Is President Donald Trump a cautious strategist in framing and execution of his policies, or whimsically inclined towards short-term tactical thrusts for temporal convenience? While there is no easy answer to this question, reactions from many world capitals reflect a pervasive impression that some of his early policy affirmations and actions betray a degree of unpredictability in both internal and foreign policy planks.
As the American magazine Time put it, “Trump’s power is considerable and his accomplishments in less than a month, significant. He has rebooted oil and gas pipelines, begun chipping away at Obamacare and abandoned a multinational trade deal with Pacific countries”.
There are undeniably strategic granules to be seen in his moves for immigration controls for a resurgence in American manufacturing jobs. Quoting an official order of Trump administration, The Financial Times has come to the conclusion that the US government “will no longer exempt classes or categories of removable aliens from potential enforcement”.
However, this strategic tenor was substantively missing in Trump’s early news-breaking statements on the status of Taiwan and his one-China policy that set the cat among the pigeons in Beijing. After his long telephonic conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping, it appears that Trump has now decided to put future Sino-American ties more on tactical considerations that suit his preference for flexibility, rather than on any ‘strategic jigsaw’. For instance, Trump’s threat to impose 45 percent tax on Chinese imports and negate, quite peremptorily, the Trans-Pacific Partnership seems as propositions that are not entirely sustainable in the long run.
Washington and Beijing are in talks about a Trump visit to build ties with Jinping.
After a meeting between US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and China’s Councillor Yang Jiechi, the country’s top foreign affairs official, the Chinese embassy in the US issued a statement saying that “Tillerson had expressed a willingness to set a positive tone in relations between the two powers.”
The fact is that major international corporates, such as the US-based Apple and Amazon and China-based Alibaba, have a global impact. These entities have their amorphous range of legal instruments and access points within the Republican Party as well as the US establishment. The White House will not find it easy to face their counter moves, especially in the backdrop of the delicate power balance between the President, the Congress and the judiciary in the US Constitution.
Trump does not appear to have learnt an early lesson. A number of Federal judges have negated his executive order to deport immigrants from more than half a dozen Islamic countries. The new president and his team must realise that handling of the US Presidency for a four-year term is akin to running a marathon race, not a short distance sprint.
They have to go slow in the initial phases and then pick up momentum as the finish line draws closer, rather than bursting with full-speed at the starting line itself. America is a freedom-loving land and there are tentacles to bind one if s/he goes wide off the narrative of democratic normalcy.
The burst with which Trump started has already resulted in more than one major casualty. His chosen National Security Advisor Michael Flynn had to resign when his proximity with Russian officials came under the Federal investigation. He had to fire his Attorney General for refusing to defend an unconstitutional ban on Muslims entering the US.
The recent killing of an aeronautical engineer from India in Kansas shows how Trump’s jingoistic utterances have widened the emotional divide between the US citizens and resulted in a rise in hate crimes against non-whites. A London newspaper recorded at least 200 incidents of racism within a month of his election.
Trump should realise that the racists make bold to attack innocents in the belief that they have his support. Trump must realise that the sooner this myth is exploded the better it would be for the US. By remaining silent on the issue of hate crimes, he has spurned the opportunity to convince the world that “America First” does not amount to an endorsement of white nativism, racism, and reaction.
The other pressing issues that are likely to occupy President Trump and his team include the US response to Chinese intransigence in the South China Sea, a clear policy towards the European Union, the US-Russia relations and a tough stand on countries such as Pakistan that export terrorism. The new US President must have a strategy on these issues and not remain satisfied with impulsive tactical responses.
Mohan Das Menon
Former additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat