President-Elect Donald Trump! You're still getting used to that, aren't you? Well, at least I am. It's not words that roll off the tongue easily.
With close to a year of canvassing for America’s top job, we've learned that the Trump cocktail can be a dangerous mix of jingoism, rhetoric, saber-rattling, and isolationist strategies (and that’s only the foreign policy part). But yet, almost a week after the elections, the hangover just won’t go away. It’s here to stay, and perhaps a cure can be found, but 2020 is still a while away.
As Donald Trump gets ready to take the short flight south, leaving Trump Tower for 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, it’s important to realistic assess what his foreign policy might look like, particularly in regard to India.
While the political cognoscenti is still trying to fathom Trump's inexplicable rise to the White House, many policy makers in the Harry S Truman building (the State Department Headquarters) are anxious on Trump’s loosely worded foreign policy goals. The hard part is trying to decipher some iota of policy in all of Trump’s bombast throughout his campaign trail. But the important thing to note here is that there is a difference between politics and policy. The former is more of rabble-rousing that has drawn in the crowds at rallies; while the latter will be a coherent plan forward based on a pragmatic outlook that best suits American interests.
While dossiers can be written in New Delhi with regards to Trump’s opponent’s foreign policy, (the former Secretary of State Hilary Clinton), when it comes to Trump, foreign policy watchers find themselves scrapping the bottom of the barrel.
While there has been no overt mention of India, here is the precious little we can piece together. Trump, the businessman, has spoken fondly about India as a business destination, and has already made significant investments in Mumbai and Pune.
But Trump, the politician (a term he abhors), will not be dealing in real estate deals with the Lodha Group in Mumbai but will be talking strategic affairs with the Lutyens Delhi crowd. And he could come to view India in an entirely different prism.
This article that speaks about how New Delhi has traditionally benefitted from Republican administrations at the helm. But Trump is not your quintessential Republican, in fact, he is still looked at as a New York Liberal by many in the conservative establishment. The traditional Republican overview has one that has viewed outsourcing favourably as India has been looked at as a goldmine for American corporations. But Trump on the other hand, has referred to India, on the campaign trail as a country that is stealing American jobs. In his book, Time To Get Tough (released in 2011), Trump spoke about levying taxes on companies that outsource.
Another concern for India is the high quality immigrants that form the intellectual elite of the American service sector. Trump's hallmark through the process has been his no nonsense stance on immigration, which has largely been towards illegal immigration and undocumented migrants in the country. While this may not impact the NRI worker, Trump’s dichotomy on the H-1B visa might.
Trump has been vociferous about scrapping the H-1B visa program that is the lifeline of many Indians working in the US as well as for many software companies that send hordes of employees stateside. But on the other hand, Trump has juxtaposed this by saying how important it was to retain high quality labour, and lamented on how high achieving Ivy League students are not able to stay on in the US and said their home country’s gain from their talent, was America’s loss.
However, where some in South Block might be optimistic, is Trump’s bellicose approach towards China and Pakistan. Trump has vowed take a drill sergeant approach on terrorist organisations like the Islamic State and on countries that have been particularly soft on terrorism. New Delhi has often been vocal about Pakistan’s janus-faced approach in its ‘war on terror’, which they felt Washington has long overlooked due to their own strategic interests in Afghanistan. Trump seems to have echoed New Delhi’s sentiment questioning Pakistan’s legitimacy as a US ally.
India’s other ‘friends like these’ neighbour in China, has been on Trump’s radar right from the start of the Republican primaries. Despite having business links with China, Trump’s whole campaign stump of ‘Make America Great Again’ is predicated on companies not being able to ‘Make in China’. He wants to bring back a lot of the lost manufacturing jobs in America that made China the manufacturing capital of the world. He has accused China of being a currency manipulator and threatened to impose tariffs that many in Washington are afraid could start a trade war with China, which would be cataclysmic for the global economy. He has also spoken about his aversion to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); a 12 country Asian free trade deal; which in some ways is ironic, since trade experts see the deal as a counterweight to China’s growing influence in the region. The tough stance with China, could realign a traditional Republican belief of looking at India as a democratic burgeoning economic power to China.
Trump has expressed his admiration for strong world leaders, particularly Vladimir Putin, and while he hasn’t mentioned much about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, one could assume, he would admire someone of the same ilk, a decisive figure. Modi’s overt gestures of strong Indo-US defense ties and his pro-business outlook would sit well with Trump. But while Modi’s signature ‘Make In India’ campaign is about bringing manufacturing to India, Trump’s ‘Make in America’ is about keeping manufacturing in its fifty states.
We’ve learned only too well that diplomacy is a fickle game, and many would expect Trump, a man synonymous with buildings to build on the strong foundations of the Indo-US partnerships. But America knows only too well, that buildings, no matter how tall, can easily be brought down.