The fears expressed very soon after Donald Trump was sworn in as the 45th US President is gradually coming to pass. It was hard to imagine the degree of nationalist, almost tribal, and populist mood and mentality prevailing in the US, and articulated through Trump's “America First” policy, until the US election results were announced. If there is any comfort for the liberals in America, and most of the world, Trump was three million votes in arrears in popular votes. But that is no impediment to Trump's implementing his isolationist and exclusivist policies which commenced almost immediately after he was sworn in, with banning of six Muslim countries from entry into his country, although that was a considerable climb-down from the position he took during his campaign when he said he wanted people from all Muslim countries to be banned from entering the US.
Alarming too are Trump's statements and speeches, particularly at the UNGA last September, which signal a reversion to the Cold War era, wherein he not only describes some countries, that won't bow to his diktats, as “rogue states” but also tries to intimidate them with the threat of military force, like he does Iran, and goes so far as to threaten North Korea with complete destruction because the country has chosen a sovereign defence strategy for its self-preservation, all the while telling that he respected the sovereignty of all countries.
For the US, its threats have been redefined. Islamic Extremism or terrorism is no longer US' main concern, Russia and China are, in equal measure. And now that Trump has lumped Russia and China together and singled them out directly, a departure from his predecessor, as the main threat to US interest, the world should be prepared to see renewed jockeying for strategic space and influence in the geopolitically significant regions of the world. China's enhanced defence spending, though nowhere near the US', and Russia's unmasked intention to regain global power status manifested in its involvement in Syria are ominous footsteps of a new Cold War.
Trump is living up to his commitment to the American military-industrial-complex by securing a USD 300 billion arms contract from the ever-too-ready-to-oblige-the-Americans Saudi rulers, who fail to see through Trump's mischief to deepen the Shia-Sunni discord by encouraging the Saudi rulers to gang up openly with other Muslim countries against Iran. He blames Iran for sponsoring international terrorism quite forgetting the terrorist groups that the US has bred, sponsored and armed, not to forget terrorism that some US allies in the Middle East have spawned.
The concept of “soft power” has been discarded by Trump from the textbook of US diplomacy and the ideas of “involvement” and “inclusive engagement” have lost their relevance with him. Unfortunately, there are ominous signs of unbridled arms race after he announced an increase in defence spending to a whopping USD 700 billion.
Does the US pronouncement of shift of focus mean an end to the so-called global war on terror? One does not know whether the new US security policy would result in a recalibrated US force projection and troop deployment, particularly in areas that it has been so deeply and hopelessly entrenched in, for the last nearly two decades. If Islamic extremism, and terrorism associated with it, is no longer the main threat, then the raison d'être for the presence of US soldiers in the numbers that they are in, and the mandate that they are fulfilling, no longer exists. Contrary to Obama policy, troop levels have been spiked up both in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the fact is that it was not Islamic extremism that was the main motive for the US decision to invade and occupy Iraq illegally. The fact is that the idea of regime change and Iraq invasion predates 9/11 by several years.
Perhaps loss of real state that the IS was holding, particularly Mosul, has motivated the US to recast its threat focus, but loss of territory does not necessarily signal an end to the phenomenon. Its tentacles are in most part of the world, particularly where there is US interest involved, which the IS will certainly target.
Two very dangerous matters, cause us concern. Chest beating by two very unstable, unpredictable, puerile heads of government, have their hands in the nuclear button, each trying to show that his button is bigger than the other's. But we must thank the prudence and statesmanlike move by South Korea for grabbing the very thin sliver of opportunity that came its way and use the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang to reduce the existing tension, which was ratcheted up by Trump's beating the war drums. The two Koreas have well understood that the worst suffers, if the balloon goes up, would not be the US or the West, but they and their neighbours would be the countries which would be directly affected. The meeting between the reps of the two Koreas (North Korea still considers its southern neighbour an US occupied part of its territory, and thus had refused so far to indulge in direct negotiations with South Korean delegates) is a suggestion that in situations where US has created a stake for itself, the chances of arriving at an understanding and peace is so much better if the confronters dispensed with the US in their negotiations.
Trump's recognition of Jerusalem has done the greatest damage to the prospect of peace in the Middle East. Not only has it lost all moral authority as an honest broker, the US has itself become a party to the problem.
It is thus no wonder that a former British diplomat had remarked, “America led by Donald Trump is the greatest menace facing the world today”, because “the policies being pursued by the divisive US President are 'going to have a major disruptive effect' globally.”
Brig Gen Shahedul Anam Khan ndc, psc (retd) is Associate Editor, The Daily Star.