G Parthasarathy

When the baton passes from Obama

G. Parthasarathy | Updated on January 15, 2018 Published on November 30, 2016

President-elect Donald Trump and US President Barack Obama.

India seems to be positive about a Trump presidency. But how the US will view the Af-Pak region remains to be seen

Never has the US seen a transfer of power in the White House as contentious as what we are now witnessing. Nor has the electorate been as polarised as it was during the Trump-Clinton election campaign. Many in small towns and rural America are now unfit for lucrative employment in an economically globalised world. Industrial production has moved from the US to distant lands such as China. Moreover, with the advent of business process outsourcing, American companies are increasingly getting planning, design and even accounting work done in India and elsewhere.

Basic insecurities

Donald Trump played on white voter insecurities, while Hillary Clinton appealed for African-American and Hispanic support, polarising the electorate further. If Hillary focused on Trump’s sexual misconduct and his paying no income tax for decades, Trump hit back with Clinton’s improprieties in office, of violating official secrecy norms and obtaining financial support from countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar for her family-run NGO, the Clinton Foundation.

The Russians obligingly hacked into sensitive websites, revealing embarrassing information about the inner workings of the Clinton election campaign. When Trump won the election amidst these raging controversies, despite Hillary Clinton getting two million more votes than him, demonstrations took place, with the media adopting blatantly partisan postures.

These manifestations of white racist violence and behaviour have led to anxiety and concern in the minds of many of the 4 million Indians living across the US, especially in Republican strongholds, across the south and midwest. The Indian community predominantly backed Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party, though two Republican governors of southern states are of Indian origin.

President-elect Donald Trump remains an enigma, personally averring that he disapproves of racial and sectarian violence. In an election meeting in New Jersey organised by a group called the Republican Hindu Coalition, Trump condemned the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai and the attack on the Indian parliament. He described the attack in Mumbai as “absolutely outrageous and terrible”. He vowed to strengthen diplomatic and military ties with India, while expressing admiration for the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Trump is contemplating drastic changes in US foreign and economic policies. He has been strongly critical of American military interventions in Iraq, Libya and Syria. Though a large number of anti-Semitic bigots backed him, Trump will deal with Israel with even greater care and consideration than President Barack Obama did. His own high-flying son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is an Orthodox Jew. Trump’s daughter converted to Judaism before she married Kushner. Breaking with the practices of his predecessors, Trump will insist that European NATO allies and Pacific partners such as Japan and South Korea spend more on their defence, thus reducing the American “burden”.

End of cold war?

Trump will put an end to the post-Cold War policy of “strategic containment” of Russia. He believes Putin’s Russia is a “natural ally” to fight “Islamic extremism”. Trump’s national security adviser designate, Lt General Michael T Flynn, has described Russia as a “natural ally” in confronting threats from “Radical Islam”. Progressive easing of sanctions against Russia for its actions in Ukraine and its takeover of the Crimean peninsula is likely.

This message regarding a new Russia-US relationship will shake both the NATO alliance and former Soviet republics ranging from Kazakhstan and Georgia, to Latvia and Lithuania. While Trump and Flynn have warned of tough action against Iran, they will face opposition from Russia and China, apart from NATO allies such as Germany and France.

It remains to be seen if the Iranians cool their anti-Israeli rhetoric. The Americans, Russians and Iranians will, however, find themselves on the same side in dealing with developments in Syria. It also remains to be seen how Trump will deal with the economic and strategic challenges that a growingly assertive and jingoistic China poses.

Apart from the comments that Trump made while addressing members of the Indian community during his election campaign, he and members of his family have fond memories of their business dealings in India. They met a group of Indian realty tycoons on November 11 at Trump Towers in New York. Trump reportedly expressed considerable happiness over the family projects in India, including the 800-foot tall, 75-storey tower in Mumbai, which is set to become the highest residential complex in the world. The 17.5-acre project being designed by Trump’s Companies is said to include residential apartments, hotels, retail malls and entertainment hubs. Trump companies are also involved in real estate development in Pune.

Friendly Modi

Prime Minister Narendra Modi recently told a dinner meeting hosted by Speaker Sumitra Mahajan that he looked forward to meeting Trump. South Block knows that dealing with Republican administrations in Washington is much easier than dealing with their preachy and prescriptive Democratic Party counterparts. Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar has, however, been circumspect about his meetings in New York with Trump’s senior advisers.

But, given the domestic agenda of the incoming administration, its proposed restrictions on outsourcing could cause problems for our IT exports and for American companies choosing to relocate some of their activities to India. With Trump focused on ‘Make in USA’, there is likely to be adverse impact on ‘Make in India’.

With Brexit under way in Europe, there will be similar sentiments spreading to other developed countries. Finally, we need to look at future trends in American visa policies.

After the military strike that took out Osama bin Laden, Trump has been stridently critical of Pakistan. Writing about the adverse impact that Trump’s election would have on relations with Pakistan, Sherry Rehman, who has been an astute ambassador for Pakistan in the US and now heads the Jinnah Foundation in Pakistan, has painted a gloomy picture about future prospects for US-Pakistan relations. She believes that under the Trump administration, the US will not withdraw anytime soon from Afghanistan, spelling continuing problems for Pakistan.

New Delhi would, however, be well advised not to get too self-satisfied with these developments. We are seeing the emergence of a Russia-China-Pakistan triangle in dealing with developments in Afghanistan.

How this will impact on American foreign policy in the Af-Pak Region, given Trump’s inclinations to shun foreign military adventures abroad and his aversion to Iran, remains to be seen.

The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan

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Published on November 30, 2016
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