Policy posers for the US as multi-polarity expands



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Members of the Iranian-American community have expressed shock and disbelief at President Donald Trump’s travel ban, saying it would tear families apart and tarnish America’s image abroad - AFP


Moreover, quite unlike in Cold War times, a multiplicity of world powers are today dominating the global political order. Trump’s overtures to Russian President Putin would be welcome if the defusing of tensions in Eastern Europe was the motive of such moves, but Trump is labouring under an illusion if he believes that Russia would tag along with the US in an effort to counterbalance China. The latter is the second biggest economic and military power after the US and it is difficult to see Russia, or any other big power for that matter, tamely teaming up with the US against China. China’s economy touches almost all the economies of the world in a positive manner and no country is likely to forget this stark fact. There would be no easy, willing collision with China, on the part of most states.


It may be still too early to take up the position that those sections in the US who voted Donald Trump in as President ‘have bitten off more than they could chew’ but it ought to be plain that allowing Trump to do things ‘his way’ is going to prove costly, from the US’ and the world’s points of view.


Our minds go back to the years when Ronald Reagan was at the helm at the US. His veritable signature tune was the Frank Sinatra classic, ‘My Way’. Reagan too, seen then as a first rate Cold Warrior, did things ‘his way’ but he did so with considerable finesse, particularly in the foreign relations and security spheres. Policy initiatives in the Reagan years did not particularly benefit the developing world and did nothing to make the world ‘a safer and better place’, but President Reagan did restore to the US what was seen as its pride as a super power, and he did so with minimal cost to US society.


The Reagan administration not only made the US the world’s number one military and economic power but ensured, among other things, that the US emerged victorious from the Cold War. It was in the Reagan years that the USSR began to crumble, giving the West a virtual free hand in moulding the global political and economic order. This comment should not be seen as an endorsement of US and Western policy positions in relation to the world, but be viewed in the light of a comparative assessment of how the interests of the US and the West were met under two hard line, Right wing US presidencies, which aimed primarily at putting things right from a Western viewpoint.


But the US achieved all this and more, then, under Reagan, with no great cost neither to the US public nor to publics the world over. Ethnic and religious divisions in the US and worldwide, for example, were in no way aggravated, although the Iranian Revolution of 1979 was proof that US foreign policy at the time was to some measure responsible for the alienation of some sections of Islamic opinion from the West.


However, no policy initiatives in the Reagan years could have been seen as flagrantly violative of the dignity of religious and ethnic communities in the US and abroad. This is, of course, not the case today in the US under the presidency of Donald Trump. The current, hotly contested ban on migrants and visitors from some major Muslim majority countries entering the US is a case in point. Trump is clear on the point that he intends fighting ‘Islamic terror’ to a finish. His cavalier indifference to the use of the most controversial torture methods in the interrogation of terror suspects and his pledge to fight ‘fire with fire’, smack of Right wing authoritarianism of the most oppressive kind.


The Reagan administration had its work cut out, in the sense, that one its principal foreign policy aims was to defeat communism and ensure the all-round supremacy of the US. It had a comparatively clear understanding of local and global ground realities as it set about its task. However, compared to contemporary times, such realities were less complex and challenging. For example, then we had a bipolar world political system. Today, we are compelled to deal with a multi-polar international political order. This feature of multi-polarity makes the task of world political leaders more difficult and exacting.


Given this general backdrop, the Trump administration could be accused of extreme simple-mindedness. Whereas, the lessons of history are clear on the point that states cannot ‘fight fire with fire’, the US under Trump is, apparently, intent on brazenly disregarding such advice. Given the current highly elusive nature of terror groups and their level of motivation, quelling terror would be no uncomplicated task for states. Trump only needs to have a searching look at Afghanistan, Syria and Iraq to convince himself of this truth.


Moreover, quite unlike in Cold War times, a multiplicity of world powers are today dominating the global political order. Trump’s overtures to Russian President Putin would be welcome if the defusing of tensions in Eastern Europe was the motive of such moves, but Trump is labouring under an illusion if he believes that Russia would tag along with the US in an effort to counterbalance China. The latter is the second biggest economic and military power after the US and it is difficult to see Russia, or any other big power for that matter, tamely teaming up with the US against China. China’s economy touches almost all the economies of the world in a positive manner and no country is likely to forget this stark fact. There would be no easy, willing collision with China, on the part of most states.


Iran is not to be trifled with either. Today, it is ranked seventh by some analysts in the big power league. Given this fact, Iran is in a position to make-or-break stability in the Middle East. If at all progress is to be made in the Middle Eastern theatre, it would need to be achieved with Iran as a major party, along with Russia. However, the US cannot expect to thrust Russia against Iran since they are already acting with some unity of purpose on Syria.


As often pointed out in this column, the world economic power balance has shifted markedly to the Asia-Pacific over the past two decades and China and India have been pivotal in making this happen. In East Asia, Japan, South Korea and Indonesia, to mention just three such countries, are formidable economic powers, who cannot be dismissed as minor players and push-overs. They could all be expected to face-up squarely to the US in case of a threat to their interests. Besides, they play principal roles in economic groupings, such as, BRICS and the Euro-Asian Union, which are the propelling powers of the world economy.


Accordingly, the US would be compelled to look over its shoulder constantly at these major world powers as it goes about trying to shape the global political order in keeping with its interests. Room for manoeuvring is extremely limited. The need to coexist peacefully with its many competitors would be a vital option the US may be compelled to explore.


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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