By MR Josse
GIATHERSBURG, MD: With the Russia scandal and its attendant political woes hanging over President Donald Trump’s head, no wonder that manifold issues of geo-political significance have received scant scrutiny.
Though none may belittle the enormous import of Trump’s political travails – with not a few freely mentioning the “I” word – it would still be useful not to lose sight of other developments taking place outside the borders of the U.S. but linked, in one way or another, to America’s mercurial president.
Consequently, I shall focus on them – in particular, on what a Time magazine commentator calls the “Trump effect” in the Middle East and on the thrust of a Bloomberg Businessweek story entitled “The Red Tide Sweeping the Caribbean.”
With regard to the first issue – which relates to the unprecedented 5 June joint action of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain severing all ties with Qatar, on the ground that Qatar provides material support for terrorist groups like the Islamic State and al-Qaeda that threaten the security of the entire region – it is notable that while Qatar flatly denies such allegations, Ian Bremmer argues that pressure is being mounted on Qatar because of its “more nuanced relations with Iran, the Saudis’ great rival.”
As per Bremmer, the message to Qatar’s leaders is simple: “Fall in line or we will bury you. They hope to either to force Qatari Emir Tamini bin Hamad to abandon the independence of his foreign policy or to create conditions for a coup inside the country to remove him from power.”
Though it is possible in the above narrative to discern shades of India’s perennial and nefarious pressure on a Nepal committed to close and independent relations with China, what enhances its general geo-political significance is Bremmer’s thesis that Trump’s conviction, as enunciated during his visit to Riyadh last month, that Iran is the region’s biggest problem has “emboldened the kingdom to reassert leadership in the region – and to bring adventurist misfits like Qatar to heel.”
In other words, the Qatar rift is the Middle East’s “Trump effect” in action, he explains.
However, to continue the Nepali angle to the above scenario, it is imperative to clarify two cardinal points: one, that, as indicated in a previous column, Trump has not, thus far, made any discernible strategic overtures to Narendra Modi’s India, as he transparently has to Saudi Arabia; and two, that the present resident of the White House, as current events have clearly underscored, would hardly be likely to support India in any contemplated move against Nepal/China, as Bremmer believes he has done in the case of the Saudis’ intervention against Qatar/Iran!
Changing gears, as Bloomberg Businessweek reports, Russia and China are using investments, loans and aid to court countries in the Caribbean, a region once considered off-limits to them. In a major story, it concludes that Russia and China are building influence in the U.S. backyard.
Russia has returned to the Caribbean Basin, a region it had all but abandoned after the Cold War. The magazine reports that apart from fuel supplies to Cuba, “Moscow is building a satellite-tracking station in Managua and considering reopening Soviet-era military bases in the region, as well as expanding economic ties and doling out aid in countries across Central America and the Caribbean.”
The reputed American business magazine quotes an American expert in Texas as opining that either “this could be a way of Russians telling the gringos ‘be careful we can come back to your backyard’ “, “or, it’s a long term strategic commitment, and this is the first building block of a considerable investment in the region.”
Interestingly, China too, we are informed, has been busy as bees in this American patch. According to one estimate, “Chinese companies and the government have poured $ 6 billion into the area since 2012.” Revealingly, “Beijing’s interest isn’t just economic. It wants to persuade the Dominican Republic and 10 other countries in the region to sever diplomatic ties with Taiwan as it seeks to curtail its rival’s role on the international stage.”
Even before Donald Trump signaled that the US would scale back its global role under his ‘America First’ policy, Russia and China were using their size and resources to win over the small, mostly poor countries with promises of aid, military support and investment in everything from cricket stadiums to a proposed canal stretching across Nicaragua.
Furthermore, another American academic expostulates, thus: “Both Russia and China recognize the region’s geopolitical importance due to its proximity to the U.S…The difference is that while China wants to build an economic presence to position itself solidly, the Russians are the opposite; they want their presence to provoke.”
As yet another American policy wonk argues: “In a bygone era, such incursions might have drawn a quick, even hostile U.S. response. Yet since the end of the Cold War, Washington has largely turned its focus away from hemispheric affairs, creating an opening for China and Russia…If you take China, for example, they see a disorganized, inward-looking United States and they see themselves as, comparatively speaking, well organized and able to establish a long-term vision for the region through gradually building influence. And I can see how enticing it is for Putin to establish Russia as a regional power.”
Phrased otherwise, and in summary, Trump’s ‘America First’ foreign policy seems to have encouraged both Russia and China in making determined politico-economic-diplomatic inroads into Central America and the Caribbean, at America’s expense! Will this state of affairs continue? We will see, soon enough.
From here, I’d say that in addition to holding impending local, provincial and general elections, Nepali Congress’ Sher Bahadur Deuba, prime minister for an incredible fourth time, may be faced with the dilemma of helping – or hindering – India in promoting so-called “Tibetan prime minister” Lobsang Sangay as an instrument to advance the free-Tibet cause, via Nepal.
Trump’s travails obscure key geo-strategic developments
By MR Josse