President Trump: A Bull In A China Shop?


Presidents and Prime Ministers assuming office in mature democratic countries after an election start with a period of honeymoon with the public and the rest of the world. President Kennedy had a long honeymoon and President Hollande a briefer one. Trump has willfully chosen not to have any honeymoon by his pronouncements before the inaugural and the speech he made at the inaugural.

Hundreds of thousands of women marched against him in U.S. and other countries. More Americans marched against him than the number who attended his inauguration where he made a speech rather inappropriate for the occasion. He spoke of ‘carnage’, ‘God’s people’, and ‘righteous public’ and portrayed himself as the savior who will rectify in a jiffy all that has gone wrong with America for decades. He had no nice words for his fellow candidate Hillary Clinton who had scored almost 3 million votes more than him. His reference to the outgoing President Obama was miserly.

On day one, with unnecessary fanfare, Trump passed an executive order disabling the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obama Care, pending its repeal. This order will deprive 18 million Americans of health insurance in one year. Is this the way to make America great again?

In his first week in office Trump has managed to lose friends and make enemies at an alarming rate. The candidate Trump had abused Mexicans and declared his intention to build a wall to prevent their illegal entry into U.S. Many of us thought that as President he would not pursue such a perilous project. Instead, he has already signed an executive order to build the wall. This is ridiculous. The respectable Pew Research Centre has statistics to show that between 2009 and 2014, 870,000 Mexicans came in and 1 million went back. Net immigration from Mexico is negative. Therefore, there is no need for any wall, even assuming that it is the best way to stop or reduce illegal entry into U.S.

The candidate Trump had come out with the absurd proposition that he would make Mexico pay for the cost of the wall. Predictably, Mexico refused and now Trump says that he would impose a tariff of 20% on imports from Mexico. This is even more absurd. Trump has to get out of the NAFTA before he does that. Furthermore, the tariff will be paid by the importer who will pass it on to the consumer. In short, American consumers will pay for the wall. When the absurdity was pointed out, the new line is that the tariff is only one of the options. Can Trump take decision after due deliberation?

It is pathetically clear and it is most distressing that the Trump White House is incompetent beyond words. It cannot even get U.K. Prime Minister’s name right and spelt it as Teresa May, a soft porn artist. The same White House referred to the ‘Foreign Prime Minister of Australia’. We note that the President who unprecedently wrote ‘unpresidently’ and the staff are in perfect sync.

Since only the Congress can give money to build the wall, shouldn’t Trump have asked for money from it rather than sign an executive order? An executive order, his counselors should have told Trump, is meant for emergencies. In any case, apart from the money for construction, as there are serious diplomatic issues with Mexico won’t it have made sense to consult and get the approval of the Congress? Obviously, Trump is innocent of or wants to defy the checks and balances in the U.S.Constitution. For how long can this absurd show go on?

Trump is deeply upset that his inauguration attracted less people than the 2009 one of Obama. He found fault with the media for ‘deliberately underestimating’ the size of the crowd. He could have and should have checked with the city’s metro system according to whom the number for Trump was much less than for Obama. Funnily enough Trump’s press secretary sharply told the press that more people attended the Trump inaugural than the Obama one and then disappeared without taking questions, an outrageous example of bad manners. In his defense, Trump’s adviser Conway said that the Press Secretary was giving ‘alternative facts’, the very phrase that sums up the contempt of Trump for objective facts. The Trump team should not be imitating the Nazi Goebbels without his savoir faire. Trump has entered the ‘post-truth’ society.

Trump suffers from acute Islamophobia. As candidate he had said that he would not let Muslims in without stringent checks. He has signed an executive order suspending issue of visa to Muslims from Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, Iran, Somalia, and Yemen. While one can understand the need for strict checking before issuing visa, it is difficult to see the logic in a blanket ban. The Islamic State will get more recruits. Trump wants to reinstate torture and open secret sites outside U.S. to carry out torture.

Trump was excited about Brexit. He is allergic to trade liberalization pacts. He took U.S. out of the 12-nation TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) promoted by Obama. Trump has asked for re-negotiating NAFTA signed in 1994. Liberalized trade in the name of globalization has proved to be partly good and partly bad as the curate’s egg. Globalization needs correction, but Trump is not going about it the right way.

His philosophy of ‘America First’ and his counsel to other countries to imitate him is a sure recipe for disaster leading the world to a Hobbessian jungle with its state of nature and a war of all against all. To prevent international anarchy and to prevent states from going to war against each other, we have built up an international system based on rules and norms of behavior. Trump wants to destroy that system as for him it is all about ‘deal making’. He is wrong and should be stopped.

Trump is right in saying that NATO is ‘obsolete’. NATO was invented to keep the Soviets out of Western Europe and to keep Germany down. There is no Soviet Union and there is no risk of German re-armament and threatening its neighbors. Thanks to Jean Monnet and Robert Schuman a war between any two Western Europe states is unthinkable. When the Cold War and the Soviet Union collapsed U.S. should have taken the initiative to ask Russia to join NATO. Instead, the military-industrial complex worried that the merchants of death will get less money decided to expand NATO in a manner threatening and humiliating Russia. At the same time, when Russia resorted to aggression in Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, NATO was unable to taken on Russia.

However, Trump should have pursued his goal with diplomatic finesse. He has upset the Europeans unnecessarily. Former Foreign Minister of Germany Joschka Fischer says “‘America first, signals the renunciation, and possible destruction, of the US-led world order that Democratic and Republican presidents, starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt, have built up and maintained – albeit with varying degrees of success – for more than seven decades.” Ana Palacio, former Spanish Foreign Minister, says that Trump’s vision “ implies a reversion to a “nineteenth-century spheres of influence” model of world order, “with major players such as the US, Russia, China, and, yes, Germany, each dominating their respective domains within an increasingly balkanized international system.”

Prime Minister Theresa May in the joint press conference with Trump said that he had told her that he was 100 per cent with NATO. It needs some gullibility to believe that in one conversation she changed his mind on a matter of great importance. Can foreign interlocutors believe Trump if he said what she said he said?

Trump has upset China by abandoning the time honored One China policy by taking a phone call from President Tsai of Taiwan and saying that he would follow that policy only if he gets something in return. It is true that Obama had unnecessarily kowtowed to China and correction was called for. But, surely, there is a less abrasive way of doing it. Trump wants a trade war with China. The unintended consequences can cause serious damage to U.S., China, and the rest of the world.

Trump’s approach to‘re-set’ relations with Putin makes good sense as Obama in violation of the elementary principle of dealing with the incumbent had needlessly and unfairly demonized Putin who outwitted him on Ukraine and Syria. There might be a grand bargain between Trump and Putin on Syria+ Ukraine+ much more leading to the lifting of sanctions on Russia. Putin will go out of his way to get into a working relationship with U.S. Putin is nimble enough to dance with two partners, U.S. and China at the same time. China too has signaled that it will be glad to be in a G3 though its aim is to be in a G2 with U.S. with the ultimate aim of being the G1 in the fullness of time.

Trump’s style of behaving like a Chief Executive Officer is unsuited to the office he holds. In the corporate sector, the CEO listens to the managers and gives an order, though in better run companies there is a collegial approach that Trump is unfamiliar with. His inability to stop tweeting will cause serious problems. He needs to first assemble his team and then work out policies with the benefit of advice of the bureaucracy. Trump’s belief that he knows everything and that based on a news story he can tweet that he would send Federal agents to Chicago exposes his impetuosity and ignorance of how the system works.

It is important to recognize that Trump is not a Republican President. He is an outsider who came in and captured the party despite opposition from its establishment. What Trump wants to do is reasonably clear. But, what he will be permitted to do by America minus Trump and the world minus U.S. is a different matter. Applying the well- known law of the parallelogram of forces in dynamics the Trump agendas will be amended. The Republicans in the Congress are already embarrassed and soon they will have to stop their President from behaving like a bull in a china shop.

It is rather difficult for a man at 70 to change his habits, even more difficult if he is autocratic. President George Bush had the advantage that his father had arranged for Condoleezza Rice to tutor him on foreign policy. Trump did not have that advantage. But, it is not too late to get some tuition, without publicity, not only on foreign policy.

Ambassador KP Fabian, Indian Diplomat who served in the Indian Foreign Service and he was posted to Madagascar, Austria, Iran, Sri Lanka, Canada, Finland, Qatar and Italy, and Permanent Representative to UN Organizations including FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), WFP (World Food Programme), and IFAD (International Fund for Agricultural Development). He wrote several books recently on Middle East.

First published in Eurasia Review


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