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The US under Trump

The US under Trump

Since the US still wields considerable economic power and possesses unmatchable military prowess, the entire world keenly watched the debates between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican hopeful Donald Trump for the most powerful position in the world, the President of the United States. The incendiary statement of firebrand Trump against asserting China, Russia and Islam led an overwhelming number of think tanks to predict a sweeping victory for Mrs Clinton. But, out of the blue, Trump won the much-hyped election. Now, the world is anxiously waiting to see the way the foreign policy of Donald Trump would fare after he takes over the Oval Office on 20 January 2017.


After his inauguration as the 45th President of the United States, Donald Trump is likely to confront a deeply unstable world: the Middle East is in the throes of simmering turmoil due to the ravaging wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya, and the rampaging militancy and the ideological rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia; the European Union (EU) is reeling under deadly terror attacks and, of course, the Brexit; Russia is rapidly extending its naval and military influence around the Mediterranean Sea and in Eastern Europe; China is audaciously flexing its muscles both militarily and economically in South Asia as well as in the South China Sea; large swathes of war-torn Afghanistan are still under the control of the Taliban and IS-Khorasan; North Korea is bent on clandestinely expanding its nuclear programme and the spectre of a catastrophic war between Pakistan and India is haunting the region.

US-Russia Relations in the Backdrop of Syrian and Ukrainian Crises

Under President Vladimir Putin, Russia has been expanding its power and influence in Syria and Ukraine since March 2014. After annexing strategically important Crimea, it deliberately expedited its extensive aerial bombardments in war-ravaged Syria in a calculated move to augment its already-growing sway in the Mediterranean. Threateningly, Russian hackers continue to systematically penetrate high-level military networks of the US, thus creating severe security threats for Washington. This has brought about escalation of tensions between the two major powers of the world.

President-elect Donald Trump has been less scathing and somewhat friendly toward Russian President Vladimir Putin. During his elections campaign as well as the debates, he categorically stated that he would mend ties with President Putin and reset the bilateral relationship so as to work jointly on flushing out Daesh from the Middle East. In his April 27 speech in Washington, DC, he said: “I believe an easing of tensions, and improved relations with Russia — from a position of strength only — is possible, absolutely possible. Some say the Russians won’t be reasonable. I intend to find out.”

Presumably, Trump will direct much of his attention on the Syrian civil war as a significant part of his Middle East policy. Though most security analysts consider him a businessman bereft of feasible and effectual thought of bringing an agreed end to the deadly Syrian war, he will be able to adroitly tackle the Syrian quagmire in a relatively more pragmatic and effective way than the outgoing President Barack Obama. To decidedly end this war, he unequivocally backed up Russian airstrikes against Daesh, and also floated the idea of forging a militarily alliance with Moscow. In his interview with CNN on 1st October 2015, Trump said: “If Vladimir Putin wants to launch airstrikes inside Syria, that’s no problem for me, and I believe Russia’s military moves in Syria are targeting ISIS and that the US shouldn’t interfere.”

If both Russia and the US create a powerful alliance with some Arab countries in the region, they will prodigiously succeed to root out Daesh and ragtag terrorist and militant outfits freely operating from the terror-infested Syrian soil. After that, it will be relatively easy to bring belligerent Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and varied rebels on the negotiating table with the sole intent to bring a lasting end to the protracted civil war.

However, this is still largely unpredictable whether the US under Trump will indefinitely continue to train, finance and arm some vetted terrorists and rebels in Syria against President Assad. If Trump abruptly quits this proxy war, he will have to dissuade America’s Arab allies from uninterruptedly providing sophisticated arms and funnelling substantial money to militant and rebel groups arrayed against the Assad regime. The Arab countries will stop supporting rebels only when both Russia and the US seem to have apparently succeeded in convincing Assad for result-oriented peace negotiations as well as transparent elections in the country.

Trump will also have to deal with the ideological rivalry between Iran and Saudi Arabia in Syria, Yemen and Iraq; both countries have been deeply immersed in backing up the conflicting sides in these war-stricken countries to maximise their widely divergent objectives. All this manifests that Trump will probably face a somewhat bumpy and uncertain road ahead in terms of ending Syrian and Yemeni civil wars.

As far Crimea, Trump has repeatedly voiced that he will avoid vehemently opposing Russian incursion of Crimea and considers Crimea a significant part of Russia. Trump has already suggested he’d recognise Crimea as part of Russia, if elected. In his opinion, it is better to leave Crimea to be with Russia so that he can cultivate robust diplomatic ties with Putin. “The people of Crimea, from what I’ve heard, would rather be with Russia than where they were. And you have to look at that,” said Trump. A question can be raised about Trump’s magnanimous behaviour toward Putin: Does Trump wish to pursue pacifist and manipulative policies toward Russia in order to convince or trick Putin to avoid occupying smaller nations or he is badly lacking the requisite cerebral power needed in dealing dexterously with complicated diplomatic affairs?

US-China Relations

Renowned structural realist John J. Mearsheimer has already predicted that the Chinese economic and military rise in the 21st century will not be peaceful; the US could employ all possible means to contain and encircle China from challenging the long-lasting American hegemony in the anarchic world. The cut-throat economic and military competition between both countries has awakened a dormant cold war atmosphere in South Asia and East Asia. Therefore, under Trump, the Pentagon and Capitol Hill will be engaged in crafting strategies on how to encircle, counteract and hamper China, thus slowing down the Chinese economic boom and military rise.

According to Wall Street Journal, Trump has persistently described China as one of the US’s top adversaries, particularly when it comes to economic policy. He has labelled China as a currency manipulator and threatened the Chinese government with steep tariffs if it doesn’t agree to rewrite trade agreements. Being a successful businessman, Trump is ostensibly well-acquainted on how to deftly deal with China by placing formidable roadblocks in the way of Chinese economic growth meant to slow it down.

Trump considers rapid Chinese industrialisation and economic growth inimical to the industries of the US and job opportunities for the American citizens. In his June 28 speech, he bashed China in these words: “China’s entrance into the World Trade Organization (WTO) has enabled the greatest jobs theft — of American citizens — in history.” Arguably, he may adopt a policy of moderate economic protectionism against Chinese products with the intent of safeguarding local industries. In this regard, major steel barons and lobbies in Washington will bankroll and throw their support behind Trump in the Congress. Then, such protective policies will prompt China to reciprocate with similar obstructive measures. This will cast a serious and disruptive drain on the growing economic relations between both countries.

Trump fearfully sees China’s military deployments in the South China Sea as a threat to America’s regional allies. In his foreign policy debates, he frequently said that he would further expand American military presence in the disputed waters of South China Sea as an effectual deterrent to increasing China’s territorial claims to artificial islands there. What Trump should not forget is that the strongest American regional ally, the Philippines, has recently jumped into the Chinese economic and military bandwagon under the new President Rodrigo Duterte. On a recent trip to Beijing, Duterte said he wanted separation from the US both economically and militarily, and to pursue closer relations with China. All this shows that the belligerent policy of America against China in East Asia has dismally failed to ensure the security and burgeoning economic interests of US’s East Asian partners.

Trump on South Asia

Despite American spending of $115 billion in aid for Afghanistan in 15 years, nearly one-third of the country is still out of government’s control and ill-equipped Afghan security forces are struggling to retake the lost territories. After having signed the Bilateral Security Agreement (BSA) with Kabul in 2013, the US will not permanently withdraw its nearly 10,000 troops from Afghanistan. According to Reuters, so far, Trump has shown little interest in Afghanistan, although his most recent comments suggested he favoured keeping troop numbers at around 5,500; the level they were intended to reach by the end of the year before Obama shelved the plan and set the number at 8,400.

The underlying reason is that the US will use Afghan soil to watch and monitor Pakistan’s nuclear programme and contain China with an all-out Indian help. The Trump administration will make the spectre of Daesh and takeover of the Taliban in Afghanistan an excuse to station US combat forces in the country. Therefore, under Trump, frail peace and instability will continue to haunt the Afghans without any peace prospect.

As far as Pakistan and India are concerned, the next US administration will continue its do more mantra and will pressure Pakistan to clamp down on all terrorist and militant groups, reportedly based in tribal areas. More importantly, the Trump administration will exert some hectic backstairs influence to have Pakistan’s growing nuclear programme slowed down. “Pakistan is a very very vital problem and really vital country for us because they have nuclear weapons and they have to get a hold of the situation,” said Trump.
Trump has hinted at playing the role of a “mediator or arbitrator” in appeasing the current flare-up of tensions between India and Pakistan. “If it was necessary I would do that. If we could get India and Pakistan getting along, I would be honoured to do that. That would be a tremendous achievement … I think if they wanted me to, I would love to be the mediator or arbitrator,” Trump made this offer in response to a question during an exclusive interview with Indian newspaper Hindustan Times. However, Trump will not change US stance on Kashmir which traditionally has been that it is a bilateral issue between Pakistan and India and both the countries should resolve it through the bilateral process.

Trump will undoubtedly continue his predecessor’s policy of fostering robust economic and defence ties with India. Economic ties will be growing due to the fact that India is a massive consumer market. “If I’m elected president, the Indian and Hindu community will have a true friend in the White House, that I can guarantee you,” said Trump during an event sponsored by the Republican Hindu Coalition to raise money for victims of terrorism.

More significantly, he will ratchet up diplomatic endeavours to help India acquire membership of the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and the permanent seat at the UNSC. Moreover, Indo-US defence ties will grow under pro-Indian Donald Trump. This does not bode well for the fragile peace and security of South Asia because it will bring about a nuclear arms race between Pakistan and India and upset the nuclear balance of power in the region.

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About Ayaz Ahmed

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The writer is a former senior researcher at the Pakistan Institute of International Affairs (PIIA), and now an independent researcher and columnist based in Karachi.

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