US President Donald Trump has taken a series of executive decisions which imagine a world where America’s relationship with the rest of the world seems as a zero-sum game. The world is suddenly coming to realise that his ‘America-first’ dream was not just sloganeering. President Trump means it and to fulfil that objective, he is willing to act unilaterally. It does not matter whether some people within the US or US allies abroad like it or not. He has ordered a suspension of travel and constituted a ban from seven Muslim-majority countries of the West Asian region. He has also pulled the US out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement, promised to build a wall along the US-Mexico border, threatened to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), questioned the voluntary contributions of the US to the United Nations and raised doubts about the usefulness of NATO in modern era and the European Union. President of the European Council Donald Tusk has said in a letter to European leaders last week that stances taken by Trump have put into question the last 70 years of American foreign policy.
What was the immediate provocation for banning travel from seven countries?
It is generally perceived that these seven countries share a huge issue of Islamic radicalism and America has suffered from terrorist threats which emanate directly or indirectly from these territories. He is critical of the recent migrant policy of the European Union and raised eyebrows about the open-door policy to refugees from the war-torn countries. The rise of Islamic State has fuelled the fire of suspicion which has boosted the hand of the Trump administration in initiating such bold and radical border control steps. It is all a part of his worldview which is based on cynicism and extreme vetting for insurance against the possible misuse of migration and visa policies. Blaming the new President alone for possessing such a cynical and protectionist view would be a misguided attempt to understand the larger picture because he is not alone in this entourage. He was not elected by the majority of the Americans but by the majority of the states that make up the electoral college, so he is pandering to only that constituency.
One of the key criticisms of this travel ban is that he has excluded those Muslim-majority countries where he has business interests such as Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and Egypt. It is interesting to note the fact that 18 out of the 19 terrorists in the 9/11 terrorist attacks belonged to these three countries. But the list of these seven countries who are perceived as an imminent threat to American security was prepared by the Obama administration and it is not the brainchild of the incumbent administration. Therefore, the questions should rather be raised at President Obama’s rationale for preparing this list. Trump administration has just fast-tracked the procedure that was in limbo for years under the previous administration.
It is possible that Islamic extremists would ultimately gain from this immigration ban because it fits into their perspective of projecting their entire struggle against the US as a civilizational conflict i.e. America versus Islam. Moreover, it is still unclear about the ramifications on the future of those Muslims who are actually fighting the Islamic State terrorists or those who are actually opposed to Islamic extremism. On a positive side, it should be noted that he is not mincing words about the seriousness of the issue. During his inaugural address, he pledged to ‘wipe-out’ the Islamic State from the ‘face of the earth’. This sends a very powerful message to all those who are providing safe havens and sanctuaries to the terrorist groups on their soil. He is pushing the majority of the innocent and tolerant Muslim societies who think that they have should keep a strategic restraint over acting against these Islamic fundamentalists, to act concretely and weed out these notorious elements from their society. He is enforcing responsibility of this innocent and tolerant societies in terms of the global fight against Islamic terrorism.
Critics point out that President Trump’s coronation has invariably created divisions in the American society itself. A message has gone out that it is fine to act against someone who is not white and hold a green card with a brown skin. This faux racial superiority based on non-concrete evidence might deeply divide the American society and create future internal conflicts in the region. But it is not completely right to attribute this cultural shock only to President Trump because he can be a product of this state of mind and not the producer of it. The ‘open society’ of America has been in danger much before the accession of President Trump to the throne of the American presidency. Anyhow, it should be noted that America’s innovative skills are driven by foreign talent and this ‘drying up’ of the talent pool might hurt the American economy in the long run.
Is President Trump dismantling the international order to secure the interests of the United States?
American dilemma is encapsulated in President Trump’s slogan – ‘Make America Great Again’ which shows a belief that America is no longer at the top of the heap. Globalisation was intended to serve the interests of the free market societies of the West but as the wheels rolled down in the 21st century, Asia started gaining more out of the charming tool of ‘Globalisation’. Therefore, the intention is to change the rules of the game i.e. the international order itself. For instance, till the time World Trade Organisation was serving the interests of the West, it was hailed as a remarkable success in global trade, but as soon as the interests of other powers such as India and China were addressed by the WTO at the cost of the Western interests, the WTO or multilateralism was discarded as a rotten tomato. It is quite difficult to predict the future of this shift in international order but as the weight of countries like India, China and Japan increases, the relative weight of the United States would go down.
At the most, President Trump would cherry-pick and make selective strategic shifts to the international order that America proclaims to guide. Core strategic interests cannot be jeopardised in the name of reordering the international order. Both the Oval Office and the Pentagon knows about this rule and they might possibly adhere to it.
President Trump may have deliberately created this wave of chaos to take concrete advantages out of it. The Chinese have been following this strategy for over a decade now and it has been beneficial for them to secure the immediate interests in their region of influence.
Focus on the positives –
The positive agenda of handing out an olive branch to Russia, wiping out Islamic fundamentalism from the ‘face of the earth’, mounting pressure on an expansionist China and not spreading the ‘American way of life’ in the form of crusader of democracy under the regime change operations, are surprisingly not being discussed by the international media. It is hopeful that if President Trump wishes to adopt these positive ideas into his worldview, then it would possibly ‘Make America Great Again’ and the rest of the world, a more peaceful and stable place to live-in.
There is some kind of ‘paranoia’ that sails across the US administration today and the rest of the world but it is quite indifferent to regard this immigration ban only as a ‘ban on Muslims’. This dangerous terminology needs concrete evidence and debate before arriving at a conclusion. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has assumed his position and it can be expected that moderation might flow into Trump administration. Let me categorically clarify to those who are creating a fuss about this sudden wave of protectionism, President Trump is a reflection of middle-rural America and not of East-West coast, educated America. This middle-rural America has always been conservative about immigration policies of the Federal Government.
The post-war elitist international order was already in queue for a reshuffle. This change is destined to invite resistance as usual, but the change is inevitable.