Shahid M Amin
AFTER only six months in power, Donald Trump’s presidency is stumbling. Many observers predict that Trump is heading for a mini-disaster or even a possible impeachment. An editorial in “Los Angeles Times” noted that Trump is “so unpredictable, so reckless, so petulant, so full of blind self-regard, so untethered to reality that he threatens to weaken US moral standing in the world and imperil the planet through his appalling policy choices”. Trump has alienated traditional US allies and weakened the very structure of US security in Europe as well as in East Asia.
Trump’s hasty decision to tear up the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade deal has bewildered US friends in East Asia. He has claimed that TTP was a deal that was designed for China “to come in, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone”. The ironic thing is that China is not even a member of TTP. He has lashed out against South Korea, long a faithful US ally, calling its free trade agreement as “horrible”. He angered South Korea by inaccurately saying that it was once “a part of China”. A leading South Korean newspaper expressed the “shock, betrayal, and anger many South Koreans have felt.”
Later on, when President Moon Jae-in visited Washington, Trump was harsh in criticizing South Korea’s trade policies. In a similar display of rough handling, Trump abruptly cut short a telephone call with the Prime Minister of Australia, another traditional US friend. The outcome of such bungling is that there has been an erosion of the US position in the Far East where traditional allies like South Korea, Japan and Taiwan feel neglected. Ironically, the gainer in this process is China. NATO has been considered as the bulwark of Western security ever since its creation in 1949. Europe has long looked up to USA as its protector and closest friend. But Trump often criticized NATO during his presidential campaign.. Since taking over as President, he has not shown any enthusiasm for NATO. During his first overseas trip in May 2017, Trump criticized NATO leaders for failure to pay a “fair share” in the alliance. Notably, he refused to affirm the raison d’être for creation of NATO, namely, the principle of collective defence. German chancellor Angela Merkel is the key NATO leader at this time. Trump has developed a frosty relationship with her because he has singled out Germany for criticism. Not surprisingly, Merkel said recently that “we must fight for our future on our own, for our destiny as Europeans.” Another disappointment for Europe was Trump’s announcement of US withdrawal from the Paris climate accord.
The strategic implication of these developments in Europe is that Trump is, in effect, forfeiting America’s historic leadership of the Western world. Trump’s inexplicable admiration for Putin adds to the anxieties of traditional US allies. In the context of the Ukrainian crisis, in particular, Europe sees Putin as the main adversary. Similarly, Japan has a traditional grievance with Russia over the Kuril Islands. In the USA itself, Russia is still regarded as the enemy by the security establishment. The continuing investigation about Russian meddling in Trump’s Presidential campaign remains a potential landmine that could blow up in his face. Moreover, if this allegation is substantiated, relations with Russia will take a nose dive. Trump is hoping that a qualitative improvement can take place in US relations with Russia, but this seems unlikely. Putin could have helped Trump by showing accommodation on Ukraine or in the Middle East, but the wily Russian leader wants it all his way.
In a brief period of time, the Trump administration has almost demolished some traditional pillars of US global power. All his brave talk of making “America great again” is making little headway because of his own mishandling of other countries. Lost in a make-believe world of his own, Trump does not seem to be aware of the damage he has done to US national interests.
At home, several of Trump’s election promises have not yet materialized. He had promised to build a wall on the border with Mexico to stop illegal migration and make Mexico pay for it. Mexico has made it known that it would not make any such payment. There is no news as to when the wall will be built. The promise to do away with Obamacare has run into serious obstacles. Even his own Republican party is divided on the issue since Obamacare has benefited so many Americans, particularly the senior citizens. The promised ban on entry of Muslims in USA has also had a rough ride due to judicial obstacles, apart from intense criticism from many Americans.
Sections of the US media are engaged in a running battle with Trump who, for his part, remains in a combative mood. The US economy has hardly achieved the targets that Trump himself had set. It is not clear if any US jobs have ‘returned’ from China, as he had vowed.. Trump’s involvement of his daughter and her husband in government matters has affected his reputation. It is now wonder, therefore, that Trump is losing popularity constantly. The latest poll (mid-July) shows that his approval rating has dropped from 42% to 36%. His disapproval rating has risen by 5 points to reach 58%. About his handling of foreign policy, 48% see American global leadership is weakening and only 27% think that it is stronger.
— The writer served as Pakistan’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Soviet Union, France, Nigeria and Libya.
Shahid M Amin