheme of “making America great again” and his stress on putting “America first” suggest as much.
Additionally, let’s not forget the two great and contradictory impulses that have traditionally propelled American foreign policy at different periods: isolationism and interventionism.
Though a greater tendency towards isolationism would hardly mean an America totally withdrawn into its hemispheric shell, it is quite possible that Trump will opt for the course recently recommended by well-known Columbia University academic/economist Jeffery D. Sachs who suggests that “the far smarter approach will be to maintain America’s defensive capabilities but end its imperial pretensions” rather than to “vainly continue the neoconservative project of unipolar dominance, even as the recent failures in the Middle East and America’s declining economic preeminence guarantee the ultimate failure of the imperial vision.”
Indeed, one notes noises emanating from the Kremlin indicating that Russia is hopeful that a Trump presidency will herald improved relations with the United States – though Western media reports inform us that Moscow is not betting on an immediate turnaround in the currently strained relationship.
Germane to this discussion is Sachs’ timely reminder: “Many conservatives will point to Vladimir Putin’s actions in Crimea as proof that diplomacy with Russia is useless, without recognizing that it was NATO’s expansion to the Baltics and its 2008 invitation to Ukraine to join NATO that was the primary trigger to Putin’s response.”
President-elect Trump could conceivably realize that one cannot have both ‘guns’ as well as ‘butter’; that, in other words, if America is to avoid the fate of the erstwhile Soviet Union, with its overextension in foreign adventures and vast over-investment in the military, it would be better off – to quote Sachs again – “to abandon the reveries, burdens, and self-deceptions of empire and to invest in sustainable development at home and in partnership with the rest of the world.”
Though at this writing Trump has not announced who his Secretary of State will be, it is significant that, as news reports indicate, he has, through personal calls, attempted to smooth ruffled feathers in the UK, Japan and South Korea. With national elections in 2017 slated for Germany, France, the Netherlands and possibly Italy, European nervousness is perhaps only natural. It has been stoked by the possibility of a closer US-Russia relationship, which, could, at least in theory, calm inflamed tensions in Iraq-Syria. If the threat of ISIS could be excised through such a strategic understanding, the tide of Syrian refugees flowing into Europe, with all their attendant disruptions, could be stemmed.
The world will, of course, will be closely monitoring the fate of the Iran nuclear deal that Trump has consistently castigated during his electoral campaign. A firm prediction, one way or another, is hardly possible at this stage given the mass of imponderables involved.
On another front, it is interesting to note that the Chinese media has been making the pitch that whoever wins the American presidential race it would not impact Sino-America ties as “there are too many interest groups involved in Sino-US ties that would like this relationship to remain stable.”
Given Trump’s predominant stress on the economy, the creation of jobs, and the elimination of threats to America – including the nuclear – one may wonder if a deal can be cut between the Trump administration and Beijing along these lines: the latter will do its utmost to check Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions while the former assures that it will take a less assertive role in the Asia-Pacific, where, over time, Washington has failed to leverage the South China Sea issue into an effective strategic advantage.
In any case, notable, too, is America’s fading economic clout and military capability, which starkly contrasts with China’s burgeoning economic power, expanding diplomatic reach and robust military, including assertive maritime arm.
As far as India is concerned, there are two factors that merit attention. One is PM Narendra Modi’s determined efforts to seek Japan’s assistance to transform India into a credible counterweight to China; the other is reflected in the thinking in establishment circles, as emerges in former foreign secretary Nirupama Rao’s article in The Hindu, where she predicts that Trump is “expected to be positive and welcoming, continuing the trends and direction of the relationship, especially over the last decades.”
I would recommend that in the weeks ahead our naive, ‘Indo-pendent’ politicos and self-imagined ‘strategic thinkers’ closely monitor developments, especially on the US-China-India relationship front.

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