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Trump’s year of chaos and sundry geopolitical gambits

By M. R. Josse

MRJ 1TAMPA, FL: With American President Donald Trump completing his first chaotic year in office, there has been a blizzard of commentary directed almost equally toward his persona as to his administration’s achievements and flops.

There is such a volume and variety, I can present just a minuscule sampling, attempting to be objective.

TRUMP’S YEAR

Leonard Pitts Jr., of Miami Herald, goes on the offensive concluding: “Surprises no longer surprise. Shocks no longer shock…One simply cannot keep up with…all of this guy’s scandals, bungles, blame-calling, name-calling and missteps, his sundry acts of mendacity, misanthropy, perversity and idiocy….One year later, we live in a state of perpetual nuclear standoff, a Cuban Missile Crisis that never ends…

“One year later, both our despair and hope are encompassed in the same five syllables. One down. Three to go.”

New York Times columnist, Frank Bruni, is searing, too. Says he: “The hell of his election wasn’t that he tricked American voters. It was that they’d fully seen the florid whole of him and supported him nonetheless…We’re more familiar with Trump after one year than we were either with Bush or Obama after eight…Trump stands before us naked…

“It’s not merely that this emperor has no clothes. This emperor has no camouflage, or at least none that is consistent or effective. Syllable after syllable, he traffics in fantasy.”

Incidentally, a sense of mass disenchantment – and rage – is underlined in the right-through-the-roof sales that Michael’s Wolff’s “Fire and Rage: Inside the Trump White House” has notched up.

Yet, there has been no dearth of angry punditry the book has ignited, with PolitiFact Editor Angie Drobnic Holan charging in the Tampa Bay Times that the book is riddled with fact errors, sourcing and transparency problems.

While Holt lists not a few egregious goof-ups, she believes a bigger problem is that Wolff’s “fly-on-the-wall, you-are-here-atmosphere that pervades the book” is largely a “stew of mysteriously sourced dramatic scenes.”

She concludes: “Like much of the Trump presidency, battles over political power seem to go hand in hand with battles over the nature of ultimate truth. Whether the big picture shown in Wolff’s book is accurate will be answered as time passes and the Trump presidency unfolds.”

BUSY

On a different plane, Holan argues that Trump’s first year has been a busy one, with much ‘In the Works’ slot: “Trump has pushed forward with his agenda fundamentally reshaping immigration policy through his executive power, ending Obamacare’s penalty for not having insurance, and signing into law cuts for many Americans.

“In other cases, Trump has found changing America not as easy as rolling out campaign slogans about rebuilding America or starting a trade war with China. There has been no infrastructure bill yet, and Trump has been noticeably more amiable with China than he signaled on the campaign trail.”

Interestingly, Holan puts ‘In the Works’ category 10 of 19 of Trump’s foreign policy promises, including asking “other countries to pay for their own defense; developing a plan to defeat ISIS; reversing Obama’s Cuba policy, and renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Trump has kept promises to cancel the Paris climate agreement and to stop the Trans-Pacific Agreement among Pacific rim nations…

“But six of his foreign policy promises are currently rated ‘Stalled’. Trump seems to have dropped his promise to bring back waterboarding after his advisers told him it was a bad idea. He hasn’t called for an international conference to defeat ISIS. And he hasn’t moved to deport all Syrian refugees in the United States. The coming years will reveal whether these promises were permanently shelved or if he just hasn’t started on them.”

GEOPOLITICAL SHIFTS

Turning the focus on our own region, many interesting/revealing geopolitical stories are there to spin, including the familiar one of Indian encroachment of Nepali territory.

While Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared “India is not eyeing other countries’ territory”, his country could still host the first-ever ‘Indian-origin parliamentary conference’ in its capital – an obvious maneuver to spread and increase India’s global influence via such lawmakers. One wonders how many eager-beaver Nepali parliamentarians were present at that talkathon.

Around the same time, Gen. Bipin Rawat told PTI that “India can’t allow its neighbours to drift away to China”, while suggesting that India’s future focus should pivot away from Pakistan towards China. Rawat, against that backcloth, thought that this politico-diplomatic quadrangle – India, the U.S., Japan and Australia – would equip India to effectively tackle the geopolitical challenge posed by China.

No wonder, Beijing’s ‘Global Times’ slammed India’s “sense of superiority” in her dealings with her neighbours, charging that, ever since the end of World War II, she has worked towards the goal of getting them to adopt an ‘India first’ foreign policy.

Meanwhile, The Economic Times informed that Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang justified China’s “massive construction activities in the Doklam area” by insisting that “China’s position on the Donglong (Doklam) area is quite clear. Donglong always belonged to China and was always under China’s effective jurisdiction. There is no dispute in that regard.”

Engrossing, too, was an opinion piece by Happymon Jacob in The Hindu suggesting that “As the U.S. recalibrates its ties with Pakistan, Delhi should maintain a caution distance” from Washington. This is because, as he sees it, given “the rise of China and the retreat of the U.S., American allies are likely to hedge their bets.”

Jacob is convinced that a China-Pakistan-Russia axis is ready to play a dominant role in South Asia, just as he discerns the beginning of the end of the “special role” between India and Russia, the signs of which are already apparent, in his judgment.

Lastly, there is the reported call by Modi to K.P. Sharma Oli, our prime-minister-in-waiting, inviting him to pay an official visit to India soon, to which, one is informed, Oli graciously responded, “Paheley aap!”

Say what you will, South Asian geopolitics is never boring!

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