Global Radar Screen
Trump’s Triumphalism Set To Aggravate Global Tensions
It was US triumphalism at its most strident and its creator was none other than President Donald Trump. Speaking at the height of a seemingly gathering military stand-off with Iran in the Gulf and an apparently ‘no-winners’ trade war with rival world power China, Trump’s essential message to the American people at the recent American Independence Day celebrations in Washington was that for the US: ‘Nothing is impossible’.
It was a speech replete with florid praise for the US military and American national heroes. Trump said, among other things, in his expansive eulogy: ‘We will always be the people who defeated a tyrant, crossed a continent, harnessed science, took to the skies, and soared into the heavens, because we will never forget that we are Americans, and the future belongs to us.’
Our minds go back to Republican administrations of the past. In each of such administrations of recent memory US triumphalism or chauvinism was a glaring feature. For example, during the President George Bush Jnr. years the world had to endure the ‘War on terror’, which is really ongoing, and during the tenures of President Ronald Reagan for a good part of the eighties the US asserted itself militarily in the regions the US considered of interest to it in a strikingly chauvinistic and divisive fashion.
These previous Presidents and Donald Trump are populist Presidents of the first order and are answers to the prayers of white supremacists in the US and outside it. Needless to say, US military power comes to be eulogized by these chauvinistic regimes, entailing grave security risks for the world. The recurring theme during the tenures of these conservative administrations is the veritable enthronement of the US as the world’s foremost military, economic and political power.
Ironically, military confrontations are least possible in the US’ current contentions with China on the trade front. This is mainly because China considers its principal policy instrument in its efforts to further its interests world-wide to be soft power and not so much hard power, although the latter option would be availed of if the need arises. When the soft power option is applied, economic, educational and cultural means, for instance, are used in the main by the state concerned in its dealings with the world. China’s infrastructure-building and allied projects coming under the purview of its ‘Belt and Road’ initiative, come within the broader area of economic means and are prominent examples of China’s soft power application efforts aimed at winning friends and allies world-wide. This is in contrast to the US which is in an effort to highlight more its military prowess. Trump is also more intent on brow-beating those seen as enemies rather than winning them over with polite persuasion.
A case in point of brow-beating by Trump is his handling of Pakistan. The latter is accused by its adversaries in South Asia as well as by the US of aiding terrorism in the region and of not doing enough to contain it. However, it is little realized that Pakistan herself is paying the price in terms of civilian lives lost, on account of her efforts at fighting terrorism within her territory.
Be that as it may, the Trump administration would have none of this but persist in its criticism of Pakistan as turning a blind eye on terror. The resulting war of words between the states is of such a proportion that Pakistan is at risk of losing her position as a decades-long worthy ally of the US. The latter development would compel Pakistan to draw closer to China and leave the US with no fully trusted ally in South Asia.
Needless to say, the US’ essential approach to the world would not result in it being less conflict-ridden. As could be seen in the US’ stand-off with Iran, we would have a world that is fraught with the risks of escalating conflict and war. It is difficult to see Iran stepping-down in meekness from this confrontation. A show of force by the US in the Gulf is bound to be met with force. We would in all probability have at the beginning a tanker war or a war by proxy that would escalate into a full blown hot war.
The current central conflicts in world politics, however, do not amount to a confrontation of ‘angels and demons’. China would not hesitate to use hard power against its adversaries if it perceives them to be forcing its hand. Nor would China be patient with hand-twisting of any kind. We are seeing moves in this direction in the South China seas, for example, where China is not hesitating to demonstrate its military muscle to protect what it sees as its territorial waters. However, it’s China that is tending to occupy the moral high ground in relation to the US right now on account of its preference for soft power.
What ought to cause puzzlement to the world community is the Trump administration’s seeming reluctance to come to terms with international power realities. It is crystal clear that terror is refusing to go away; this has been so since the Bush years at the turn of this century. The so-called ‘war on terror’ has drawn a blank and the proof of this comes in the form of war-torn Afghanistan and Syria, besides the Middle East.
The US’ moves to carve out a sphere of influence demarcated as the ‘Indo-Pacific’ region is unlikely to help in containing any potential international tensions. If fully implemented, this initiative, would increasingly pit the US against China, in the latter’s efforts to carry out its ‘Belt and Road’ mega project. The two powers would likely be at cross-purposes in their efforts to carve out spheres of influence that are likely to overlap in some geographical areas.
Meanwhile, how the US and other concerned states are to contain religious fundamentalist terror emerges as a prime challenge. Unfortunately for the world, the US does not see the error of its ways. It is plain to see that the exercise of military or hard power is proving ineffective in fighting terror. The hot spots of the world are continuing to be on the boil. The world needs to revisit the discarded ‘Dialogue of Civilizations’ approach to managing worries of this kind. The adoption of this approach, however, goes well beyond the hard power/soft power binary to a meeting of accommodating minds. May this be so, is our wish.