Cover Story: Trauma for Trump

By Asit Manohar, Mridu Kumari

In the wake of weak leadership in the US, would Russia trump America in global polity

Donald Trump took oath to the White House with a vow to implement his ‘America Fist’ policy that feared many immigrants who were working in the US on professional Visa. With this idea scholars believed that new US President wanted the whole world to his mercy. However, things have changed drastically in the last two months of his presidency. Trump has tried to stop immigrants of seven Muslim nations which backfired for both US and the US President. Trump even tried unsuccessfully to interfere into the Obamacare matter. Trump also failed while addressing the Homeland Security matter. So, these fiascos have given birth to murmurs about a weak US president that Donald Trump is turning out — creating trauma for both Trump and the global political establishment in coming days.


Realizing the importance of the particular momentum, one can assume that hundreds of country representatives rushed to write reports and policy recommendations on President Donald J Trump’s America First Policy. Each report and policy advice created will try very hard to dissect and analyze the policy implication that may impact on their respective country’s dynamics with the United States. Many observers have mentioned President Trump much more nationalistic and populist policy trajectory, intended to secure US interests first. In Trump’s own word, “From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first, America first”, a notion that America will now not be hiding to declare publicly that it will put its interest first, a rather different approach from the past administration’s international cooperation and global interest goals. However, his decision to stop some of the Muslim nationalists has backfired.

Trump even succumbed when New Delhi protested against his stance over the H1B1visa. Trump created nightmare for the Chinese when he took a stance over the balance of trade between US and Chinese which was tilted towards China by $243 billion. The US president planned to levy heavy tax on the Chinese imports that could have triggered rise in prices of Chinese products, especially apparels, electronic goods and other products. However, he us still undecided over its implementation as Beijing raised its eyebrows over this US plan during the visit of US secretary of state Rex Tillerson to China.

It is far from clear yet what “America first” mean in practice, but Trump’s work in two months suggest that a Trump administration would build up US nuclear and conventional forces significantly, but would be less prepared to use them to shore up other countries’ defenses, or help bolster shaky governments and societies overseas.


The 45th US President pledged to “reinforce old alliances” but at the same time made it clear his administration would be less willing than its predecessors to underwrite the west’s collective security.

While transition officials have been assuring US allies that American support would be undiminished despite the new president’s repeatedly voiced skepticism about Nato’s purpose and insistence that the country’s friends should pay more for their defense or risk forfeiting US protection, Trump made it clear that the “America first” approach would be central to his foreign and security policy, in place of the multilateralism that was the hallmark of the Obama White House.

His repeated failures have put confusion among the oldest allies and some of them have started to re-address their blind faith on the US leadership. Countries like Australia, New Zealand, South Africa have already started to questions over the ability of Donald Trump to provide leadership to the global politics which is meant from each and every US President.

Even India is looking non-committal over Trump. New Delhi has been closely watching Washington and its policy on Afghanistan, South China Sea and terrorism. Indian Prime Minister had been vocal about the US role expected in the AfPak region. Tump’s predecessor Barak Obama had addressed this immediately after taking over as the US president in both of his terms into the White House but Trump is yet to decide his policy on Afghanistan. However, if reports are to be believed, American forces are leaving Afghanistan in a calibrated manner and in few years, it may happen that there would be no American forces safeguarding the Afghanistan borders from terror aggression.


Donald Trump often vows that the days of American adventurism in the Middle East are over. During his presidential campaign, he excoriated Hillary Clinton for her role in the NATO-led 2011 military action in Libya. And frankly, a principled skeptic of American interventionism could have squinted and discerned some good ideas.

But this posturing about a new day in the Middle East was just an elaborate con, like most everything else that came out of Trump’s mouth during this campaign. Team Trump is about to make an already troubled region so much worse.

As the US Ambassador to Israel, President Trump has put forward Dan Friedman, an apologist for the Israeli colonization project in the West Bank and someone who is about as neutral on that conflict as helicopter parents are at their kid’s soccer games. Trump has appointed his deputy secretary of state John Bolton, who is known as Iraq War architect— an unreconstructed neocon who was sloppily recommending a bombing campaign against Iran in April 2015 even as the P5+1 negotiation were nearing their successful completion. John Bolton does not want to be less involved militarily in the Middle East. Choosing this man to serve in your State Department is like swiping right on War Tinder.

Then there’s Trump’s preposterous nomination of ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state, which clearly indicates that regional issues will be approached (as they almost always have been) through the lens of energy security, and that pre-Obama levels of total obeisance to the Gulf petro states will be restored in full

But perhaps the most worrisome appointment is professional paranoiac Michael Flynn as national security adviser. This is the kind of person who has Flynn’s ear about Middle East politics. Despite some disagreements, this crowd generally believes that Obama’s Middle East policy has been a squishy disaster. The More Cauldrons Faster Please doctrine’s first victims are likely to be civilians in Syria, who will continue to die in droves as Bashar al-Assad uses Russian military power to finish off the opposition and obliterate ISIS, and as Trump orders our own military to bomb more indiscriminately.

Under Trump, a renewed confrontation with Iran is more likely than not. Bolton is clearly still enthralled by the idea of “regime change” that has brought almost 14 years (and counting) of ruin to Iraq and its neighbors. Designated Deputy National Security Adviser KT McFarland has a long public record of hostility to the nuclear deal. Tillerson might favor engagement, but if Trump, as promised, vengefully pulls the U.S. out of the 2015 agreement, Iran may move quickly toward a nuclear breakout. The idea that the incoming crew has the nimble touch required to reconstruct the global sanctions regime is laughable. Our European partners are busy trying to stop the continent from self-destructing, and no one is going to be eager to work with us if we scrap a painstakingly negotiated agreement for no particular reason.


In the fast track mode in which geo-strategic situation of the Asia-Pacific region has gone ever since Donald Trump has become the US President, one thing is clear: China would avoid saber rattling with America on trade and the South China Sea issue for the time being, but would wait and watch on America’s move on Taiwan. This was clear during Trump team’s first interaction with Chinese leadership. But then while US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, in the course of his first ever visit to China, struck a conciliatory tone in his talks with Chinese leaders, including President Xi Jinping, yet bonhomie between the two sides were missing. In South Korea, during the second leg of his Asia tour, the US Secretary of State revealed his cards regarding American plan in the area when in response to North Korea’s threat of launching missiles against America, South Korea and Japan, he said, “all options are on the table,” to meet challenges. This touched raw nerves in Beijing. China which has reluctantly agreed to the UN Security Council imposed sanctions against North Korea, knows it well that if the US resorts to pre-emptive military strikes against Pyongyang, it would lead to development of hell in its neighbourhood.

Beijing fears that the fall of the Kim regime would send waves of refugees into northeastern China, besides South Korean and American forces taking up positions along its border. Amidst this development, National Security Adviser Ajit Doval undertook his second visit to the US since January this year. It was considered as a significant trip which allowed him to meet his US counterpart HR McMaster, Secretary of Homeland Security, General (Retd) John Kelley and Defense Secretary James Mattis in Washington.

Even though US officials described these meetings as part of a “continuing engagement,” they were more than that meet the eye. They were with regard to security in the South Asian region and China’s activity in Afghanistan. It should be noted that with the Trump administration not as serious as it should be in bridging the gap existing on the security issue in the region, China, to the disappointment of India, has begun to move itself to fill the gap. China has opted to initiate talks with the Taliban in order to win over their side.  Pakistan is helping China in this endeavor.


But with India and Afghanistan constantly reminding the Trump administration over fallout of planned withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, China feels it should continue with its aim to bolster hold in the area. In the pursuance of this objective, China is going overboard to defend Pakistan on the terrorism issue. Beijing vetoed America’s first ever resolution in the UN Security Council on Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Azhar Masood. Whether on-going China-Pakistan game plan in the South Asian region was discussed during Doval’s recent visit to the US or not, the Indian NSA’s visit was marked with building of several bridges on the strategic front.  There is fear among India’s strategic community members that Trump with his insular vision may not inject energy to the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) which the two sides signed a few months ago. The LEMOA envisaged militaries of both sides for the use of each other’s assets and bases for repair and replenishment of supplies.

It is believed that the NSA would have broached the issue with American leaders in no uncertain terms. With America having trust deficit with China and Russia, India is only country which carries no negative baggage against America. Perhaps, this is the reason Donald Trump does not find any problem in establishing a rapport with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Since his swearing ceremony in January, Trump has made two calls to Prime Minister Modi, indicating former’s attempt to develop the same chemistry between them that Obama had with Modi. If media reports are to be believed, Doval emphasized on the need to build significant defense cooperation. The NSA went on to speak about issues such as maritime terror, regional security and counter-terrorism. “India and the US will have to play a bigger role to combat terror,” Doval is said to have told his American counterpart. There are serious security concerns in the Indian region and cooperation with the US would go a long way in eradicating these issues,” Doval also pointed out. He also emphasized on the problem emerging out Pakistan and how India has been a victim of state-sponsored terrorism.

Issues such as homeland security, radicalization and cooperation in border controls were also discussed. There was emphasis laid on the need to cooperate at a higher level where cyber security is concerned. The NSA, during all his foreign visits, has spoken about the need to enhance cooperation on the cyber space. “The cyber space poses a major risk whether it is cases of frauds, hacking or recruitments online,” Doval pointed out. During one of the meetings, the US was keen on understanding New Delhi’s views on the Afghanistan region. Questions about risks being posed by other nations in the region too were asked by the officials in the Donald Trump administration. While Pakistan was not discussed in particular, terrorism in the context of religion was discussed at length. In all, however, two distinct meetings, one between US Secretary of State with Chinese leadership and another one between Indian NSA Doval and American authorities-present two aspect of the Trump administration’s dealings with Asian powers. While with China, the US’ prickly relations would be far from over, India would be like a northern star in the clear sky for Americans and they will love to watch it because it suits their objective and purposes. Despite this, symbols and substance are missing between the two sides. While top two Indian officials (Foreign Secretary Jaishankar and NSA Doval) have already made trips to Washington since the new administration has been inaugurated in America, no senior official from the US has landed in New Delhi although nearly three months have passed Trump  has occupied the White House.  Instead, US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson chose to make Asia tour minus India recently.


In the wake of weak US president, there are chances of countries trying to compete with the US may take advantage of this global scenario in geo-political set up. Now question arises, which country can take advantage of this sloppy global polity. Countries like Russia, Britain, France, Germany, China are the countries that can trump US global leadership. However, when we look at the recent Brexit and its aftermath, a European nation can help a nation to take advantage of this leadership crisis in the US but they can’t take advantage of this scenario as these nations are already under the grip of terror and Brexit brawl. These are enough to keep they away from the global politics, except when it becomes necessary for them to take a stand. Otherwise they would remain away from such developments. So, we are left with Russia and China. Since, China has better financial condition and has been a nagging nation for the US, one can presume that China can be a threat to Donakld Trump’s US. However, sound financial condition is not enough to acquire global leadership. One needs tech advancement, military and defense might which Russia has. Apart from this, Russia has series of leaders who can guide their government to take proper course. Last but not the least; Russia is a democratic country while China is a communist nation. Hence, Russia is better equipped to take advantage of this weak US leadership at the global platform. Russia can align strong nations like Japan, France, Germany, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa while it would be difficult for the Chinese government to win alliance of these nations.

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