Don’t expect miracles from President Trump

17 November 2016 Rakesh Krishnan Simha
Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential elections does not necessarily translate into closer US ties with Russia and India. In fact, the old guard that took the US into Iraq may well ride his luck.
presidential candidate Donald Trump
Trump’s world view is a lot broader than the professional politician’s. Source:AP

Donald Trump’s victory in the US Presidential elections may have stopped Hillary Clinton's march towards WW III, but a lot of his campaign promises don’t look doable. Trump says he wants to be best friends forever with Russia, “stand shoulder to shoulder” with India, end America’s senseless wars, and “Make America Great Again”.

If you believe an American President could achieve all that, here’s a reality check: Trump’s go-to expert on foreign security is John Bolton. The pro-war and anti-Russia hawk was one of the ringleaders of the invasion of Iraq and believes the way to prevent nuclear war is to start nuclear war.

Clearly, the more things change in Washington, DC, the more they remain the same.

However, let’s not rain on Trump’s parade. As far as Indians and Russians are concerned, he is the best President the US could have. During the elections, he got many Indians excited with these words: “We love the Hindus, we love India.”

Trump said, “The Indian and Hindu community will have a true friend in the White House, that I can guarantee you. When I’m President we’ll stand shoulder to shoulder with India, sharing intelligence and keeping our people safe.”

He added: “Under a Trump administration, we are going to be even better friends. In fact, I'll take the word 'even' out as we are going to be best friends....I look forward to working with Prime Minister Modi who is very energetic in reforming India's bureaucracy."

During the election campaign, Trump hit the right spot (as far as Indians are concerned) when he said: “Pakistan is the most dangerous country because it has nuclear weapons.”

Unlike North Korea, he believes, Islamabad has some semblance of sanity but it “could go rogue”. His solution: “We need to get India involved. India is the check on Pakistan. They have their own nukes, they have a very powerful army, they seem to be the real check.”

Asked if the US would go after Pakistan’s nukes like President Barack Obama went after Osama bin Laden, Trump said, “You want some guesswork for the enemy… I don’t want to broadcast my intentions.” In essence his idea is that if the Pakistanis go rogue, he doesn’t want them to know “what my thought process is”.

Trump had used much stronger words in 2012 to describe Pakistan: “These are not friends of ours. These are people who are totally into themselves. And probably some pretty bad people and some enemies.”

Pakistan in panic mode

There is considerable anxiety in Pakistan after the Trump victory. Leading Pakistani journalist Najam Sethi believes a Trump presidency will be a “disaster for Pakistan”. He said, “The Trump card will be anti-Pakistan, not pro-Pakistan. Trump is not like the old Republicans. He is saying that if you don't cooperate with us in Afghanistan, we’ll make life difficult for you.”

US needs its satellite

President Trump, however, will be a lot different from Candidate Trump. In fact, he had declared during the elections that although Pakistan was a problem country it was nevertheless a “really vital country for us”. Pakistan’s vital importance to the US stems from its location in a geological sweet spot. It is close to Iran and the Middle East and also provides the cheapest supply route to American troops in Afghanistan. The US is critically dependent on this lifeline.

The other key reason why the US won’t throw Pakistan under the bus is that Islamabad has a few old Cold Warriors backing it in the Pentagon, State Department (the US foreign ministry) and the numerous think tanks that populate the DC swamp. Much as Trump would like to drain it, he cannot because these are the places from where he will draw his so-called Dream Team. The US political and military leadership will not allow Pakistan to collapse as a nation because of fears that a disintegrating Pakistan might turn out to be a nuclear nightmare.

There is a third reason, which stems from American academia and the US liberal elites, who view India as a long-term rival. They are spooked by the incredible pace of industrial growth in India and the numerous digital start-ups that are an indication of innovation finally exploding in the country. With its young population – 800 million Indians are under the age of 35 – India is uniquely placed to be the world’s leading economy in the coming decades. This could result in a reversal of the brain drain that has happened over the past 50 years when Indian scientists and doctors migrated to the West.

If you are a DC-based general or diplomat, India’s rise is a huge threat to American dominance. So a Pakistan that keeps India weighed down in a fratricidal South Asian conflict is squarely in America’s interests. Let’s not sidestep the historical picture – Pakistan was created by Britain (America’s older evil sister, former mentor and current consulting partner) with a view to stymie India’s great power destiny.

At any rate, before Trump became a household name in India, ties with the US were already on the upswing. India conducts more military exercises with the US than with any other country and in the last 10 years the Indian armed forces have purchased $14 billion worth of American weapons – an indication of the strategic nature of ties.

Russian roulette

Trump’s love affair with Russia and Putin is nothing less than a political earthquake for the Washington neocons. Throughout the 2016 campaign Trump took flak from his own party establishment for his pro-Russia stance, but he didn’t equivocate. He said: “And I would get along with Russia, and I’ll get along with Putin, and he’s not going to make us look bad anymore. But we’re going to get along!”

He described NATO as “obsolete” and declared that the Russians and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad should deal with the terrorists in Syria. This has so seriously unsettled the American elites that there is bipartisan criticism of his foreign policy. This is due to the fact that the US establishment is not interested in peace. Like a druggie constantly seeking their next fix, the US economy is now addicted to war. It is now a war economy that needs to generate new conflicts in order to keep the war factories ticking along.

The US economy will therefore grind to a halt if the numerous conflicts worldwide wind down. If Trump attempts to settle Syria and Ukraine with Putin, and creates buffers between the US and Russia, his Republican colleagues, the media and the Democrats will gang up on him.

Plus, if his cabinet is stuffed with the same ‘swamp’ people whom he railed against during the election, then a Trump administration would be no different from the current one, which promised change but just did more of the same.

Bolton, for instance, holds an interventionist worldview that is opposed to Trump’s. He carps about the Russian military’s strikes on US-backed terrorists in Syria: “Washington must not do anything perceived as legitimising Moscow’s new Latakia air base, or the presence of Russian aircraft and cruise missiles in the skies over the region. The suggestion that we exchange de-confliction codes with Russia is what the French call a fausse bonne idee, a superficially appealing bad idea.”

Being a highly successful businessman, Trump’s world view is a lot broader than the professional politician’s. Unlike many others, he doesn’t owe anybody his fortune. He is freer than the President he replaces, but his freedom to steer American foreign policy is extremely limited because, in the US, a change of guard in the White House does not necessarily translate into changes in American foreign policy.

His overtures towards Moscow and New Delhi (and his admiration of Narendra Modi and Vladimir Putin) may be genuine, but nations operate on the basis of self-interest rather than personal likes and dislikes.

Trump – as well as Indians and Russians – will soon find out.

The opinion of the writer does not necessarily reflect the position of RIR.

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