Even in the most advanced democracy of the world, no democratic project runs the way people desire it to be run. This was amply evidenced in the recent US Presidential Election when a majority of nearly two million voters preferred Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, but the constitutional methodology of a Presidential Electoral College resulted in the installation of her Republican rival Donald Trump as the President as per established practice. So the cumulative will of the ‘Electoral College’ eventually prevailed over ‘the will of the people of the USA’ when Trump won over 290 electoral college seats to Clinton’s 232 or so. Resultantly, on January 20, Trump will take over as the 45th President of the USA.
Will a combative Trump, who as a businessman—as USA Today claimed in June 2016—is facing over 3,500 legal cases in US Federal and State Courts, become any different as President? Will his transition from a perspicacious corporate overlord to a prudent public figure be smooth? While these are questions Americans tend to speculate upon, the overawing sense of responsibility he takes over in the coming weeks while heading the world’s most powerful country will invariably moderate his political ‘avatar’, substantively if not wholly.
The aura, etiquette and the sheer range of responsibilities entailed in the Oval Office leadership that he inherits from a modest and suave Obama could also serve to become the transformative factor that changes it all for President Trump. Once the motions of briefings, adjustments and moderation amid new environs get set, the world could witness a more convivial and self-confident Trump, who sets aside his tempestuous brashness.
President-elect Trump has displayed noteworthy decisiveness in the choice for his major cabinet assignations by drafting Jeff Sessions for the important Attorney General’s post, Mike Pompeo to the critical job as the Director of CIA and Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn as the empowered National Security Adviser (NSA). Considering the large pool of highly qualified Republicans in the reckoning, this is significant. The choices of Nikki Haley as UN Ambassador and Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary—both once strong critics of Trump—have evoked positive responses. More conservative appointees include Steve Bannon as Chief Strategist and Reince Priebus as Chief of Staff. Trump would accordingly finalise his choices for the Secretary of State and other important secretarial positions in the coming days.
Egos run generically high in apex US administration space and this is an irritant Trump will have to cope with during the selection of his team. He would be the least politically experienced among the professionals he appoints. Given his fine-tuned corporate instincts, Trump would have the task cut out to ensure seamless and timeless synergy between the new Secretary of State, CIA chief and his NSA, a pivotal adviser on global affairs. During the administrations under George Bush and Obama, certain fault-lines within the higher echelons had caused major embarrassments for America and problems for its allies.
Among other challenges, Trump’s cardinal “security trio” would sooner than later have to contend with the new ‘alliance of interests’ carved out recently between Russia, China, Pakistan and Afghanistan to ostensibly resolve the region’s terror issues. An essentially Beijing initiative to accord greater credibility to Islamabad, the alliance of temporal convenience would have to reconcile with a range of inherent contradictions—Moscow’s anti-Sunnism slant, Pakistan’s anti-Shia biases and Beijing’s otherwise abiding anti-Muslim mentality. There are indications that Beijing would not be averse to funding and arming radical Islamist schemes provided terrorism is kept away from China’s ‘pristine’ boundaries. That the Afghan dynamic incredibly configures larger than life in this diversionary strategy is significant. Trump’s security trio in its early days would thus have to link lots of dots for effectively countering radical Islamic schematics seeking preconceived dramatic endgames to draw the world focus.
There are also noticeable cleavages within the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) where the use of veto by some of the five permanent members has rendered the UNSC largely ineffective in guaranteeing peace in disturbed regions of the world.
Statements by Trump’s chosen security advisors show that the US administration under him will take a tougher line against global terrorism. His NSA Lt. Gen. Flynn has outlined his plan to defeat terrorism extensively in his book, The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies, which focuses on the importance of identifying “radical Islam” and its role in terrorism. He defines the fight against terrorism as a “world war” and emphasises the need to begin the fight at home.
A key step that the new president is expected to take is to give assent to the US Congress bill that has been introduced to declare Pakistan a terror state.
Mohan Das Menon
Former additional secretary, Cabinet Secretariat