Will Trump escape impeachment challenge?

By Shankar Kumar

In over two century old history of the American presidential system, there have been occasions when even a mighty head of state was not spared from facing public humiliations and censure. Fall of Richard M Nixon in the 1970s under the weight of the Watergate scandal is not something students of American politics will forget easily, President Andrew Jackson was also pilloried by his critics who used to call him as “profane,” “unprincipled demagogue” with no “respect” for the Constitution or the rule of law, yet none equalled to President Donald Trump who uses power as a tool to abuse values enshrined in the American system and brandish his arrogance, no matter how it is hitting hard on the idea of America as a nation.

Democrats have alleged that Trump abused his power by pressurizing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation against Joe Biden, a potential Democratic Party nominee for the 2020 presidential election in the US. There is a political strand to the probe against President Trump: Democrats want to know whether Trump indeed played a role in temporarily withholding $391 million in US military assistance to Ukraine in order to pressure the country into investigating whether former US Vice President Joe Biden’s son Hunter Biden had joined the board of Burisma Holdings, an energy company based in Ukraine in 2014.

It is said that after Russia-led by President Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine in 2014 and annexed Crimea, the US under the Barack Obama administration imposed sanctions on Moscow and also provided “non-lethal aid” to Ukrainian forces in their battle with Russia. At that time Joe Biden was working as a point man for the Obama administration in Ukraine. Democrats feel if Trump is found guilty of abusing his power, he would be impeached. And all this is happening at the time when the political campaign for the 2020 presidential election in the US has started. But any move for impeachment is fraught with time consuming probe and veracity of every lead provided by each witness to the incident. However, people in general are in favour of impeachment enquiry against President Trump.

Within the Republican Party, crack has started appearing with some openly supporting impeachment of Trump and some against. Mitt Romney, a Republican Senator from Utah has hinted it clearly that he may be open to impeaching Trump, giving the US President a considerable shock.  “Republicans have to get tougher and fight,” Trump said while speaking to reporters on October 21. It reflected his exasperation over the way the Democratic Party is making a steadfast move to strangulate his chance to contest the presidential election again.

Aside Ukraine tango, there is unhappiness across the US’ political spectrum over his handling of internal administration and external policies as well. In fact, his incoherent foreign policy approach is at its peak as he announced withdrawal of troops from Syria and bringing them back to the US. But, instead of doing so, he has signaled relocating US troops from Syria to Iraq and sending some of them to Saudi Arabia which is facing tension with Iran. What could be more humiliating for the Trump administration than seeing Turkish forces’ invasion of northern Syria, dwelled largely by Kurds, soon after US troops’ withdrawal from the area. This has led to development of scary situation in this part of Syria with ISIS, which had to flee following the US’ sustained anti-terrorist campaign, planning to regain control of the area it lost to Syria during the fight.

Similar approach is being made by President Trump in Afghanistan where it has begun drawing up plans for an abrupt withdrawal of US troops to shore up his political points back at home. Though no official direction has been issued to the US’ Afghanistan-based military commander for immediate withdrawal of troops from the war-torn country, but dress rehearsal, it seems, has started. Air is thick with buzz that President Trump may surprise international community by suddenly announcing withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan, the manner he did with Syria.

However, Lt Colonel Thomas Campbell, a Department of Defence spokesperson denied that the US is drawing down troops in Afghanistan. “The Defence Department doesn’t have orders to draw down troops in Afghanistan and our mission has not changed,” Lt Colonel Campbell was quoted by NBC News as saying. Despite such claims, there is a widespread concern that as the 2020 campaign draws closer and peace talks with the Taliban have failed, President Trump may not think twice before ordering withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. By the end of 2019, as per various reports, the US plans to draw down its forces from the war-ravaged country. If it happens, South Asia being already hit hard by Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, may turn into a den of jihadi elements, creating headache for peace loving countries like India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

In the Middle-East, tensions between the US and Iran know no declining. Since withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal, relationship between the two countries has reached boiling point with President Trump threatening to obliterate and do dastardly things to Iran. Already the US has imposed economic sanctions, forcing countries like India to stop imports of oil from Iran. Instead of helping the region by bringing down tempers there, the US is increasing the tension with Iran by accusing it behind American-linked oil tanker attack in the Gulf of Oman in June and missile attacks on oil installations in Saudi Arabia in September.

In the face of despicable flip-flop on the external front and bringing chaos on the administrative front in the US, Trump’s popularity rate has not come down sharply. According to October first week nationwide survey by CNBC, majority of Americans are opposed to impeachment of the incumbent occupant of the White House. As many as 47 per cent opposed impeachment hearings, while 44 per cent approved, indicating clearly that Trump’s approval rating will not be impacted by the ongoing impeachment proceedings.