Donald Trump has been the most unpredictable, unreliable, controversial, and roguish and much maligned leader of the US in recent decades. He was seen as renting asunder the world instead of uniting it behind the rule-based international order dominated by his country. His policies have had profound bearing on the evolution of international political and economic order adding to the volatility of many regions from Asia-Pacific to the Middle East, Persian Gulf, Central Asian and Caucasian regions, Europe and North America.
He took many policy decisions to shake the almost consensus-based foundations of the international political, economic and strategic order. However, a few of his policy decisions were more unsettling for the weary world and kept many serious US allies on tenterhooks throughout forcing them to think of devising independent policy measures on problems and issues of immediate concern to them. His lukewarm attitude to trans-Atlantic matters including NATO was an added source of concern to the European Union.
The policy decisions of Donald Trump which jolted the world leaders the most included his denunciation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – popularly known as Iran Nuclear Deal, trade wars with China and Japan, repudiation of trade agreements including NAFTA, Asia-Pacific Partnership, Trans-Atlantic Trade Partnership (TTP), Paris Climate Agreement, acceleration of anti-China Naval alliances, brinkmanship with North Korea, stoking tension in the Persian Gulf and the Shia-Sunni divide in the Muslim world.
The denunciation of the JCPOA was a disaster. The only two countries in the Middle East were deadly against the nuclear deal with Iran – Israel and Saudi Arabia. Maybe, the other Gulf States would not be in favour of JCPOA, but their opposition was not so pronounced. Donald Trump’s visit to Riyadh to participate in the so called Islamic Summit of May 2017 and his theatric denunciation of Iran as the epicenter of terrorism gave a fillip to the tension in the Persian Gulf and escalated the traditional Persian-Arab rivalry. Any war in the Persian Gulf would have been disastrous for the world.
His trade war with China throughout his tenure held the world on tenterhooks making the World Trade Organisation almost irrelevant. China has been following the WTO rules and regulations but has carried out trade and economic reforms in its own way. China has been willing to hold dialogue about the trade related issues including the huge trade deficit of over $350billion. But this was not enough to bring him down from his arrogant perch. His trade war was not limited to China only. He roughed up Japan and South Korea too.
His diatribe against NAFTA, TTP and NATO disappointed the US partners in the North America and Europe compelling some of them to continue with these multilateral trade agreements even without the presence of the US. The European Union which remained stuck most of the time with Brexit thought of making its own security arrangements if the US failed to carry on its commitment to NATO. The contradictory signals emerging from Washington and Brussels encouraged Russia to make inroads in the Easter Europe and Central Asian and Caucasian countries.
He undertook his first ever 12-day-long tour of Asia to unsuccessfully project his administration’s foreign policy objectives to the countries shaken by the diminishing US commitment to the region as reflected by his unilateral withdrawal from the TPP. The visit aimed at urging concerted and in-sync alignment against North Korea, displaying US resolve to contain growing threat to the region by China, and driving home his preference for bilateral trade arrangements. Though the visit could not allay the concerns of the regional countries about the US commitment, it highlighted the importance of the region as a whole to the US.
The Asia-Pacific boasts of three of the largest economies, seven of the fastest-growing markets and seven of the world’s 10 largest armies. By all estimates, the region has the potential of registering more than half of the global economic output in the immediate future. The region has always figured as one of the most significant planks in the US foreign policy as reflected by President Obama’s elaborate Pivot to Asia policy underscoring the US political, economic and strategic engagements with emerging powers and multilateral institutions. President Donald Trump abandoned the Pivot to Asia policy without laying down any alternative. This added to the regional states’ fear of the growing military and economic power of China. The active US engagement in the region has been maintaining a sort of equilibrium in the region reducing the prospects of strategic threat from the assertive China.
President Trump failed to assuage their security concerns even in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit which was held in Vietnam at the heel of his visit. There also he put more emphasis on his slogan of “The America First” and economic nationalism than any multilateral engagement and put aspersions on WTO as the multilateral institution saying ‘we have not been treated fairly by WTO, and that such organisations can function properly when all members follow the rules and respect sovereign rights of every member”. In South Asia, his efforts have been directed to strengthen India as a counterweight to China trying in vain to fail the BRI and its flagship project of CPEC. His pronounced tilt to India encouraged Prime Minister Modi to clamp a kind of Martial Law in the Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh abolishing their special status and making them part of the Union of India in violation of the UNSC resolution. This has turned the region into a hotspot escalating tension between the three nuclear states.
In short, Donald Trump made every effort to undermine the US leadership of the globalised world creating doubts about the US commitment to peace and security in Europe, Middle East, Asia and Asia-Pacific. His slogan of “The America First” stirred the monstrous White racism against the black and Americans of Hispanic, Asian descent. He simply presided over the ethnic fragmentation of the American society. His policy decisions have strewn the path with thorns for his successor. The moot point is that if Joe Biden wins the elections, how far he would be able and willing to review or reverse some of the policies of his predecessor. Trump’s decisions in regard to the Palestinian issue were in reversal of the position the US leaders have been following since decades.
The two-state principle underlining the US policy has been effectively pushed to the backburner. Instead, the Arab countries are being coerced to establish normal diplomatic relations with Israel. The Democrats will not be able to reverse Donald Trump’s decision to shift the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. However, the pressure on Arab countries to recognise Israel may perhaps be reduced and a renewed effort may be made to find solution to the Palestinian issue.
The trade talks with China will gain normal pace to get out of this dispute. China is willing to negotiate the huge trade deficit of $350billion. However, differences with China on South China Sea Islands, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Uyghurs plight in Xinjiang and BRI and CPEC will continue to remain the cause of contention between the two countries. The policy regarding the multilateral trade agreements including NAFTA, TTP, TPP and NATO will be reviewed allaying the current concerns of European and Asia-Pacific allies. However, the strengthening of India as counterweight to China in Asia will continue apace creating difficulties for Pakistan. Similarly, the withdrawal from Afghanistan and the efforts for return of peace to that war ravaged country are expected to continue. The Americans have been showing a sort of fatigue about the purposeless wars in far flung regions taking a toll on their lives and resources.
The Democrats are also likely to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action or the Nuclear Deal with Iran lessening the tension in the Persian Gulf. However, they have to balance this policy move with the concerns of prominent Gulf States and Israel. The Jewish lobby must be active to foil this move. Joe Biden has already promised to reverse Donald Trump’s policy on Muslims and some Muslim countries. However, there will be no change in the US policy on radical Muslims or radical political Islam. Similarly, the democrats will put some pressure on India to ameliorate human right conditions in Jammu and Kashmir. We should not expect some big change of heart towards Pakistan. We shall continue to have some strategic importance to the new US administration as long as the Afghanistan problem is finally settled. TW