Since billionaire businessman Donald Trump got elected as the 46th President of the United States, defying the predictions of most political pandits, he has been stressing through his speeches and tweets his twin goals: America First and to Make America Great Again. No sane person can have any rational objection to his much hyped objectives as most of the Heads of State or governments world over pursue similar ambitions for their respective countries — even if they don’t shout about them from the roof tops. Isn’t it India First for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and China First for the Chinese President Xi Jinping? And don’t both want to make India and China great respectively?
Isn’t there enough in this world for all countries to grow with mutual understanding, accommodation, give-and-take and cooperation? India’s age old motto — Vasudhaiv Kutumbkam — can still show the right path. Mr Modi’s tag line — Sabka Saath, Sabka Vikas, Chalein Saath Saath — can be a practical and productive approach to the conduct of foreign relations.
Having run a business empire, Mr Trump looks at foreign relations as well as some sort of system of business transactions which should result in profits for the US. That partially explains his keenness — bordering on an obsession — to have a surplus in trade with all trading partners. But he doesn’t care to address a simple query: If all countries, at all times, strive to have a surplus in trade with all the trading nations, what would happen to international trade?
The US President seems to have taken the Nobel Laureate economist Milton Friedman’s pithy truism — “There is no such thing as a free lunch” — to heart. So if the friends, neighbours and allies of the US want something from America, they should be prepared to pay for it. Apparently, with Mr Trump in the White House, the time for freebies is over! Therefore, he forces America’s neighbours, Mexico and Canada, to junk Nafta and succeeds in negotiating a new agreement which he believes is in America’s favour.
He demands that America’s Nato allies contribute more for their security, the biggest burden for which has been borne by the US for decades. And his message to friends like Japan, South Korea and for EU members is loud and clear: Open up your markets for American products and lower import duties or be prepared for punitive tariffs from the US. In light of such treatment of close friends and allies, India shouldn’t feel too bad if she is called the “tariff king”. As for the tariff war between the US and China, it isn’t only about trade — it represents brazen attempts by the US, a superpower in decline, to delay, stall and contain the growing global political, economic and military clout of China, which is tipped to replace it. By strident weaponisation of economic instruments, Mr Trump is forcing friends and allies to fall in line and not to take the US for granted and prolong her domination in the world for the foreseeable future. While Mr Trump might be claiming that his tariff threats are working and America is becoming great again, a close and objective scrutiny suggests otherwise. His policies are causing economic disruptions in the global economy, which are bound to impact the US economy adversely in the long run. It’s a pity that the Mecca of capitalism and globalisation under its businessman captain is turning inward and protectionist and eroding the role of the World Trade Organisation (WTO).
Overturning the domestic and international decisions of Barack Obama, who once said that Mr Trump was unfit to be the President, seems to give the latter immense pleasure. Undoing Mr Obama’s painstakingly negotiated and game changing agreements with Cuba and Iran are obvious examples of this antipathy. While other signatories to the Iran nuclear deal and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) felt that Iran hadn’t violated the terms of the agreement, egged on by hawks like John Bolton and the excessive influence of Israel, Mr Trump went ahead with increasing the sanctions on Iran and recent developments (Iran breaching the stockpile of low-grade uranium and the US not ruling out a strike against Iran) are threatening to plunge the entire the Gulf region into a serious crisis with unforeseen consequences for the region and beyond.
Leaders in the US feel proud of its exceptionalism, its democracy, rule of law, respect for human rights and its multi-racial, multi-ethnic and pluralistic society, offering unmatched opportunities for excellence — its innovations, resulting in making people’s dreams come true, have inspired millions of people around the world. But one wonders if that exceptionalism doesn’t get eroded when the President of this nation built by immigrants shuts down its shutters to immigrants from some countries, declares a national emergency to erect a wall against its neighbour, claims to be in love with the despotic ruler of a country where there isn’t an iota of democracy, human rights or freedom of the press and which has been indulging in nuclear trade for years and befriends a Crown Prince who is alleged to have got a dissident and journalist assassinated in his country’s consulate. He claims to be making efforts to find a solution to the vexed Israeli-Palestinian problem but so brazenly sides with Israel: Mr Trump shifted the American embassy to Jerusalem, a move opposed by over 190 countries, and acquiesced to the annexation of a part of the Golan heights and it’s naming as Trump Heights by Israel. He expects China and all other nations to abide by international laws but applies CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act) extraterritoriality, insisting on other countries not to buy oil from Iran and the S-400 system from Russia. Instead of unifying and uniting nations and promoting world peace, he has been pursuing divisive policies which lead to polarisation in the US and nudges countries to take sides in America’s tension-filled relations with China, Russia and Iran.
Besides North Korea and Iran, which he once threatened to destroy, leaders of Mexico, Canada, Australia and the European allies have been victims of Trump’s vicious tongue-lashing. His personal relationship with the current President of France, Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former British Prime Minister Theresa May can best be described as frosty. There were many anti-Trump demonstrations in London when the US President paid a state visit to the UK recently. But the most damning comments about Mr Trump which might be shared by many in the US and abroad in private, have come from the British ambassador to the US Sir Kim Darroch in his confidential telegrams to the foreign office in London in which he has described the White House as “dysfunctional” and “diplomatically clumsy” and had termed Mr Trump as “inept, insecure and incompetent”! But as a hard nosed diplomat, he also advised that Mr Trump shouldn’t be “written off”. Sir Kim’s comments shouldn’t surprise many observers — while serving as the secretary of state, Rex Wayne Tillerson is alleged to have called the President a “moron” at a meeting at the White House. Mr Trump, whose over three dozen senior aides have been sacked or have resigned so far, has been having a running battle with CNN and the New York Times — he calls them “fake news” and now accuses multinational corporations like Google, Facebook and WhatsApp of indulging in an anti-Trump campaign. Obviously, he has not been a unifying force in the US or abroad.
While Mr Trump’s bold initiative for lowering tensions with North Korea deserves appreciation, it’s doubtful if Kim Jong-un will ever give up his nuclear weapons. The respectful courting of Mr Kim paradoxically encourages Iran and other countries to acquire nuclear toys by hook or crook. Both Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi must have been envious of the North Korean strongman. Had they got half of the nuclear weapons Mr Kim has, they would have met a different end.
Even his detractors admit that Mr Trump is a lucky guy — the US economy is doing reasonably well and the 3.3 per cent unemployment is the lowest in recent years.
Though his overall popularity is not very high, with the solid support of his conservative, right-wing and supranationalist constituencies, he hopes to get elected for a second term. Many believe his gamble with North Korea and the Salute America Parade in Washington on July 4 (America’s Independence Day) are also aimed at brightening his electoral prospects. In his speech on July 4, he talked of one country, one people and one dream and one destiny, though his decisions during his presidency don’t necessarily convey those noble sentiments.
As a businessman at heart, Mr Trump believes in raising the stakes and uses all kinds of pressure to break his opponents. His foreign policy is characterised by bullying and brinkmanship, which causes tension and instability. As the President of the most powerful nation, he should stand for those American ideals and values that instil inspiration.
Former Professor of Chicago University Ralph Nicolas feels Mr Trump is an irrepressible narcissist. He unabashedly calls himself a stable genius, though last year some American academics and psychoanalysts felt his mental stability ought to be checked.
Whether one likes it or not, Trump has proved that even into a decline, the US has enough economic and military means to dictate to the world. And in the near future, there is no option but to live with the unpredictable actions of the mercurial President of the US....