Geopolitical notes from India
M D Nalapat
PRESIDENT-elect of the United States Donald John Trump has indicated that he would not be appointing a Special Prosecutor to seek the incarceration of Hillary Rodham Clinton, his Democratic Party challenger in the Presidential sweepstakes. This decision will annoy several of his most loyal supporters, most of whom were energized by the prospect of the former First Lady being sent to jail. However, from a pragmatic point of view, Donald Trump has taken the correct call. A prosecutorial investigation and possible indictment of Hillary Clinton would take at least ten months, and is likely to have dominated the news cycle for much of that period.
The resulting hubbub would be a severe distraction from President Trump’s own agenda, thereby diluting the possibility of shepherding the basket of policies through the legislature. In particular, because the investigation would develop into a partisan circus which would further poison relations between the White House and the Democratic Party. Although the charges against the former Secretary of State and the Clinton Foundation are serious, the fact remains that donations to the latter were made through cheque and not through envelopes stuffed with cash. Proving a judicially verifiable link between decisions taken by the State Department and foreign donations to the Foundation would be a difficult task. Certainly Foggy Bottom ( as the Department of State is evocatively referred to) pandered to the whims and geopolitical fantasies of states such as Qatar, China and Saudi Arabia.
However, it was usually not an outlier in such policies vis-a-vis the rest of the Obama Administration but part of a pack heading in the same direction. Importantly, almost always other NATO member-states endorsed the same policies, especially in matters relating to the Arab Spring and its aftermath. The Clinton Foundation may have opportunistically sought to cash in on policies already worked out within the bureaucracy, but only in a very few instances was it the initiator of policy, and this often at the level of the individual. Shrewd businessperson that he is, Donald Trump has apparently decided not to continue to invest time and effort on a Clinton prosecution but to direct his attention towards matter of greater concern to the United States as a whole, rather than to the small group of Clinton-phobic individuals who are unhappy at his decision to give Hillary Clinton a pass on the charges made against his defeated challenger.
By doing so, Trump has strengthened his image of pragmatism and created significantly greater distance between himself and a perception of vindictiveness of the kind that led President George W Bush to finish off Saddam Hussein at a crippling cost to the US. For Bush Junior, wrecking both an entire country as well as much of the US economy was an acceptable price to pay for getting rid of an individual who tried to get his beloved Pappy ( George H W Bush) assassinated. What President Trump needs is a cellphone configured to ensure that his tweets flow only to a limited number of intimates, ideally only Melania and Ivanka. Both the incoming First Lady as well as the First Daughter have conducted themselves with style. With her charming accent and expressed dislike of bad behaviour, Melania Trump boosted the voting tally for her husband on November 8.
Unlike Jackie Kennedy, who loved the spotlight while professing to hate the attention, the spouse of a very strong-willed personality clearly has qualities that have enabled her to weather what must on occasion be a stormy life with an individual who is both passionately admired and hated, sometimes by the same audience. Hopefully the new First Lady will use the moral power that will soon be hers to push for policies that assist the poor, especially children. Although the biggest economy in the world, the US is far less caring of its needy citizens than any of its major European partners, or indeed countries such as Kuwait and Taiwan. Despite Obamacare, the Big Pharma lobby in the US has combined with the Doctors Mafia to ensure the most expensive healtcare system in the world, and which despite the money lavished on it, is uncaring of the poor.
Correctly, President-elect Trump has gone public about his intention to preserve some of the features of the Affordable Health Act while tweaking or sometimes removing other sections. This sets him apart from Ted Cruz, who is a fundamentalist in his political beliefs and therefore regards compromise as a weakness. At the same time, Trump refuses to hide his views, even when they may lose him votes. An example is the way he distanced himself from the views of Mike Pence on Russia. The next Vice-President of the US embraces the Beltway at least in his foreign policy outlook, and joined in the baying against Moscow. For this, he was publicly contradicted by Trump, who insisted that he would seek a genuine reset in relations with Moscow rather than follow the Paris-London line of hostility to Vladimir Putin. This sets him apart from Senator Marco Rubio, who follows the Clinton playbook of adopting positions that are popular with the audiences which are being wooed.
Donald Trump has the confidence to remain himself, which is why the surprise within the Washington Beltway at his choices is inexplicable save for the fact that the denizens of this privileged state of mind have dismissed him as an intellectual lightweight without a complete analysis of the man. It is clear that incoming White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus is focussing mainly on “unifying” the party. Such a stand neglects the reality that voters opted for change and not continuity. From such a viewpoint, it would be senseless to appoint Mitt Romney as Secretary of State, for the man hates Trump. Far better to send him to the prestigious post of Ambassador to the UK. Choosing an envoy of such eminence would ensure that the globe understand that the special relationship between the US and the UK will be continued by a President Trump.
Given that a war on terror is ongoing, the historical parallel of the 1939-45 war against Germany needs to be remembered. Prime Minister Winston Churchill sent Lord Halifax as envoy to Washington in a gesture towards a crucial relationship. In like fashion, sending Romney to London would be a geopolitical gesture of significance, as would asking Representative Tulsi Gabbard to serve as US envoy to India. The former US Marine Corps member has developed significant traction within the ruling establishment in India, and could play a key role in ensuring a full scope alliance between Washington and Delhi during the Trump presidency. Trump’s choice of a brilliant neurosurgeon, Ben Carson, as Housing & Urban Development Secretary, is inspired. Dr Carson can be expected to visualize and to implement cutting edge strategies for ensuring that the deterioration in infrastructure in the US be reversed at a reasonable cost.
As for Trump’s family, they will be aware of the fact that while the patriarch of the clan has forgiven Hillary Clinton, the Clinton machine may be expected to keep up the pressure on Trump. Indeed, with Paul Ryan ( who has the same distaste for President-elect Trump as Mitt Romney) remaining the Speaker of the House of Representatives in another Reince Priebus-inspired. gesture of reconciliation between the old Republican establishment and new that is getting formed around Trump, there will be more than a few within the House of Representatives looking for an opportunity to impeach Donald Trump and place Mike Pence inside the White House.
Presidential candidates usually avoid such possible power plays by ensuring that their running mates are far less popular and indeed toxic. However, a confident in himself Trump chose the affable Pence, who has friends across the board in the Washington Beltway swamp who would be delighted were he to take over from the individualistic Trump. Given determination and qualities of next President of the US, it is likely that he will overcome the snares and traps placed in his way and emerge as a transfornational leader. In his family, Trump has a group of able and loyal individuals not seeking official positions, and they too seem capable of batting away darts already being aimed their way.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.