By the time you read these lines Donald Trump would have been sworn in as the 45th President of the United States. From here starts another journey. The journey into the unknown. Or as Donald Rumsfeld once put it, the unknown unknown.
Is there a way to divine the meaning of it all then? Is there a way to know how a President Trump will run his country? You can never be too sure but there are early pointers. Especially in the sphere of international relations.
Trump very effectively exploited the unease prevalent in America over the global economic order where Americans subsidise lives elsewhere while getting a raw deal back at home. I am sure you have read it many times already but hear me out. This world order essentially is economic in nature. This subtle realisation gives birth to a number of possibilities and corrections that we hitherto ignored altogether.
As a Hillary supporter through and through I didn’t think many strengths of Mr Trump’s candidacy through. Had it not been for an international relations icon, Henry Kissinger, I would have continued to ignore these interesting points. Kissinger who did not support Trump candidacy during campaign met him twice after election and said that Trump is asking the right questions. That is when many like me started paying attention.
American foreign policy for two decades revolved around some interesting assumptions. First that being the sole superpower America needs to preserve an order where others benefit from its generosity while offering far less in response. From copyright infringement to shipping of jobs abroad everything is the cost of this engagement and acceptable even if it comes at the cost of America’s own decline. Second that America should look for a counterweight to contain the rise of China while treating Russia as an irrelevant power. Third, world trade in its current form should be preserved.
And then came the reset. An avid deal maker, Trump believes in taking on the challenges head on. Why contain China indirectly when you can make a better deal directly? Why treat Russia as a pariah when you can find a way to work with it? If the spectres like the IS are main challenges why not work together to fight them? Should America be responsible for the endless regime change wars and fund various international bodies without being treated as the shining city on the hill?
These are valid questions. And all along his election campaign when you separate the offensive from the substance you realise that Trump’s promises are closer to Franklin Delano Roosevelt (FDR). From his forgotten man reference to his allusions to a new deal, you find a lot in common at least in promises. FDR also believed in a world order slightly different from the existing one. He didn’t live long enough to translate into reality but his idea of the four policemen is not out of place in today’s world. He believed that four countries, the United States, the predecessors of modern day Russia and China and the United Kingdom could act as the four guarantors of the world peace. Surprisingly if Mr Trump goes ahead with the crux of his promises in the world order that is exactly where we might end up.
Of course things are not as simple as 1945. Back then Japan and Germany had been vanquished. And India was still two years away from gaining freedom. Today they all are relevant. But they are what they are. Emerging powers. It is my belief that barring something suicidal they will be treated fairly, in their own right. But no country will have a veto over the other.
This actually brings me to the international bodies like the UN. What becomes of them then? Again despite the campaign rhetoric the UN will remain relevant. Reason is simple. Its main contribution to civilisation is not politics but humanitarian in nature. The UN programmes have contributed enormously in fighting challenges like disease, hunger, poverty and climate change. They can still be relevant. The four policemen if they arrive on the scene will need to know the main threats facing the world are not countries but what I call the four horsemen of doom. Disease, conflicts, poverty and climate change. As long as this is not forgotten and America remains the shining city on the hill, this realisation can make the world a better place.
Published in The Express Tribune, January 21st, 2017.