Category Archives: US Elections

Trump’s Economic Diplomacy – A Pundit’s view

As President elect Donald Trump and incumbent President Obama work out details of a smooth transition, Americans and the world at large will keenly follow how the incoming administration takes shape and influences their lives.

Many chaltrump_obamalenges await the new administration. Hot button issues on the domestic front will undoubtedly dominate Trump’s attention. As he assembles a top talent team, Trump has promised economic revival as his top priority with immediate focus on Tax reforms, Infrastructure, Healthcare and Immigration. If he can pull this off, it will be unprecedented and generate millions of jobs for middle America.

As part of this quest, the new administration will certainly reassess US participation in economic and trade agreements. It will seek to renegotiate or redraw these agreements to promote American jobs. Most likely, the Transpacific Trade Partnership (TPP) will be replaced by a new trade agreement.

The Trump administration’s heavy economic agenda will likely be reflected in its foreign policy initiatives also. Economic Diplomacy will dominate while erstwhile interventionist doctrine may take a back seat, if not abandoned altogether. This could mean that US may scale down its involvement from conflict zones and other problematic areas of the world. This new diplomatic doctrine will put the spotlight on four areas – Europe, Russia, China and India.

Relationship with Europe will require a lot of sustained and energetic work. It is no secret that many European leaders have been skeptical of Trump. Their reactions to Trump’s election have ranged from nervous to outright undiplomatic. For example, the French ambassador to US raised eyebrows with his ‘undiplomatic tweets’ that he is reported to have subsequently deleted. German Chancellor Merkel’s response to Trump election was terse and calibrated. These reactions have publicly exposed the underlying discomfort among European allies.

Traditionally, the US has almost had a mystical influence on Europe. Despite differences, mostly bilateral, Europe identified itself with the US as an extension of itself. At least till Trump came on the scene. Trump had been critical of Germany’s intake of Syrian refugees during his campaign. He had also wanted the allies to contribute their fair share for the maintenance of NATO. Trump’s bluntness and his trademark lack of political correctness has soured relations.

It must be mentioned here that much of this disquiet among leaders about Trump has spawned from the fact that they tend to see and read Trump literally – word for word. They see his political incorrectness, but miss the larger message, often relying on an image portrayed by the media to understand him. But the media too, as seen in the election cycle, is guilty of misreading and missing Trump larger message. The sooner Europe gets past this mindset, the sooner will Trump reach out to them.

But the fact is that an economically weakened Europe needs the US for recovery. In return the US too needs Europe’s support in establishing Western might across the globe. This mutual dependence and a long history of partnership will endure and continue to sustain the relationship, albeit with creases that can be ironed out. But that should not dismiss the angst in Europe as the incoming administration works with individual European allies and the EU. However, with his native shrewdness and ability to strike deals, it may not be long before Trump and the allies are back to business as usual.

The North Atlantic Treaty Alliance (NATO) has been predicated on a communist threat from Soviet Union. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union, many strategic analyst have rightly questioned the need for NATO. Trump may be right in questioning the huge cost of maintaining the alliance, given that there are more pressing economic issues at home. But any rethinking on NATO only opens a host of other issues that may not be resolved easily or quickly. That may tie down Trump’s hands on any decision on NATO.

Trump will take a fresh look at relations with Russia. During his campaign, he had mentioned that he was open to improving relations with Putin. There is confluence of interest, at least in eliminating ISIS from Syria. But if Trump reaches out to Russian and succeeds in building new bridges with Putin, there may be early resolution to conflict in Syria. This may also impact east Europe and reduce tensions there. This will be important from EU’s perspective. Any reduction in tension with Russia will also spur trade and that is something an economically bruised Europe is looking forward to. But the cold war era warriors and policy wonks in Washington may not easily come around to reaching an understanding with Russia and hence the problem is likely to fester.

US relations with China may not see any significant change. Even though Trump has talked about China stealing American jobs, no precipitate action may be forthcoming. In fact, Trump’s deal making skills will be helpful in negotiating better trade deals with China. How far he can bring backs jobs from China to USA will be moot question. The US is a high cost center and manufacturing will be expensive, even if tax concessions are offered. On the other hand, China will maintain its currency advantage and enjoy lower costs of production. This will be a real challenge for the Trump administration.

India offers a lot of opportunities for the new administration. Indian Prime Minister has already reached out to Trump and congratulated him. President elect Trump has openly expressed his admiration for Modi. But beyond diplomatic niceties, India has a lot of work to do to step up the relationship with the US. India’s initiative to boost manufacturing under ‘make in India’ initiative and Trump’s focus to bring back jobs to the US may appear to be at loggerheads. But the reality is that there is significant room to maneuver a mutually win-win trade deal. For instance, while India can buy US arms, frigates, aircrafts etc., it can also be a huge market for green technologies – solar energy, digital smart city technologies, desalination technologies, waste disposal industries just to name a few.

Also huge opportunities lie in deepening a regional strategic cooperation that is already in its infancy. For example, Trump and Modi could inject new vigor to the ‘Pivot to Asia’ strategy that could have long term impact for US as well as regional stability in Asia.


Donald Trump versus GOP?

trump1What a week this has been for the 2016 US Presidential election primaries! The primaries brought to fore some truly unprecedented developments. Senator Bernie Sanders, who many think would not be able to win the Democratic party nomination, continued his strong performance against Hillary Clinton. The size and demography of Bernie’s supporter base – particularly young Americans – is a continued source of worry for Clinton. She may not be able to convince Bernie’s supporters to vote for her instead. Worse, some pollsters have opined that they may vote for Donald Trump.

Speaking of Donald Trump, as expected, he continued to dominate the headlines and spotlight on national TV. He swept Indiana primaries and took home 57 delegates – bringing his overall tally to 1068,  just 199 short of the magic number of 1267 delegates required to be declared the party nominee.  Trump’s closest rival, Ted Cruz who has the pledged support of 564 delegates, decided to suspend his campaign after Indiana results were out. Governor Kasich, who had played spoiler all along, followed suit and pulled out the next day.  Much to the consternation of many entrenched lobbies and groups, Indiana primary results made Donald Trump the presumptive nominee of the Republican party.

But the sweeping wins and massive public support did not seem to impress the GOP or Trump’s detractors. In fact, this saw the start of series of new confrontations and obstacles in his path to nomination.  His victory in Indiana seemed to have set off a series of events that only befuddled Americans.

Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House of Representatives, told CNN that Trump, the presumptive nominee, would not have his support. Two living former Republican Presidents – George Bush and George W Bush declared that they will not attend the Republican convention in Cleveland. President Obama, in a very unusual move, openly attacked Trump. On the other hand, Obama appeared to openly support Clinton. For a sitting President to comment on the election, let alone attack a presumptive nominee, is almost bizarre. But how all these will impact the Trump campaign is to be seen.

The electronic and print media lapped this all up and just cheered on. The media has all along been negative to Trump and at every stage had analytically explained the impossibility of Trump’s nomination. That all the pundits have been proved wrong again and again has been quietly buried in the dust and din of the unprecedented developments of the past week.

Abandoning neutrality, the networks seemed to join the bandwagon to highlight the fallout of Trump’s rise. For instance, former President of Mexico, Vicente Fox’s comments on Trump were repeatedly aired. One Cable network even asked Mr. Fox if he would address the Democratic and Republican conventions. Mr. Fox graciously accepted the invite. But none of the media pundits found it cause for concern that the comments of a former head of a sovereign nation amounted to interference in what is seen as a purely internal and domestic affair of the Americans.  But anything remotely antagonistic to Trump seemed to be enough to get air time.

Trump’s victory has created deep furrows within the GOP, prompting the New York Times to call it a “hostile takeover” of the Republican Party. Sure, he has angered the Republican establishment with his cavalier attitude and open scorn for its leadership. He has denounced political lobbies and refused their funds. His vocal stand on campaign fund reforms also has earned him powerful enemies in the party.

Trump’s remarks on a host of politically sensitive issues have not helped him either. His comments on Muslim immigrants, immigration reforms may have been thoughtless. But for a majority of Republicans like Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan to take umbrage under these offensive comments smacked of hypocrisy.

But surprisingly, the electorate seems to love Donald Trump for the very same reason the establishment loathes him. The more offensive comments he unloads, the more he seems to be cheered as evidenced by his continued sweep of the primaries. But more importantly, Trump’s stand on bringing back jobs to America has resonated with middle America. Case in point was his open condemnation of air conditioner manufacturer Carrier’s move to close shop in US and move to Mexico has been cheered by millions.

Trump has been ridiculed as a dilettante on policy issues– especially foreign and economic policy. For example, he has advocated cut in US expenditure on NATO. His stand has been roundly condemned but not critically analyzed by pundits on cable TV. The fact remains that since the fall of the Soviet Union, this alliance has been searching for a raison d’etre. Many defense experts and retired Army Generals have in fact privately and publicly aired similar views since long.

Also his pronouncements on Middle East policy – specifically relations with Saudi Arabia – has invited rile of policy honchos. Truth is that many privately agree it is time to revamp America’s policy in the Gulf. In fact, President Obama’s initiatives of opening up with Iran, are set to achieve a “rebalancing” of the power equation in the region that will have implications for that region for years to come.

On economic policy, Trump has been critical of the proposed Trans-Atlantic Partnership treaty as unhelpful to America since it may take away domestic jobs.  To be fair, many economists and writers from across the globe have raised fears of such a trade construct that would only benefit MNCs. It is interesting to note that even Hillary Clinton, who was neutral to these issues has now adopted Trump’s views on new trade agreements.

It is of course anybody’s guess as to what would be a correct policy stand on these issues. But what is glaringly obvious to lay Americans this election season is the lack of objectivity and a balanced critique of each of the candidate’s stand on these issues.  Watching the election cycle play out over the course of the year, a neutral observer cannot miss the partisan punditry out at play to denounce whatever Donald Trump stands for. It is, probably, for these reasons that he seems to have endeared himself to middle America, who also feel equally estranged by politicians, big business and the shenanigans of Wall Street. The more the media ridicules Trump, the more support he seems to garner and win more primaries.

That Donald Trump is now the presumptive nominee has galled many a section of the established power centers. The unprecedented events recalled above are symptomatic of this irritation.

Trump’s rise has serious implications for the electoral fortunes of Hillary Clinton. On the one hand, Senator Bernie Sanders performance has been unprecedented in that he has a very strong and loyal following. He has repeatedly refused to quit till the end and vowed to continue to fight Clinton till the Democratic convention. But more important is Clinton’s response to Trump. Will she be able to handle his bag of tricks and offensive campaign?  Will the millennials who are with Sanders now, swing to Trump’s side?

Confronted by all-round animosity – from high visibility media to high profile politicians – Trump faces an unparalleled confrontational setting. His inflammatory campaign style and often thoughtless repartees have only helped his antagonists who are ever ready to pluck at his words inflame the situation. However, this does not make candidate Trump a disaster for America. As a rookie politician, he has a long and steep learning curve before he can emerge “Presidential”.  But the road is not exactly a bed of roses for the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton either.

While the GOP is all set to hit the reset button, Trump’s emergence has created a defining moment in contemporary American politics. Even President Ronald Reagan was dubbed as a disaster by the very same Republicans who now swear by him. Dismissing Trump as a flash in the pan will be a serious mistake for the GOP as well as the Clinton campaign. Clearly the disconnect of politicians with public mood is larger and deeper than many would have imagined. Bottom line is, Americans are thinking differently this election cycle. They are desperately seeking to be heard this time around.

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