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Will Trump serve his full term?

May 19, 2017 14:05 IST

The ongoing civil war in the White House between representatives of the Alt Right, such as Steve Bannon, and the pragmatists has to end for Trump to complete a four-year term, says Hardeep S Puri.

IMAGE: US President Donald Trump waves out as he walks on the South Lawn of the White House. Photograph: Yuri Gripas/Reuters.

The first hundred days in office of any president of the United States invite interest and comment, for good reason.

The US is the world’s largest economy -- gross domestic product pegged at $18 trillion -- and possesses the capacity to influence global situations. It believes it uses this power for global good. Not everyone agrees.

The Donald Trump context is a very special one. The first 100 days may not be sufficient even for an indication of the shape of things to come. He comes to the White House having spent a lifetime in the real estate sector -- building and franchising his brand. He carries the mindset of a businessman with the shock and awe tactics he developed over half a century in the earlier profession.

After entering the White House, he has continued to take on not only the "deep state", the "fourth estate" but also almost all sections of the liberal democratic order.

There have been some suggestions that this could be a short-lived presidency. Even the possibility of impeachment has been mentioned.

In the interest of full disclosure, I had predicted both Brexit and Trump's win. The time has come to stick one's neck out again.

Impeaching the president of the US is a difficult enough task at the best of time. To impeach a president whose party enjoys a majority in both houses of the Congress and has a Supreme Court of its liking would make impeachment appear almost impossible to navigate.

How about a Black Swan-type transformative development? The so-called “Russian connection” and possible revelations about business deals of the past or “conflict of interest” situations which might develop? The firing of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey is not likely to enhance the president’s comfort level.

The turbulence of the first 100 days is, however, not likely to end anytime soon. The exacerbation of tensions unleashed, the Tomahawks fired into Syria, the mother of all bombs dropped on Afghanistan may have been one-time actions. The world we live in will, however, continue to look dangerous.

A new incumbent in the White House, unpredictable at the best of times, is only partly responsible. There are more worthy claimants for this instability and chaos. Instead of extricating the US from expensive wars, Trump’s advisors are pushing for troop surges in Afghanistan, Somalia and elsewhere. 

My prediction: Trump will soon discover that there are limits to doing business within and from the White House in a manner that is unconventional. With the honed skills of a businessman, he will, when that realisation sinks in, start to cut his losses.

For that to happen, the ongoing civil war in the White House between representatives of the Alt Right, such as Steve Bannon, and the pragmatists has to end. The pragmatists have to win for Trump to complete his full term. 

Trump won the electoral college by only one hundred and ten thousand votes in three swing states in the Rust Belt.

It was far too early in 1989 and still too early in 2017 to celebrate the premature demise of globalisation, free trade, human rights, the Washington consensus and interventionist mindsets. Emmanuel Macron’s victory over Marine Le Pen provides re-affirmation.

The institutions that strengthen the western liberal democratic order are now placing constraints in Trump’s functioning. The courts have successfully challenged the executive orders to ban visitors from seven Islamic countries. The same democratic system will continue to drive home the point that there are no easy shortcuts to governance.

Trump’s success would be facilitated by expeditious appointments to senior positions in the administration. This may take longer than anticipated.

We may be looking at the administration not settling down for another quarter. Continuing uncertainty brings with it a new problem -- the reset with Russia, vital for peace in Syria, will be delayed.

The Chinese will leverage the situation in North Korea. It is unlikely that Trump will succeed in, or even want to, dilute the US’ traditional support for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or want it to withdraw either from the North American Free Trade Agreement or the World Trade Organization. All this should add up to “business as usual”, as at the end of the Barack Obama presidency.

Where does that place India?

It gives us an extended window of opportunity to take advantage of the investments successive governments in New Delhi have made to place greater strategic content into our bilateral relations. It gives us more time to identify what agenda we wish to pursue.

The US, in turn, needs to do its sums to determine what it can legitimately expect India to offer in the new transformed global setting. A relationship that has at the best of times appeared transactional could begin to appear even more so.

We need understanding and relief in our immediate neighbourhood. The fight against terror cannot be confined to Islamic State or even Al Qaeda. There must be visible signs of the US using its “margin of persuasion” with Pakistan. That is the only imponderable.

We have the maturity and resilience to take care of the rest, the economic processes, so vital to both countries.

Hardeep S Puri is a diplomat who served as Permanent Representative of India to the United Nations in Geneva and New York. He is the author of Perilous Interventions, Harper Collins, September, 2016.

Hardeep S Puri
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