Newspaper Article 21/11/2016
Every analyst is busy in separating Donald J Trump’s electoral rhetoric into pursuable and abandon-able categories. However, his campaign guys, in the hope of grabbing lucrative jobs, are busy gathering arguments to support the notion that all that Trump said as candidate was gospel truth and it could be implemented, in letter and spirit. Trump too is in no mood to show flexibility, at least for the time being. Trump could, at least in theory, reshape the fabric of US policies, both qualitatively and quantitatively, through exercise of his an unprecedented hold on all state institutions, inter alia, both houses of Congress, the White House and judicial appointments. This is enormous critical mass of power, vested in a single party since 1928. Such preponderance of power, in a single individual is likely to have its implications, both for the better or for the worse.
As of now, Trump is fixated into some regressive ideals of yesteryears. Banning the entry of Muslims, tearing apart Iran nuclear deal, watering down support to Palestinian right to statehood, strict immigration measures including medieval concepts of wall building and electrified fencing, retooling trade relations with China, incorporating protectionist trade regime in favour of the US; withholding ratification of 12-nationTrans Pacific Partnership (TPP) etc. are just some of Trump’s day dreams. Good things include: toning down post Crimea neo-cold war rhetoric with Russia alongside enhancing multi-dimensional cooperation; asking Europe to take more financial responsibility of their defence; offer to mediate between India and Pakistan on Kashmir dispute etc.
In the name of improving Homeland Security, some of the dormant and abandoned post 9/11 laws, in their revamped form, are being seen as worth re-implementation with respect to immigration, profiling and registration. Even though some of them had been overturned by American superior judiciary and others were thought as no longer relevant in view of their inconsistency with America’s obligations with regard to Human Rights.
Trump administration may go ahead with speedy construction of a US-Mexico border wall through an executive order, bypassing congressional approval. Even though both houses of the Congress have Republican majority, singly and conjointly, yet, Trump has apprehensions that Congress may stand in the way of such regressive lawmaking and approvals. Trump had pledged to step up immigration enforcement against the country’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. Revocation of 2012 order granting temporary deportation relief and work permits to more than 700,000 undocumented children of illegal immigrants is also being contemplated.
Trump said on November 13, in an interview on CBS’ “60 Minutes”, that once he took office, he would remove immigrants with criminal records who are in the country illegally: “What we are going to do is get the people that are criminal and have criminal records, gang members, drug dealers, we’re getting them out of our country, they’re here illegally.” However, America looks forward to securing the border before getting on to any statutory immigration measure. Raising of a deportation force is not on cards. Trump referred to undocumented migrants without criminal records as “terrific people”. He did not describe in detail what his policy would be toward them.
The US already has a large infrastructure for arresting, detaining and deporting migrants. Over eight years, Barack Obama has deported more than 2.5 million people, more than any other president, and more than doubled the number of border patrol agents. He has also increased border surveillance, and contracted the country’s largest prison company to help detain migrants. Obama had pursued immigration reform but failed to press a bipartisan bill through Congress in 2013 and 2014.
To implement Trump’s views on “extreme vetting” of some Muslim immigrants, a proposal is under consideration for reinstating a national registry for immigrants and visitors from Muslim countries who enter the US on visas from countries where extremist organizations are active. A similar National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), was imposed by President Bush after 9/11, whereby people from “higher risk” countries were required to undergo interrogations and fingerprinting on entering the US. This law was abandoned in 2011 after it was deemed redundant by the Department of Homeland Security and criticized by civil rights groups for unfairly targeting immigrants from Muslim-majority nations. Trump campaign has also restored ‘Muslim ban’ proposal on website that was earlier presumed to have been taken down on November 08.
Trump’s economic policy stance has been evident in his oft-repeated inward-looking pronouncements. Statements such as the ‘Brexit-plus plus’, road to reversing globalization and trade integration indicate an agenda that places the revival of American economy first. Globalization engendered inequalities have been at the heart of Trump’s economic policy declarations. Reversal and or renegotiation of some of the earlier trade agreements and policies may be on cards. The core elements of trade policy include imposition of higher tariffs on imports in general, and from China and Mexico in specific. Under the circumstances, Pakistan’s desire of preferential access to the US market may not bear fruits.
America being the world’s largest importer with a share of almost 14 per cent in world imports, imposition of higher tariffs will naturally be detrimental to world trade. And even then the US economy may not gain because attempt to push domestic manufacturing may imply higher costs and inefficient production. As the largest export market for India with a share of 15 per cent in India’s total exports, higher tariffs in the US may dilute India’s existing comparative advantage in the IT services and other sectors.
Moreover, any US initiative towards protectionist instruments is likely to be countered by retaliatory measures by other economies, including China. And a pullout from the TPP, may prop up the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement, which is seen as an alternative trade configuration to the TPP for the Asian economies, as the main trade agreement for Asian economies minus the US.
Dr Marvin G Weinbaum, an expert on Afghanistan and Pakistan, is of the view that that South Asian region will not be on the priority list of the new US administration. “It might be the second or third priority unless something blows up,” Dr Weinbaum said on November 15 during a roundtable discussion at the US embassy. He also does not see any significant changes in the US policy on Afghanistan under the new administration rather there can be a surge of US troops. “I don’t think withdrawal will happen. I won’t be surprised if US sends 5,000 more troops” he added. Given urgency to shape a bigger-picture policy agenda, pivoting to South Asia and Pakistan will likely not be Trump’s first priority.
Afghan instability and Taliban advances are likely to prompt the Trump administration into slowing down the draw-down. Trump may be less hesitant than his predecessors in penalizing Pakistan for failures in Afghanistan, instead of own cohorts. Afghanistan’s own failures at political unity, state cohesion and economic inefficiency will likely create tensions between any new US administration and Pakistan. Also Trump may not see aid as an incentivizing instrument for better cooperation. American political and military cultures have always focused on accountability with regard to military expeditions abroad; these are projected either as outright victories, or responsibility is squarely fixed for bogging down. Trump is likely to follow the tradition. Safeguarding Pakistan’s interests will need vigilance. Islamabad will need a proactive approach to navigate the complexities of new face of power—albeit crude one.
Trump is likely to court India for supporting America’s anti-China strategic pivot to Asia. Indian diaspora penetration into the Republican power structure is quite formidable. Trump’s embrace of hyper-nationalist governments, like one that of Narendra Modi, matching his own brand could come more naturally than bonding with Pakistan. However, for any global power, there may be no exits from strategically located Pakistan.
The Nation, November 21, 2016
Disclaimer: Views expressed are of the writer and are not necessarily reflective of IPRI policy