Dealing with an unpredictable Donald Trump

President Donald Trump appears determined to continue bewildering the world by his propensities, priorities and unpredictability in the conduct of America’s foreign and security policies.

Published: 10th February 2019 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 08th February 2019 06:42 AM   |  A+A-

President Donald Trump appears determined to continue bewildering the world by his propensities, priorities and unpredictability in the conduct of America’s foreign and security policies. He has not only surprised foreign leaders and confused his own people, but also stunned his country’s military, diplomats and legislators. No one appears to understand the rationale for Trump’s frequent and inexplicable policy changes, which he publicises in late evening tweets, without prior consultations, or spelling out the rationale.

Even his exceedingly discreet intelligence establishment has started to articulate assessments and views that differ from Trump’s thinking. Trump has, for example, made it clear that he believes that after his talks with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un, the country will move to end its nuclear weapons programme. Trump is expected to soon meet Kim Jong-Un again. Trump also maintains that he had re-imposed sanctions on Iran, because Teheran was not implementing measures it had agreed to earlier on curbing its nuclear programme.  America’s European allies refused to impose any sanctions on Iran, while categorically asserting that there was no evidence to substantiate Trump’s allegations. Trump’s Intelligence Chief Daniel Coats also disagreed publicly with Trump’s views on Iran, stating: “We do not believe that Iran is currently undertaking the key activities we judge necessary to produce a nuclear device.” The Intelligence also disagrees with the President’s optimism on North Korea.

Reversing earlier statements, Trump suddenly declared that US forces were soon leaving Syria, because they had “eliminated” the ISIS, thereby placing the lives of their Kurdish allies at risk.  Disagreeing with Trump’s statement, Coats declared that the ISIS “still commands thousands of fighters in Iraq and Syria”. The US Security has also refused to back Trump’s arguments for urgently building a ‘Wall’ across the US-Mexican border to prevent drug smuggling. Drug smuggling is largely routed through America’s shores and not across its land borders. Such ill-advised actions by Trump, which have severely strained US relations with its allies, inevitably led to his highly respected Defence Chief, General Mattis, resigning in disgust.

India has developed a process of extensive consultations with the US, which has resulted in expanding cooperation with Washington, on several issues of mutual interest. This primarily arises on issues such as the rapid growth of Chinese power across India’s land and maritime borders. China deliberately backs anti-India political parties with financial and military support, in countries ranging from Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and Maldives to Nepal and Bhutan. Moreover, Beijing’s “string of pearls” strategy involves making Indian Ocean countries so dependent on it, that they are unable to resist pressures to provide naval bases to China. Trump’s policies to ignore ground realities are inevitably creating new security challenges for India. New Delhi will have to work subtly and imaginatively together with partners such as Japan and Vietnam, to see that a vigilant US Congress and media keep an effective check on Trump’s excesses. 

G Parthasarathy

Former diplomat

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