By MR Josse
TAMPA, FL: Last week, attention was focused on the mayhem that seemed to infuse American politics even as the Democrats were breathlessly awaiting taking control of the House of Representatives, come 2019.
Since then, the fast-paced whirl of events has ratcheted up, inevitably generating the belief that the Trump presidency may be slowly unraveling, while American allies and adversaries have voiced anxiety, especially after defense secretary James Mattis’s resignation.
OUT OF CONTROL?
The dizzy kaleidoscope of happenings includes the government shutdown on the eve of Christmas; stock markets in free-fall; announcements on abrupt troop withdrawals; and, in particular, the resignations of defense secretary, followed by that of Brett McGurk, the U.S. envoy to the international coalition fighting the Islamic State.
Mattis’ resignation, initially timed to take effect on February 8, 2019, has now been brought forward to year-end 2018 by a Trump infuriated by his delayed realization of the seismic impact of Mattis’s resignation, particularly its powerful, appealing rationale.
Though couched in parliamentary language, he rebuked Trump’s rejection of international allies and his failure to check authoritarian governments. It was timed on the heels of what is widely regarded as Trump’s hasty decision to withdraw all American boots on the ground in Syria, on the spurious claim that the threat of ISIS is over.
It was followed by the announcement that more than half of America’s 14,000 troops in Afghanistan would soon be withdrawn, potentially upsetting current U.S. military strategy, disrupting nascent talks between Washington and the Taliban.
It threatens to drastically alter the political al222gebra in Kabul where it has been welcomed by the Taliban but otherwise been perceived as the beginning of America’s complete military abandonment.
As per the Wall Street Journal, though Asian governments offered only muted response to Mattis’s forthcoming exit, Europeans were more outspoken. Senior French and German officials rejected Trump’s assertions that Islamic State has been defeated, while Israeli officials expressed anxiety over regional stability.
Interestingly, Kremlin spokesman, Dimitri Peskov observed: “When stability and predictability is being replaced by unpredictability, surprise and I would say even the chaotic nature of certain decisions, this of course creates discomfort in foreign relations and concern.”
No less so is this report from China, increasingly the U.S.’s primary rival for hegemony in Asia, where news of the Trump administration’s plans for a drawdown in Syria and Afghanistan was greeted with wariness by a government looking to push the U.S. out of Asia.
TWISTS & TURNS
Coming now to Foreign Minister Pradeep Gyawali’s recent visit to Washington – not reported in the American mainstream media – I shall confine myself to offering a few out-of-the-box ruminations.
What I found most telling was that the attempt by the Trump administration to sell its “Indo-Pacific” geo-strategic concept, in reported discussions between Gyawali and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on December 18, 2018, failed. As much can be surmised from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ reluctance to disclose details of those parleys.
To my mind, that is not one whit astonishing in as much as, while the “Indo-Pacific” concept may now indeed be an important component of America’s strategy for the Asia-Pacific region, its transparent anti-China, or containment-of-China, overtones can hardly be disguised.
No government in Nepal, and especially not a Communist one, can or will subscribe to such a provocative and suicidal policy vis-à-vis Beijing.
Incidentally, the very next day – December 19 – Trump signed into law the “Reciprocal Access to Tibet Act of 2018” – which threatens to bar Chinese from the United States if Beijing does not permit unfettered access by Americans to Tibet.
Though clearly meant as an additional weapon in America’s current global competition with China, it clearly and rashly risks re-igniting a Cold War atop the Roof of the World, Tibet, with predictable adverse impact on peace and stability in Nepal, particularly along her northern territory bordering Tibet.
As recalled in Bruce Riedel’s “JFK’s Forgotten Crisis: Tibet, the CIA, and the Sino-Indian War” (Harper Collins India), following the 1959 Tibetan Uprising, Secretary of State John Foster “Dulles believed it was in America’s interest to help them (Tibetan guerillas in Nepal’s Mustang district), even if they were only a nuisance to China”, although “even with the CIA, not everyone was convinced about the wisdom of the Tibet operations.”
With America’s opening to China in the Nixon administration in the early 1970s such anti-China, pro-Tibet activities mercifully ended, including those conducted from Nepal.
Will they be revived now, particularly by an administration whose foreign/security policy is up in the air and which has a debilitating global credibility image – not to mention that China today is hardly the China of the 1960s?
While the new American law has, to no one’s surprise, been welcomed by the so-called Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala, one sincerely doubts how America’s overall strategic interests – not to mention Nepal’s – will be advanced through such brinkmanship.
Against the above backdrop what is most enigmatic is why Nepal should go out of the way to purchase U.S. rifles etc., reportedly even violating a national law that stipulates payment in three phases rather than in one lump sum amount, as Washington insists.
Such awkward gyrations and policy messiness clearly need to be sorted out by our political stalwarts – the sooner the better.
Finally, a few concluding thoughts on Dr. Tulsi Giri who passed away recently. Without doubt, he was one of Nepal’s brightest political stars, possessing great creativity and courage, a charismatic personality, besides being a magnetic public speaker.
Though controversial, Dr Giri was a nationalist through and through. In personal interface at his home in Budaneelakantha a couple of years ago, he reiterated his firm belief that India represented an abiding existential challenge to Nepal’s independence and sovereignty. He also bemoaned that G. Shah did not have the courage to step forward to redeem the kingdom that his illustrious forebear created against the greatest of odds.
Year-end uncertainty looms large in America and Nepal
By MR Josse