International

What is it going to be?

On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump took oath as the 45th president of the United States of America and the tenor of his inauguration speech, if implemented in letter and spirit, would have far reaching consequences for Americans and the world including Pakistan.The address was in several aspects reminiscent of the hard-hitting election campaign speeches in which he took a very radical line against a large part of the established order. In other respects the speech was consistent with his agenda articulated very early on in his campaign which was not anticipated from an erratic person like Trump. The theme of the inaugural speech was extremely nationalistic and combative. The underlying phrase of the speech was “America first”.In this connection he said, “From this day forward, a new vision will govern our land. From this day forward, it’s going to be only America first. America first. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”At the outset of the speech he called for “rebuilding” America. This emphatically indicated that it was not campaign rhetoric but Trump has a very negative view of the prevailing economic and social state of America. Describing the situation he said, “Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential.”The newly installed President Trump further explained the situation from his standpoint in these words, “We’ve defended other nations’ borders, while refusing to defend our own, and spent trillions and trillions of dollars overseas, while America’s infrastructure has fallen into disrepair and decay. We’ve made other countries rich while the wealth, strength and confidence of our country has dissipated over the horizon. One by one, the factories shuttered and left our shores with not even a thought about the millions and millions of American workers that were left behind. The wealth of our middle class has been ripped from their homes and then redistributed all across the world.” Insofar as Trump’s description of the growing poverty in the US is concerned, there cannot be any two opinions about it. Poverty-stricken people especially homeless and jobless are not a rare sight in different US states and cities today. The writer has himself recently seen in the US plenty of homeless and poor people in several states. The words of President Trump also delineate the causes of this situation. There is a lot of substance in his argument that the infrastructure in the US is in disrepair and that the middle class in the country has been deprived of the fruits of their labour. However, the chief cause he mentioned in this regard—enriching other nations— is risible. In fact, the global policies of the US since the end of World War II is a malign narrative of economic rape and military carnage of weak Third World countries.

Since Islamabad became the ally of the US in the global war on so-called terror, we have lost at least $100 billion due to terrorist attacks and their direct and indirect impact especially in damage to infrastructure and the whopping cost of putting enhanced security measures in place. Iraq and Afghanistan are other examples of rapacious US policies. So one may not disagree with President Trump that the American economy and society has been adversely impacted; but more than the US, countries across the world have been devastated due to US policies. Against this backdrop, President Trump was correct to have criticized his predecessors for their policies which have not brought stability and prosperity to the US nor have made the world safer, more peaceful or stable.

Hopefully, this means that his policies would be more inward looking. This, in a sense, is good for the world, especially for Pakistan, because as long as, and as far as, Trump would remain focused on Americans and America we may evade to a certain extent, the negative impact of an egregiously interventionist US foreign policy. Trump, unlike wealthy businessmen, also questioned the rationale of contemporary capitalism which has manifested itself in the shape of rich multinational companies, many America-based, investing and producing outside the countries of their origin. However, at the same time it may also be remembered that these MNCs have earned colossal profits, which are mostly sent back to the countries of origin including the US. Making an indirect attack on capitalism he further said, “We must protect our borders from the ravages of other countries making our products, stealing our companies and destroying our jobs. Protection will lead to great prosperity and strength. I will fight for you with every breath in my body and I will never, ever let you down.”One has to see how Trump protectionism will play itself out. At its most extreme, it will entail a harsh reordering of the world . Protectionism may provide some relief to Americans but may adversely affect the overall economy in the long term. In particular, countries like Pakistan which have a significant trading relationship with Washington are going to have to radically adjust. As Trump implements his protectionist agenda, China, which is the largest trading partner of America, would be affected the most. It seems that Trump’s protectionist mantra is aimed specifically at China. This is obvious from his campaign days;and when elected he knocked Washington’s One China policy askew by telephonically communicating with Taiwan’s president. So in the coming days ever-growing tension between Washington and Beijing is expected; war not only in economic terms, but with regard to the South China Sea.

An important aspect of President Trump’s inaugural address was the specific mention of “Islamic fundamentalism” and his intentions to take on the threat by the horns across the world and to erase it from the face of the earth. It implies that Trump would take forward the agenda of former presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama regarding the global war on terror. This is going to have serious implications for Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Muslim world in general.

Trump sounded statesmanlike when he said that the most important aspect of governance in the US is not that who is in the saddle, but whether people have control over those in the driving seat. He said, “What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.” It remains to be seen how Trump goes about implementing his stated agenda and whether he would be able to pursue it in letter and spirit.

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