An electoral earthquake hit the US on 9 November, 2016. As the news of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump sweeping the elections became clear, the disbelief on the faces of news anchors was hard to ignore. None of the mainstream pollsters predicted his "yuge" victory. It was the first time since 1964, when hot favourite Barry Goldwater lost to Lyndon B Johnson, that the media got it totally wrong. While electoral surprises are seen often in India, it is a rarity in the US — thanks to the bi-party system.
The prospect of a Donald Trump presidency — The man had said that he would ban Muslims from America, among many other controversial statements — spooked many across the world. However, going by Trump's on-record statements on global issues, 2017 could witness some marked changes in the United States' foreign policy — especially with respect to its old allies, frenemies and enemies.
Unlike Hillary Clinton, his democratic presidential rival, who had previously been the secretary of state, Trump's knowledge of foreign policy was always in doubt. Nevertheless, the feelers that he had sent during his campaign and after his upset victory can be a indicator of the things to come.
Trump's choice of Rex Tillerson as his secretary of state has already being viewed through the prism of Russo-American relations. Tillerson is the CEO of ExxonMobil which has billions in stake in Russia's oil business. For his services to fostering US-Russia ties, he had also been decorated with the Russian Order of Friendship by the Kremlin. His nomination as the next top envoy gives a signal that Trump might be using Tillerson as a facilitator to improve ties with Russia.
In the aftermath of allegations of irregularities during the polls, President Vladimir Putin is reported to have called the Democrats "sore losers", which was backed by Trump himself. The president-elect and the Russian president have become the latest members of the "mutual appreciation club", with Trump calling Putin a "strong leader", while Putin calling the incoming president "outstanding and talented". This bonhomie also gives cues to a possible thaw in bilateral relations.
The new-found bonhomie between Trump and Putin will have its impact on the Syria conflict. Trump has previously supported Putin's fight against the Islamic State in Syria. If there is any possible "thaw" in the bilateral ties between Washington and Moscow, one might soon see Russia and US on the same page on the deadly confrontation — though it is easier said than done.
However, in what can possibly be a major roadblock for a possible thaw, the Obama administration expelled 35 diplomats on allegations of hacking the 2016 US elections. This move by the outgoing president has put Trump in a fix. If Trump reverses the executive order, doubts over the allegations will be confirmed, damaging his credibility. How Trump handles this issue has to be seen.
On the first meeting with Trump: We will discuss how to put Russia-US relations back on track
— President of Russia (@KremlinRussia_E) December 23, 2016
Coming to the South China Sea crisis, which is now threatening to start a new Cold War — this time with China. Many believe Trump will not get too involved in the issue. This is in line with his "America First" foreign policy. Experts feel that this tagline conveys the fact that the incoming administration will focus more on domestic than international issues. This approach can have ramifications on the region, as the Asia-Pacific region can fall under China's influence, in the absence of isolationist US.
On the campaign trail, Trump had said that he might make allies in South Korea and Japan to pay a "fair price" to continue its military presence in these countries. If one puts it in the context of the belligerent attitude adopted by North Korea, a possible military withdrawal, might make security condition even more fragile in East Asia.
Trump's reportedly isolationist foreign policy may be the reason why he had rarely spoken on Pakistan and the Afghanistan-Pakistan region. This may also point out to a declining interest or indifference towards the troubled region.
The rise of Trump might re-calibrate relations with its all-weather friends across the Atlantic (read Nato).
Turkey, a major Nato ally may be the first to experience trouble with the new president. While on one hand, Washington and Ankara can come on the same page, when it comes to the future of Syria, there are other reasons which might hamper ties. Turkey is a Muslim country ruled by a relatively hardline leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan. If at all Trump goes ahead with his plans to curb the entry of Muslims, this might not go well with the Turks. Another bone of contention is the US' refusal to extradite Fehtullah Gulen — the alleged mastermind of the failed 2016 coup against the president. If Trump dumps the Nato, this might strengthen Moscow and force Turkey into its arms.
Dumping or say downgrading the US involvement with the military organisation may signal an end to the Cold War era with Russia.
The rise of Trump also coincides with the strengthening of various far-right parties across Europe. The nationalist parties in France, Germany and Netherlands among many others have several things in common - white supremacy, anti-immigrationism and isolationism. With Trump winning the US election, it has rejuvenated the extreme right - which had been on the fringes of European politics since the second World War. This "Trump admiration club" may very well damage US' presence in Europe.
However, the most dramatic "bonhomie" is happening right now. That too on Twitter — between Trump and Israeli prime minister Netanyahu.
After the US allowed an "anti-Israel resolution" on stopping settlements on the West Bank to pass in the UN, Israel has gone all guns blazing against those who supported it including the Obama administration.
Nevertheless, President-elect Donald Trump has come out in support of Netanyahu.
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) December 28, 2016
not anymore. The beginning of the end was the horrible Iran deal, and now this (U.N.)! Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 28, 2016
If his tweets are to be taken seriously, then Trump has already shown us what we can expect when it comes to US-Israel ties.
With relations with Israel set to be get a boost "bigly", it may be endgame for the Iran deal and any chance for a possible US-Iran thaw after four decades of acrimony.
However, foreign policy can often be unpredictable. While the world has been quick to rubbish Trump, it would be interesting to see if he can leave a positive mark over the world. Let us give Trump a chance.
Published Date: Jan 01, 2017 08:57 AM | Updated Date: Jan 01, 2017 08:57 AM