As the hubris settles on the most polarised Presidential election in US history, it is becoming increasingly clear that a Trump presidency will change the world forever. It will effectively mark a deathly blow to globalisation, to open markets and to a liberal and democratic, multi-cultural, tolerant global culture. A President without gravitas and with a mercurial temperament and a thin skin for criticism seems ill-equipped to handle the daily challenges of the Oval office. As President Obama recently diplomatically stated “the President-elect would need to reflect on some aspects of his temperament which may stand in the way over a successful presidency.
What are the implications for India? Trump believes that in order to make “America great again” it is time for America to disengage from the world and to stop being the global hegemon. This would imply that a fundamental pillar of the new American foreign policy would be one of Splendid Isolation, such as the one US followed at the beginning of the 20th century. This would encourage China’s territorial expansion in the South China Sea and encourage her ambition to become the pre-eminent power in Asia. It would undermine an important plank of the Indo-US Strategic Partnership which was also based on common concerns regarding the rise of China. This would be highly detrimental to our national security interests.
Early trends do not encourage the notion that Trump would be pragmatic and magnanimous in victory and would appoint a cabinet of competent and reasonable Republicans who would gloss over some of his more extravagant promises like building a wall on the Mexican border and walking away from the Climate Change Agreement and NAFTA. The 12-nations Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) has already been unceremoniously buried. Trump’s transition team includes four members of his family as well as corporate consultants and lobbyists with little knowledge of global challenges challenging US interests worldwide. Eye brows have already been raised at the presence of his daughter and son-in-law in his first meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister earlier this week in Trump Towers. His early appointments have reinforced fear that the ultra-conservative racial and religious propaganda that defined his campaign would become the defining agenda of his presidency and would herald a new era in American politics. He has appointed as Attorney General (AG) Jeff Sessions and as National Security Adviser (NSA) Michael Flynn. Sessions have been voted down in US Senate as a Federal Judge in 1980 because of his racist comments against African Americans. Flynn too has made a series of controversial comments throughout the campaign on Muslims, African Americans and Jews. This has recently been highlighted by CNN who probed Flynn’s twitter account.
Trump’s approach to India had been contradictory with much double speak. During the final presidential debate, he referred positively to India, its high growth rates and spoke of his business relationships here. On the other hand, he has bitterly complained about outsourcing and jobs being ‘shipped out’ to India including Call Centres, as well as misuse of H1B visas. Early in the campaign, he used a false Indian accent to mock Indian call centre workers. Steve Bannon, Trump’s ultra right wing strategist and Jeff Sessions holds strong views against immigration with Bannon arguing that there are too many Asian CEOs in Silicon Valley, California. Much would depend on his choice of Secretary of State. The knives are out regarding the possible appointment of South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, who is of Indian origin and whose parents hail from Punjab, India, as Secretary of State. One toxic comment from a US commentator demanded why Trump should appoint an Indian as Secretary of State, recommending that Haley, whose maiden name was Nimrata Randhawa and who was born a Sikh who converted to Christianity, should be deported as she is an immigrant who does not understand US history.
His statements on Pakistan have been ambiguous and ill informed. His victory has however aroused great misapprehension in Pakistan. Senator Sherry Rehman who is Vice President of the PPP and who has served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to the United States has warned “the Trump administration will count more on India as their first strategic pivot to Asia.” She continued “Trump’s embrace of hyper-nationalist governments matching his own brand of evolving conservatism will come more naturally to his administration than bonding with Pakistan often defined as a ‘frenemy’. She also warned that while “there may be no exits from strategically located Pakistan, banking on the long geopolitical front line is never smart policy for a relationship bogged down by distrust.” She concluded “Buckle up, Pakistan, it’s a rough road ahead.” It is however too early to predict whether his reservations against Pakistan would translate into a pro Indian policy based on strengthening the India-US Strategic Partnership. His threatened premature withdrawal from Afghanistan would also impact our national security.
What lies ahead? There are fears that Trump’s victory will boost populism worldwide and particularly in Europe where right wing parties are on the rise. Crucial elections are due in Italy and France. Brexit is already proving to be a major challenge to European unity. Is the EU going to collapse? Will NATO be significantly weakened? The French Ambassador to US, Gerard Araud said in a recently deleted tweet “after Brexit and this election, everything is now possible. The world is collapsing before our eyes.” The Brazilian Foreign Minister Jose Serra put it more frankly. “I consider the Trump hypothesis a nightmare. Do nightmares sometimes come true? They do, but I prefer not to think about it.” This sentiment possibly applies to a significant majority of the global population, including in India. Many would prefer not to think about inauguration day in January, 2017, when America’s “Nuclear Briefcase” will change hands. A new Commander-in-Chief will have his finger on the button to launch any or all of America’s 2000 strategic nuclear missiles. Perhaps it is better not to think about it.
(The author is a former Indian Ambassador and a strategic analyst the views expressed are personal)