Trump Sarkar: A few early glimpses emerge

Mr Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

US President-elect Donald Trump casts a huge shadow globally due to his body of opinion expressed freely during the long campaign on US alliances, trade deals, past military entanglements abroad, etc. Among his stream of consciousness verbal outpourings are his iconoclastic praise of Russian President Vladimir Putin or debunking of the Iranian nuclear deal, which was the cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s rebalance in the Gulf and West Asia. As he prepares to take office in January, both his friends and foes are left wondering what his actual policies might be, on which they would have to base counter-strategies. The first indications are emerging from his pick of Cabinet colleagues and an interview with the New York Times, a newspaper that he loathed for opposing his candidacy. The initial three appointments raised a controversy as they were chosen more for their loyalty or right-wing bias. Jeff Sessions, his chosen attorney-general, had been rejected for the position of a federal judge when nominated by President Ronald Reagan for racist comments in the past. Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, named as the national security adviser, has lobbied among others for the Turkish government in the past, besides appearing on a Russian television channel with close links to the Kremlin.

Thus, Mr Trump was negating his avowed desire for “draining the swamp”, that is purging Washington of its lobbyists and middlemen. Mike Pompeo, who will head the Central Intelligence Agency, belongs to the conservative Tea Party movement. His claim to infamy rests on his calling his Indian-American opponent in a congressional primary as a “turban popper”, who could be “a Muslim, a Hindu, a Buddhist, etc”. He staunchly opposes the Iranian deal and criticises the Environment Protection Agency. Initial criticism rested on the premise that a man must be judged by the company he keeps. The next set of inductees into Mr Trump’s Cabinet reflects his conscious attempt to balance by tilting towards diversity. Two nominees are Betsy DeVos to head education and an African-American, Ben Carson, a retired neurosurgeon but named to head housing, distinct from his core competence. The third nominee, of great interest to India, is Nikki Randhawa Haley, currently governor of South Carolina. She was named as US ambassador to the UN, which unlike in India is a Cabinet position requiring Senate confirmation.

The progeny of Jat Sikh parents hailing from Punjab, she initially dealt herself out of the game by openly opposing Mr Trump’s bigotry and siding with a rival. Her name resurfaced first on a shortlist for vice-presidential running mate. Some of her predecessors at the UN have gone on to hold high positions, including George H.W. Bush as President. Some others graduated to secretary of state. While her loyalty shall of course be to the United States, it undeniably gives India an opening for cosier coordination at the UN level on a swathe of issues where US and Indian interests converge. It is the rambling interaction of Mr Trump with the New York Times that has produced some fresh insights into his thinking on a few domestic and foreign policy issues. He ruled out a vendetta against Hillary Clinton, thus setting to rest his own high-octane discourse about “jailing” her. Responding to the divisive agenda of his party’s extreme right-wing “alt-right”, he was a bit like Narendra Modi on the misdemeanours of his Hindutva right-wing followers. While Mr Trump simply said “I disavow the group”; he wouldn’t forthrightly condemn them. It may be too early to abandon bigots, as he may yet need them again.

On climate change and his threat to withdraw from the Paris agreement, when pressed by Thomas L. Friedman, the acclaimed columnist, he hedged and replied: “I have an open mind.” But later he went on to complain that US factories, whose number in the last two decades he said was 70,000, have shut down having become “non-competitive”. He repeated again that “I am going to take a look at it”. The detailed answer does not indicate he has abandoned opposition to the Paris agreement, though he did concede a link of human activity to climate change. On US interventions abroad, which flow from traditional US “exceptionalism”, he said going to Iraq was a mistake, as was getting out suddenly to which he attributes the birth of ISIS. As regards Syria he said he has a gameplan, which interestingly he shared with the New York Times off the record. Again significantly he hinted his Jewish son-in-law Jared Kushner may play a role as special envoy to West Asia. Israel will be breathing easy after eight years of coercive pressure by the Obama administration to moderate its actions in the occupied territories.

Mr Trump announced his decision to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a grouping of 12 nations, minus China, amounting to two-fifths of global GDP. This is both good and bad for India. Its demise means one more fence will not rise to India’s east. But it also would embolden China as it may take it as the beginning of the US retreat from the region. India has to weigh its future strategy carefully and occupy the space that is vacated to its best capability. The Indian demonetisation chaos could not have been unleashed at a worse time as the external environment will mutate rapidly as Mr Trump adopts bits and pieces of his new vision. India’s friends would also be confused by its self-inflicted distraction, as its space for manoeuvre is temporarily limited. The government has promised achche din. Testing times appear to be in store.

( Source : Columnist )
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