Monday July 15, 2024

The world according to Trump

By I Hussain
November 23, 2016

It has been called the greatest political upset in American political history. How did the least qualified candidate in the history of US politics beat a qualified candidate whom virtually everyone expected to win right up to the time ballots were being counted on Election Day?

How did most of the press, the pollsters, the historians, the data analysts, and even Donald Trump’s closest advisers get the results of the US presidential election so wrong? The entire polling industry is shell shocked after incorrectly predicting the outcome of the Brexit vote in June earlier this year and now, more spectacularly, the US presidential election.

Political analysts doing a post-mortem of election results can point to the faulty assumptions made by the Democrats about a ‘blue firewall’ in states like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin or that the FBI director’s announcement at the eleventh hour about a new batch of emails muddied the waters for Clinton’s chances or that she represented the Washington establishment at a time of huge pent-up anger against the elites but the fact is that Donald Trump’s victory reflects on the weaknesses of Clinton’s candidacy.

The paid speeches to Goldman Sachs, an investment bank, at a time when her aides were cautioning her about the blowback should she decide to run for president later (revealed by the leaked emails released by WikiLeaks), the use of a private email server as a senior government official that showed a serious lapse in judgement and then compounding it by first stonewalling and refusing to acknowledge the mistake, the donations to the Clinton Foundation at the time she was secretary of state and the emphasis on attacking Trump’s misogyny and bigotry instead of highlighting her own economic plan for the betterment of middle class and working Americans all contributed to her loss.

Many world leaders are concerned about what a Trump administration means for established international trade relationships and the US’s stance on urgent international issues such as the Paris accord on climate change. Angela Merkel, for one, was guarded in her congratulatory message to Trump. However, right-wing politicians and authoritarian leaders such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi have welcomed Trump’s success and Syria’s Assad has called him a ‘natural ally’.

Hindu extremists in India are exultant as well they might be since Trump proclaimed at one of the rallies organised by his Indian-American supporters before the election: “I am a big fan of Hindu”. Trump also professes admiration for Indian Prime Minister Modi who like Trump, as Pankaj Mishra writing in the New York Times archly puts it, “rose to power demonizing ethnic-religious minorities, immigrants and the establishment media, and boasting about the size of a body part”. (It is fair to point out that in Modi’s case the body part was his chest size.)

One of the first politicians to congratulate him on his electoral success was Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel, who has had serious differences with President Obama over the nuclear agreement with Iran and the expansion of Jewish settlements in Israeli occupied territories. Trump has vowed to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s “eternal and indivisible capital” – contrary to the position espoused by previous US administrations. Nor is the issue of expansion of Jewish settlements in the territories occupied by Israel since 1967 expected to be a point of friction between the US under a Trump administration and Israel as was the case under previous Republican and Democratic presidents ever since the 1967 Middle East war.

But perhaps the most pressing strategic issue facing Israel today is Russian military presence in Syria that hinders the Israeli military’s offensive capability on its northern borders. Israel is concerned that a rapprochement between a Trump administration and Russia would strengthen Assad as well as Hezbollah in Lebanon and is seeking to avert this possibility.

What does a Trump administration mean for Pakistan’s relationship with the US? Given Trump’s expertise in, as he puts it, ‘deal-making’ the relationship is expected to be highly transactional with access to American markets and finance from US-dominated international financial institutions dependent on a quid pro quo including reining in of militant groups that are thought to be undermining stability in Afghanistan under its US- backed government. Moreover, Indian and Israeli influence on the US is likely to make our nuclear assets a bone of contention which is why Pakistan’s close relationship with China is so vital for political and economic reasons.

The visa regime for Pakistani visitors to the US and Pakistani students to American universities is likely to become even more stringent as Trump’s avowal to keep Muslims out of the US is implemented. One positive from this could be that fewer Pakistanis with professional skills and talent emigrate given the current politically charged anti-immigrant atmosphere in many Western countries, thereby boosting the domestic economy’s pool of ‘human capital’.

Contrary to what Trump watchers might believe about his focus on domestic issues and need to cut back on foreign military interventions, he intends to build up the US military arsenal by spending tens of billions of dollars as indicated during his campaign. Further, members of his national security team are prominent neo-conservatives such as James Woolsey, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency, who was an avid promoter of the 2003 invasion of Iraq under George W Bush and believes in putting American troops on the ground in the Middle East. In a chilling interview on CNN last week, he hinted that a Trump administration would take the war to wherever it needed to be taken to root out ‘radical Islam”. So one has to take a deep breath before taking Trump’s avowal to eschew foreign military adventures at face value.

A controversial area that Pakistan has to be concerned about is the use of drone attacks on Pakistani soil that have been assailed as a violation of international law. While a Clinton presidency was not expected to be an improvement over Obama’s in terms of drone attacks against terror suspects, one has to be positively fearful about what a Trump presidency will do.

In his book ‘Time to Get Tough’ published in 2011, Trump chastised Obama for refusing to use drone attacks against the Haqqani Network in FATA. Trump writes: “Right now we ban our forces from using Predator drones inside the city of Miram where the Haqqanis are headquartered. The reason? Obama didn’t want to offend the Pakistanis. That’s absurd – they’re killing our soldiers! We need to get tough, give our troops permission to return fire, and tell Pakistan that we will sever all economic activity with them until they cut ties with the Haqqani network. If the Pakistani intelligence services work with terrorists, we should declare their military a terrorist organization”. This is indeed the most extreme position taken by any political leader on the use of drones for military purposes.

With the lies and hate mongering engendered first by the Brexiteers in the UK and then by Trump in his election campaign, it is quite appropriate that Oxford Dictionaries has selected the word ‘post-truth’ as its international word of the year for 2016. This is an adjective “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief”. The far right in several European countries that are scheduled to hold elections within the next 12 months has already taken note of how to campaign for votes and win elections in the post-truth era.

The writer is a group director at the Jang Group.