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#5183, 16 November 2016

US Policy Orientation

American Turbulence: Global Ramifications
Chintamani Mahapatra
Rector and Professor, JNU, & Columnist, IPCS

By electing Donald Trump as the forty-fifth president of the US, the American people created history for the second time in less than a decade. The first was election of an African American as the president. What has surprised millions of poll observers and analysts is defeat of a seasoned politician by a political outsider with no administrative or political experience.

The campaign during the 2016 presidential race was negative, bitter and vitriolic to a degree unprecedented in American history. More significantly, the post-election reaction to Trump’s victory too is an unparalleled development. Thousands of students in various college campuses across the US and thousands of people in diverse American cities took to the streets venting their anger and frustration over the election outcome. Several political leaders around the globe also expressed their discomfort and displeasure over the election outcome in the US.

While all these areextraordinary developments, the next four years of the Trump Administration will be crucial for international security and stability. The Trump Administration’s approach to world affairs is uncertain and beyond credible projection, given how Trump is a political outsider and his equation with the Republican Party leadership is fractured.

This is particularly pertinent in view of the Republican Party’s emergence as the majority party in the US House of Representatives and the Senate. Unless Trump is able to establish dependableand cooperative ties with his party leaders, he will remain largely dysfunctional when it comes to putting forward his policy initiatives, towards domestic or foreign policy.

What Trump promised during his campaign, if implemented, would bring about a paradigm shift in American domestic politics and foreign policy; but even a fraction of it cannot be implemented without his ability to carry Congressional leaders with him.

There is widespread concern about the state of things to appear once Trump assumes office. During the campaign, he repeatedly attacked the American system as “rigged.”Will he now try tofix the system? During his victory speech, he made a tall promise to double the US’ GDP? It is not a feasible proposition.However, he is a businessman and will try to apply his business acumen and create an economic miracle.

Trump was largely responsible for the political polarisation in last eighteen months of the election season. Once he won the election, he called for national unity. He hinted that he would not drastically alter the country’s foreign policy. Will the American people and world leaders believe him and cooperate with his policies? Massive demonstrations against him in schools, colleges and cities across the US and international reaction to his electoral victory tell a different story.

Trump called for a wall across the US-Mexican border during the election campaign. Will he be able to build his promised wall to keep Mexican immigrants at bay? More significantly, will he be able to make Mexico pay for it? If the Trump Administration succeeds in crafting a new immigration policy, the deportation of millions of undocumented workers will take place.This would create enormous uncertainties within the US and would affect Washington’s hemispheric relationships.

Donald Trump has questioned NATO’s relevance and has demanded defence burden sharing by NATO members. Will the economic downturn in Europe encourage NATO members to increase their defense budgets? Trans-Atlantic ties will be in for some trouble. He also asked Japan and South Korea to make their own nuclear weapons for defence. Will Tokyo and Seoul have trust in Trump’s Asia Pacific strategy?

Trump’s views on Muslim immigrants and Islamist extremism will also be on test in the coming years. He promised to use his “secret plan” to defeat the Islamic State in West Asia. Can he make the US win a war in that region in the backdrop of the Afghan quagmire? Will he able to gain the support and confidence of the Muslim countries in fighting terror? 

Thus, the US ties with Europe, Latin America, West Asia, and the Asia Pacific are in for changes and not necessarily for better. Trump will certainly try to make America great again, but the cost of it for other nations is insofar unknown. However, Trump’s America is unlikely to disturb the apple cart of the Indo-US relationship. The strategic partnership between the two countries is mature enough to sustain short-term turbulence. Trade and investment cooperation, and defence and security ties between New Delhi and Washington are likely to experience an upward trajectory. 

What the Indian foreign policy establishment needs to be aware of are the challenges that may come as the after-effect of the Trump Administration’s ties with other countries and its impact.

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