Trump's America – waning in greatness

Image: Maya Spielman

Donald Trump's declared principle of "America first" implies that under him the US would pursue ultra-nationalist, protectionist and isolationist foreign policies. His policies and stances on different security organisations, multilateral agreements, trade deals, immigration, refugees and many other issues have sent waves of confusion to the saner quarters in the US itself, including in his own party, and across the rest of the world. Stringent implementation of his policies and campaign promises will create upheavals, disorder and instability, not only in America but also across the globe, which would cause varying degrees of damage, not only to US' rivals and adversaries, but also to its old allies and friends. 

Trump and his cabinet members – who, like him, are political greenhorns and hawkish – would deal, it seems, a devastating blow to the prevailing liberal, global economic order; and to the ongoing process of globalisation by resorting to extreme protectionism and isolationism. Their belligerent policies are likely to generate countless scenarios of strife and armed confrontations across the nations of the world. 

Defeating "radical Islamic terror groups" is a topmost foreign policy objective of the Trump administration. While Barack Obama fought those terrorists with cooperation from the governments of the countries concerned, Trump appears poised to alienate them out of mistrust. 

The Trump administration's Iran policy is one of predisposed antagonism, and is in perfect alignment with Israel's view of Iran. Its initial reaction to Iran's ballistic missile test of January 29, 2017 was absolutely undiplomatic, out of proportion, ill-considered, tactless and aggressive; and strongly suggestive of possible military action against Iran in future, while it also betrayed the inherent contradictions in Trump's policies. On the one hand, Trump often condemned the nuclear deal with Iran and wanted to scrap it if he won the election, and now he is intent on punishing Iran for the missile test which he considered a breach of the deal. On February 3, 2017, Trump's administration imposed a new set of unilateral sanctions against Iran – unilateral, for they seemed not to expect support, in this regard, of the EU, China or Russia – all signatories to the nuclear accord. These new sanctions are a presage of a more aggressive approach of the US to Iran in the coming months.

Trump's policy of indulgence to Israel is already emboldening the country to more aggressively pursue Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank. Trump's decision to relocate the US embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will stoke up the feelings of injustice and deprivation among Palestinians, and provoke more hatred and violence in the region. All this will deal a stunning blow to the planned two-state solution of the Palestine problem. 

Trump's likely departure from the longstanding US adherence to the One China policy (the bedrock of any country's diplomatic relations with the PRC) could plunge the US-China relations, deemed most important for global stability, into a crisis. Trump's aggressive policy on disputed South China Sea is confrontational and is likely to become a flashpoint. 

The US would forfeit, by implementing Trump's campaign pledges, the honour it enjoys as the greatest champion of the free world characterised by democratic governance, freedom of the press and speech, rule of law, human rights, dignity of human person, equality before law, inclusion, globalisation, and such other noble achievements of our time. 

Donald Trump has to a large extent radicalised his supporters by his right-wing, populist and ultra-nationalistic views and policies towards immigrants in general and Muslim immigrants in particular, and by his views about the minorities in the US, its trading partners, and strategic allies. Implementation of his populist pledges would be a regressive action, resulting in rapid evaporation of America's democratic values, and cultural and civilisational glory. He would undermine America's long-standing relations with key powers of today's world and cause commotion to the prevailing global political and economic orders and gravely destabilise the existing geopolitical equilibrium. 

Trump's foreign policy, as perceived by the world from his utterances during the election campaign, is likely to destroy US's soft power (which is in fact the finer power) over the world; although militarily it might still remain the greatest power at least for the foreseeable future. In this era of connectivity and cooperation between nations for jointly addressing the scourges and challenges of our time and for collective prosperity, US' policy of isolation and protectionism under Trump's presidency would render the country insular and reduce its soft power. Insularity, protectionism, and an overdose of nationalistic sentiments and actions could seriously strain or undermine the US' relations with other powers of the world and engender military confrontations with them. The resultant instability, chaos and conflicts across the globe could dash the hopes and aspirations of Trump's supporters to 'Make America Great Again'. On the contrary, America might witness an erosion of its greatness. 

Global powers have to assume global responsibility. They have to concern themselves with the common good of mankind, and at times, are required to make sacrifices. Only economic and military might cannot make a country great; and leadership, which implies togetherness, inclusiveness and engagement with others, cannot be exercised in isolation. Countries like China, Japan and South Korea have not achieved socioeconomic miracles in isolation. China, for instance, is advancing towards becoming the largest economy and the greatest power on earth not by pursuing isolationism and protectionism. On the contrary, China is increasingly opening up its economy and engaging itself at every nook and corner of the world – across the regions, oceans and continents – in what the Chinese call "mutually beneficial win-win cooperation". So, how would isolationism, exclusion, and protectionism help the US sustain its leading global role? How would it ensure continuation of America's greatness? Instead of emulating China and leading America forward, Trump is poised to lead his country backward. 

If America's global leadership shrinks into isolationism and insular protectionism under President Trump, the resultant void is expected to be filled by rising China. With its huge resources for investment abroad, immense capability of financing development projects in countries across the continents, and mega-connectivity projects called OBOR, which are underway, China is poised to supplant the US as the number one global power. America's isolationism will hasten China's ascent to that position.  

We do not really know at this point in time where to the consequences of Trump's policies and actions will take the world, or how serious their diverse ramifications and domino effect could be for the entire humanity of our globalised village. One thing, however, looks certain: The Trump effects will enormously undermine the glory and greatness that America has achieved since its independence two and half centuries ago.

The writer is former Ambassador and Secretary.


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