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Reality check for Trump

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Shahid M Amin

THE election of Donald Trump as President is a landmark in US history, though probably for the wrong reasons. It seems that the American people are more divided today than at any time since the traumatic Civil War of 1861-1865. The election campaign between the two candidates — Trump and Hillary — was bitter and abrasive. Hillary was expected to win and actually secured almost three million more votes than Trump (65.8 million for Hillary vrs 62.9 million Trump), but the latter won through the vagaries of the Electoral College. On January 20, 2017, when Trump took the oath of office, there were hundreds of thousands protesting against him in the streets of Washington DC and elsewhere in USA and in several other countries. Such massive protests against a new President are unprecedented in US history and it remains to be seen as to how long such protests will continue, with what effect.Trump’s speech after inauguration was a summary of views he had expressed during the Presidential campaign. It was a populist speech, seeking to please his audience by big promises but without explaining as to how those promises would be fulfilled. The emphasis of the speech was on “America first.” This suggested a return to pre-Second World War philosophy of isolation from rest of the world. However, when the ruthless totalitarian regimes in Germany, Italy and Japan embarked on aggressive policies to dominate the world, leading to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the US realized that isolation did not ensure its security and the policy of insular America was abandoned.Trump has now revived a kind of neo-isolationism. He has been critical of NATO which has long been considered as the bulwark of US security and the main platform for its grand alliance with Europe. He complains that the US has had to bear the main burden in NATO while other members have failed to make adequate contribution. Trump has described NATO as “obsolete.” He has made deprecating comments about EU and even applauded Brexit, the British decision to quit EU. He has said that he doesn’t care whether the EU remains united: he thinks more countries will follow Britain’s lead. He has also described EU as a group set up to compete with the USA. On the other hand, he said in his inauguration speech, “We will reinforce old alliances and form new ones.”While creating serious apprehensions in Europe about the future of its long-standing alliance with USA, Trump also touched a raw nerve by praising Russia, which Europe continues to see as the main adversary. Europe has serious differences on Russian policies in Ukraine and the annexation of Crimea. The supply of Russian gas to Europe has been contentious. The assertiveness of Russia under Putin is the underlying cause of Europe’s worries about Russian intentions, reviving bad historical memories. Russia is uncomfortable with the eastward expansion of NATO and EU, particularly in the Baltic Republics, which were part of Soviet Union till its break-up. Against this background, Europe is anxious about Trump’s comments, including his latest interview on January 16 with two leading European newspapers that seems to suggest a major shift in US policy towards Europe. The net beneficiary of such a shift would be Russia which could browbeat a Europe that does not have US protection. It is possible that as Trump receives more detailed briefing from experts and advisers, he will modify his views. An old maxim in international relations is that governments come and go but national interests are permanent. The US alliance with Europe has stood the test of time for nearly seventy years. As for Trump’s desire for befriending Moscow, even newly appointed Ministers in his administration have expressed concerns about Russia and Putin, quite apart from “the establishment” that Trump dislikes. In his inauguration speech, Trump stated that “we will unite the civilised world against radical Islamic extremism, which we will eradicate from the face of the world.” He did not explain how this would be done, or what he means by “civilised world”. Muslims around the world would welcome the eradication of Islamic extremism that has tarnished the fair name of Islam and hurt the image of Muslims everywhere. Interestingly, Trump did not mention any kind of ban on entry of Muslims in USA or placing stringent security checks against them. Trump also stated that for many decades, the USA had “subsidized the armies of other countries and defended other nations’ borders”. If his reference inter alia is to Pakistan, then Trump is clearly unmindful of Pakistan’s role during the war against Soviet military occupation of Afghanistan and the war against terror since 9/11. The US has been reimbursing Pakistan for military operations against terrorists, but not for loss of lives, economic costs and its destabilization due to involvement in two wars in Afghanistan in support of USA.
Had US troops been used in such operations against terrorists, the financial cost would have been a hundred times more.
No mention of the Mexican wall was made by Trump in his inauguration speech. If he does carry out what he promised, it would be a huge undertaking. It is highly doubtful if Mexico would be willing to foot the bill. But more important than money is the uncalled for disturbing of relations with a friendly neighbor. Similarly, Trump has been critical of China, accusing it of trade malpractices and ‘stealing’ American jobs and businesses. But China is the fast rising power whose economy is already bigger than that of USA. If Trump takes a tough stance towards China, that would have global repercussions. He is already causing deep concern in Beijing by threatening to go back on the one-China policy followed by US administrations ever since Nixon. How will US national interests gain by opening such new fronts? At home, Trump has promised to lower taxes but this will mean reduction of government revenues, with the rich getting richer. He has vowed to end Obamacare but the result will be that millions in the poorer sections of society will lose their present advantages. That is hardly a recipe for popularity. On sober reflection, Trump will probably have to change some of his ideas.

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