Author : Manoj Joshi

Originally Published 2017-01-30 11:34:31 Published on Jan 30, 2017
Trump's bite as bad as his bark as hopes for a 'presidential' leader fall away

The full weight of Donald Trump's election as the President of the United States is now being felt.

Unlike his predecessors, he seems determined to walk the talk of his campaign.

Expectations that he would become more 'presidential' and moderate his views have been belied.


The flaws, both moral and practical, in his policies are also becoming apparent.

Take the decision to block Muslim travelers from Iraq and Iran. Now Iraq is the country that the US willfully devastated through a war, and now it is refusing to deal with its human consequences.

As for Iran, Mr Trump may not know it, that in the Islamic world there is probably no other country whose middle class is more pro-American than the Iranians.

And the irony is that the Saudis, who are responsible for funding terrorism all over the place and whose nationals allegedly carried out the horrific 9/11 attack are not on the Trump exclusion list.

Indeed, there is no record of American citizens being killed by nationals of Yemen, Syria, Somalia or Sudan either.

Another strange policy measure has been to remove the Director National Intelligence and the Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff from the National Security Council.

Instead, he has included his right-wing strategic adviser Stepen Bannon, a former media and financial executive, to the NSC.

The American NSC, as its name suggests, is the principal adviser to the President on foreign policy and security and its principal job is to coordinate the work of other departments.

The removal of two key staffers is bound to affect the institutional capacity of the body. More important, it will give freer rein to controversial NSA chief Mike Flynn.

The hapless travelers who have been blocked from the US, from their loved ones, families and jobs, have only one alternative - turn to the courts.

But it will not be plain sailing for other Trump policies, principally, his effort to upend the world trading order and bottle up China in the mainland.

Trade war

Recall, earlier this month, the US secretary of state designate Rex Tillerson declared that America would 'send China a clear signal that, first, the island building stops and, second, your access to those islands also is not going to be allowed.'

In effect, the US would blockade China from accessing the military bases they have constructed on Mischief Reef, Subi Reef and Fiery Cross island in the Spratlys chain.

The tribunal that heard the Philippines claim against China did not make any judgment on who owns the features. So any effort by the US to blockade China would constitute an act of war.

The Chinese have in the past couple of years strengthened their positions on the islands and built hangars and point air defence systems.

So far, the US policy had been to carry out Freedom of Navigation Operational Patrols. But last year, the US did privately warn China not to begin any reclamation or construction on Scarborough Shoal, an area which even the arbitral tribunal clearly said was within the Exclusive Economic Zone of the Philippines.

But the Obama policy was criticised for being ineffective. It remains to be seen what 'avatar' of Trump we will see in the region - the hawk or the deal maker.

The issue of trade, of course, is paramount in the relationship between the US and China and the world is bracing for a possible trade war which will damage not only the US and China but could have a wider fallout.

Rough ride

Companies in South-east Asia who are linked with the US and China through supply chains will also be affected.

A slow-down in Chinese exports would lead to a reduction in their import of raw materials from countries in South-east Asia, Australia and Africa.

Of course, any effort by the US to hike tariffs would be challenged by China in the WTO and it is possible that this could actually be resolved by a deal between the US and China.

But with Trump you never know.

In all this, India is a bit player. We will not be directly affected by the trade war, though we need to worry about pressure on IPR issues relating to pharmaceuticals, and of course, to business process outsourcing.

Notwithstanding the nice readout of the Trump phone conversation with Modi, we need to watch out because of the nature of the new administration which seems to believe that it alone has the answer to everything, and in any case, no one else has problems, only the United States.

If we are prepared to play the role of a supine partner it s okay, but if India wants to stand up to the US on issues that matter to it and pursue its own national interest, we should be prepared for a rough ride.

So far, India and the US had steadily developed a congruence of interests in a range of areas, today, all bets are off.

This commentary was first published in the Daily Mail.

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Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi

Manoj Joshi is a Distinguished Fellow at the ORF. He has been a journalist specialising on national and international politics and is a commentator and ...

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