No Trumps to diplomacy
‘Scribble, scribble, scribble, eh, Mr. Gibbon?’ the Earl of Derby is supposed to have said. ‘What, another thick fat book?’ Gibbon was not trying to ensure tenure at a university or win the Booker Prize. Like earlier historians, Thucydides and Tacitus, he wrote about a period that he considered would have important lessons for the future. After the death of Julius Caesar, the conqueror, Augustus, the first Emperor, concentrated all power in his hands ending Rome’s democratic traditions. Tiberius corrupted the system further. Caligula took Rome deeper into cruelty and destruction. Nero’s buffoonery signaled the long cynical decline of all social values till Rome ceased to be the centre of the Western world.
A curious parallel exists today in the history of the American empire. It started with the laurels of conquest encircling Eisenhower’s brows. Like Augustus, Kennedy and Johnson affirmed their imperial supremacy. Ronald Reagan corrupted the economic system, the Bushes, man and son, were cruel tyrants for the people of the Middle East. And now we have the showman Donald Trump, who can be laughed at but is very dangerous. There is even a parallel between Claudius and Obama, both decent men, forced to invade other lands to prove their imperial credentials.
Many analysts have foreseen the rise of Chinese economic hegemony in the 21st century, its global spread hindered only by commercial competition from the European Union and by military containment by America. Adventurism in the South China Seas is a portent of American intentions and a measure of its capability. However, the establishment within the Washington beltway has garnered enough experience to know where to draw the line, after the early days of John Dulles’s reckless brinkmanship. But now the White House will have loose cannon, with no diplomatic experience and limited imagination. The world will have to depend on sophisticated Chinese gamesmanship, as it once did on Krushchev’s sanity during the Cuban Missile Crisis. The American empire, like the Roman, is exhausting itself trying to retain its territories through military force. The Chinese have understood clearly that today power is maintained through economic strength and not through territorial expansion, however much they may try and confuse others through proposed threats.
The 45th American Presidency of Trump’s will undoubtedly embolden the large number of Americans who are racist, xenophobic, islamophobic, and violent in their intentions. With very expensive but failing military adventures abroad and spreading poverty at home, the frustrations of redneck America will mount. A deafening cacophony of rising anger from Trump’s supporters enveloping an increasing inability to govern could well destabilize the American establishment into doing the one thing they would have wished to avoid. Establishments have been trapped before in the illogicality of their own rhetoric. That was how the Great War was started in 1914. The world will have to bet on Chinese moderation – after all they can afford to wait, while America destroys its own capabilities. In addition to this expectation is the space offered by the Middle East and Pakistan for America to vent its islamophobic spleen.
South Asia has suddenly become an even more dangerous place for people. The right wing in India, maddened by media, has been yelling for strong military responses to terrorist incursions from Pakistan. At this dangerous moment, India’s Defence Minister has openly questioned why his hands should be tied by ‘no first use’ of nuclear weapons! Such hyper-militancy could well play into the hands of the right wing of Pakistan’s military, which in reality continues to control that country’s destiny. Nothing would please that military core more than an all-out war. Rash withdrawal of American support could well destabilize that volatile military leadership into hasty counter threats. Any war between India and Pakistan could escalate into nuclear exchange. None of India’s allies, such as the USA, the UK, and Russia, seem to possess the diplomatic skills needed to pull back these war-like neighbours from the brink of war. The first tragic impact of Trump’s presidency could well be felt in this region.
(The writer is a well-known author, economist, and a renowned rights activist. He is on the jury to select Alternate Nobel Prize)