Geopolitical Notes From India
M D Nalapat
SEAN Spicer, the Official Spokesperson for the White House (ie the President of the United States) is commonly regarded as being among the numerous appointees of the Trump administration who came courtesy of Reince Priebus, the Chief of Staff of President Trump. Priebus is a traditional Republican, but had the wisdom to ignore advice from almost the whole of his flock, all of whom publicly opposed the New York billionaire. Priebus, in contrast, was silent and indeed deferential towards Candidate Trump, moving to the “Supporters” column only after the Republican Party nomination was finalised at the party convention. Even after Candidate Trump because Nominee Trump, many of the traditional Republicans opposed him, in effect hinting to US voter that Hillary Clinton would be a better President of US than Trump.
Both House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan as well as Senator John McCain were in this bracket, as also former President George W Bush and a multitude of others. Reince Priebus was not very successful in ensuring that these worthies publicly recant their earlier comments on Donald John Trump. Of course, it must be said that these have overall shown their loyalty to the President as an individual, even while openly signalling their opposition to several of the policies that he favoured during the 2016 campaign for the Presidency. Both UN Ambassador Nikki Haley and Defense Secretary James Mattis belong to this group. Chief of Staff Priebus is a masterful practitioner of the influence game in Washington, being a prominent and highly regarded part of the Washington Beltway, the exclusive establishment club similar in its chemistry to the Lutyens Lok who still command overwhelming authority in Delhi, although Prime Minister Narendra Modi does not at all have a Lutyens Zone mentality. Nor does Donald Trump have a Beltway mindset. Yet both their administrative establishments are filled with Lutyens and Beltway products, the effect of whom in policy is obvious.
It is not clear whether White House Spokesperson Sean Spicer is a Prebus appointee or was chosen by some of the others close to the US President. Judging from his performance over the period that he has been in his current post, it would appear that Spicer is way over his depth, and that it may have been a better idea to have made him the Spokesperson of the Republican National Committee instead. However, even when judged by the less than stellar standards of Spicer, what the White House Spokesperson said about Adolf Hitler was off base, so much so that it should result in an immediate reassignment of the current face of the Trump administration. Hitler was a psychotic whose depths of evil were far greater than that of any modern leader and to give Hitler higher marks than Bashar Assad in the human rights department is grotesque. Spicer was clearly unaware that chemicals such as Zyklon B were used promiscuously by Hitler’s minions in order to asphyxiate to death a small community that has from the dawn of recorded history been a credit to the world. At least for such a display of ignorance about history, Spicer needs to be kept far away from the White House lectern. His value, indeed his very commonsense, has been put in considerable doubt by his effort at airbrushing away the misdeeds of Hitler by comparing them favourably to Assad’s. While the Syrian dictator is no model of saintly behaviour, fact remains that Christians, Alawites, other Shias, moderate Sunnis and Druze are safe only within territory controlled by Assad, while they are at risk of being killed even in areas controlled by armed opposition groups that have been funded and armed by US and its allies, and which contain large doses of radicals from Al Nusra and ISIS.
These take refuge in such “moderate opposition” groups, even while keeping an eye out for Christians, Alawites and others for them to torture and kill out of sight of television cameras. To the surprise of those who expected a more contemporary approach from the team around 45th President of the United States, almost all the statements coming out of Washington are almost the same as could have been expected in a Hillary Clinton administration. The US voter took Donald Trump at face value when he spoke in terms that acknowledged that the Atlantic era was no longer in existence, in a period when US trade with Asia is three times the size of trade with Europe. That this was Indo-Pacific age, and main challenger to US primacy was no longer Moscow but Beijing. Indeed, by his bold and conceptually brilliant “One Belt One Road” plan, China’s leader Xi Jinping is clearly intending to make China commercial backbone of global economy. Once the OBOR system gets completed, and already the first train from London to Beijing has left the station, China will be the hub of global commerce in the way that the US was until George W Bush landed the country into the quicksand of wars that his military was clearly not organised to win. In Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan, irregulars have managed to reduce NATO soldiers to irrelevance on the ground. Mastery of the skies is of little use unless the ground below the fighter jets and the bombers can be held, and this the NATO divisions are unable to do. All they have achieved is the destruction of cities and countries, at a cost that has put economies of several countries at risk of bankruptcy.
There is a need for a 21st century policy on global geopolitics, such as was articulated by Candidate Trump despite his being attacked for his views by the very establishment whose policies have now been embraced by key members of his team. Hopefully President Trump will engineer a course correction so that the drift towards a Bush-Clinton basket of policies gets reversed. But in the meantime, every day that Sean Spicer walks up to the White House lectern is a posthumous insult to the millions of lives lost because of the horror of the Hitler years. Apologists for Hitler do not belong in the hugely consequential role of Spokesperson for the President of the United States, who from January 20 is Donald John Trump. Indeed, they belong nowhere in the world of high policy.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.