By M.R. Josse
TAMPA, FL: The week that was witnessed a flurry of political travails for American President Donald Trump – alloyed, to be sure, with gleanings of triumph vis-à-vis Afghanistan, where, after nine years of stuttering endeavors to reach a peace deal with the Taliban, a draft framework has been achieved following six days of talks in Doha.
If successful, it will end America’s longest war and result, among other things, in boosting Trump’s prestige and re-election prospects.
The past week also showcased America’s abiding strategic interest in Latin America, an exhibition of politico-diplomatic muscle that, understandably, did not go down too well within a significant segment of the international community.
President Trump’s signing into law a spending bill that gives leaders in both legislative chambers till February 15 to resolve the impasse over funding a border wall came as a huge relief to hundreds of thousands of federal workers who had been adversely affected by the 35-day partial government shutdown. It was widely viewed as a Trump climb down.
Although there is no guarantee that a permanent resolution will be engineered by that date, that log-jam crashed Trump’s poll numbers, even causing many Republicans to doubt his ability to navigate the next two years of divided government.
Moreover, the perception of Trump’s political defeat at the hands of the Democratic leadership has clouded his already perilous path to a second term, besides emboldening both his Democratic challengers and Republican dissenters who aim to block his re-election.
The indictment by the Justice Department of Roger Stone, a Trump loyalist and GOP consultant – for giving false accounts to Congress about what appeared to be weeks of indirect communication between the Trump campaign and Wikileaks – has obviously not burnished Trump’s political credentials.
Yet, as a National Public Radio (NPR) account has it, the Stone indictment raises more big questions than answers about Russia and the Trump 2016 campaign, while White House press secretary Sarah Sanders insists “the president did nothing wrong.”
The Trump administration’s recognition of Venezuela’s opposition leader Juan Guido, as the country’s legitimate leader, brought to the fore the towering diplomatic stakes involved therein. Though about 20 Western countries – including Canada, Brazil, Argentina – also took the cue from Washington, on January 26, Germany, France and Spain said they would recognize Guido if new elections are not held quickly.
Venezuelan President Nicholas Maduro was recently re-elected to a six-year term in elections widely described as rigged.
Maduro, at the outset, angrily ordered U.S. diplomats to leave the country within 72 hours – an order that the U.S. State Department stated would not be heeded, as Guido recommended, too. Subsequently, Maduro backed off, agreeing that both the U.S. and Venezuela would keep their diplomats at their respective embassies for 30 days.
Though Maduro’s military commanders have stood by him thus far, it remains to be seen if that support holds into the uncertain future, particularly if his political support ebbs rapidly, a portend of which is the exodus of an estimated three million citizens out of the country, at one time among the most prosperous in Latin America.
At the time of writing, the situation is not entirely lucid, especially how far Maduro’s foreign friends can, or will, back him, although at the moment his main underwriters – Russia and China – seem eager to back their investments in Venezuela. Vocal supporters include Mexico and Cuba.
As reported by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Russia’s president Vladimir Putin said he was highly concerned about the Venezuelan situation and warned against military intervention by the U.S.
China, which has reportedly invested $ 55 billion in energy-related loans, urged all sides to “resolve their political differences.”
While avidly awaiting future developments, it may usefully be noted that for the past several years, Russia and China have taken over from the U.S. as the main suppliers to Venezuela’s military.
To be sure, it seems a safe bet to predict that there will be huge blow-back from this diplomatic activism on Trump’s future – depending on how the situation ultimately evolves.
I have no clue, incidentally, to Nepal’s stance on this issue; possibly, it would follow the anodyne formulation about the need for a peaceful resolution of the crisis, or something along those unctuous lines. Incidentally, though much was made in the Nepali media about Prime Minister’s Oli’s blunt speech at Davos, it seems not to have been noticed here.
Recalling, in passing, that India celebrated her Republic Day January 26, I was reminded that President Trump did not take up on the invite to be Chief Guest at the celebrations, which had been widely and wildly touted by the Indian media.
With India’s general elections virtually around the corner, there has been a concerted drive to splurge, once more, in quota politics – in the hope that it will pay handsome electoral dividends.
In that context, I wish to share the following jottings from WSJ columnist Sadanand Dhume’s recent piece, entitled: ‘India’s ethnic quotas are a cautionary tale’:
“India’s quota-riddled universities have fallen behind their Chinese counterparts, which focus brutally on test scores. The QS World University rankings place six Chinese or Hong Kong universities among the world’s top 50. The highest ranking Indian institution, the Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, ranked No. 162.”
Dhume, tongue firmly in cheek, also reminds that, “in India, as the joke goes, Indians don’t cast their vote, they vote their caste.”
Finally, here are some excerpts from a major New York Times story in its international section, entitled: ‘Where Gandhi’s halo is no longer so bright’.
Reminding readers that this year is Gandhi’s 150th anniversary of his birth, Jeffery Gettleman, writes: “His legacy, still embraced by many, has fallen out of flavor with politicians in India…Barack Obama picked Gandhi as his dream dinner guest. But in contemporary India, Gandhi is no longer quite so awe-inspiring, or even relevant.”
Trump’s travails and triumphs, India’s quotas and caste
By M.R. Josse