Monday, February 6, 2017

Business Recorder Column Feb 6, 2017

What Trumpism means Rashed Rahman Two weeks into the Donald Trump presidency, alarm over his unconsidered, combative, self-delusional approach to the most powerful job in the world continues to grow. Focus currently centres on his row with the judiciary in the shape of Judge James Robart of Seattle for suspending the ban on travellers from seven Muslim majority countries. The Justice Department’s appeal against the suspension was not granted by a court of appeals in Phoenix, Arizona. The court instead ordered the original petitioners and the government to file their respective arguments. Donald Trump meanwhile continues to attack Judge Robart as a “so-called” judge whose order he castigated through his favoured means, Twitter, as “ridiculous”. He has tried to paint the suspension as the judge being blind to the US’s considerations of national security. Comment in the US press indicates that this means both the liberal and conservative judiciary oppose the ban. The Washington Post implies this executive-judiciary clash reflects the fact that the new president is guilty of eroding the very division of powers he decried while condemning the judge who suspended the ban. Meanwhile some of the visa holders from the seven countries in question, out of the 60,000 visas ‘provisionally revoked’ by the ban, have taken advantage of the window of opportunity presented by the suspension to travel post-haste to the US. The rest still face an uncertain, mixed picture, with some airlines insisting would-be travellers produce a specific email from the US Customs and Border Protection agency clearing their entry into the US. Protests against the ban continue in many cities across the US, with lawyers putting in voluntary appearances at airports to help any traveller running into difficulties because of the (suspended) ban. After some initial confusion in the wake of the ban and its suspension, the US administration has clarified that green card holders are not included in the restrictions. Donald Trump has admitted he never had the time to read a book. That indicates that he is unfamiliar with the lay of the world. All his business empire has taught him is the art of the deal. Leading the world’s most powerful country, and dealing with the world, however, is a completely different ball game. Already, Australia, Mexico, Iran and the European Union are in Donald Trump’s crosshairs. He has upset long standing allies, set the world’s nerves on edge, and risks his brinkmanship becoming the prelude to a war in one or the other part of the globe. Iran and China seem top contenders at present for this unwanted attention and belligerence, the former over its recent ballistic missile test (which triggered new unilateral sanctions by Washington and a warning by Vice President Mike Spence), the latter over perceived economic bleeding of the US and claims over the East and South China Seas. Despite his softer stance on Russia and Putin, the conflict in Ukraine could derail the US-Russia relationship further if the incautious and impetuous Trump makes the wrong move. Strong support from his domestic voters, and equally strong opposition from his detractors, may persuade Trump to repeat the dubious practice of launching a foreign intervention to distract attention from internal political, economic and social problems. This, some analysts argue, could help silence the opposition at home under the catch-all umbrella of ‘patriotism’. The world has entered a new period of uncertainty and worry since Trump assumed charge of the US. Alliances, multilateralism, all are under threat or potentially threatened by the Trump sledgehammer. NATO, the UN, the European Union, all could feel the chilling breath of the Trumpian worldview. So what is that worldview? Stripped of unnecessary rhetoric, Donald Trump sees the contemporary world through the prism of nationalism, political and economic. This not only flies in the face of the general trajectory of Washington since the end of the Second World War, it risks triggering retaliatory nationalism, first and foremost by the victims of Trump’s initial recklessness, later by large parts of the world that could find themselves holding the short end of the stick if Trump’s ideas of the return of investment and jobs to the US are attempted by pressurising businesses and using intimidation to have his way. This new found nationalism implies a return to US isolationism, thereby unravelling the present world order. The chaos, destabilisation and conflict that could follow can only be imagined. Pakistan does not appear cognizant in policy terms of the new global disorder about to be unleashed. Islamabad would be well served by putting civil and military heads together to revisit the duality of policy that still lingers vis-a-vis Afghanistan and supporting the Kashmiri people’s struggle through forays across the Line of Control by fundamentalist jihadi proxies. The recent house arrest of Hafiz Saeed may not go far enough in the latter context, given the track record of using such temporary and expedient measures to relieve outside pressure and then returning to ‘business as usual’ once the storm has passed. This may not be as easy to get away with with a belligerent Trump administration in power. Continuing to host the Taliban while paying lip service to peace and reconciliation in Afghanistan too may be a gambit that has already, or likely to soon, run its course. In a new, unfamiliar, different environment that Donald Trump seems embarked upon through step-by-step destruction of the comfortable assumptions of the past, Islamabad needs to wake up to the policy implications of what Trumpism really means.

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