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Trump’s Call To Sharif Doesn’t Indicate Any Real Change To US Foreign Policy With India – Analysis

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By Manoj Joshi

It will take roughly a year to know the true direction of the incoming Trump Administration in the United States.

The phone calls and conversations that are making waves today – with Nawaz Sharif and Tsai Ingwen – are no indicator of which way the US will go under his presidency.

The policy will only assume shape after Cabinet appointees have gone through their confirmation hearings and sub-cabinet officials selected and appointed.

Given that some choices could be controversial, the confirmation process may prove to be long and arduous.

Strategy

Donald J Trump never really expected to win the election and had not done the elaborate preparation for taking up the job like his rival Hillary Clinton.

In any case, a Clinton administration would have appointed a large number of Obama officials who are currently in a state of shock because none of them expected to be out of a job so soon.

The special thing about foreign policy is that there are only some variables you can control. No matter how powerful or determined a US President, his policy still depends on developments abroad, as well as the actions of other countries, some friends and others rivals.

There is likely to be little change in American grand strategy which has sought to ensure that no regional hegemon (supreme leader) arises in Europe, Persian Gulf and East Asia.

The thing about foreign policy is that there are only some variables you can control. No matter how powerful or determined a US President, his policy still depends on developments abroad.

To this end, leading the alliance in Europe is important, just as it is to prevent the rise of Iran in the Persian Gulf.

Saudi Arabia simply lacks the population base to be a regional hegemon of any kind.

Russia’s resurgence is really a defensive reflex and not a bid to restore the glory of the erstwhile Soviet Union.

The real challenge is in East Asia where China is determined to challenge the American sway and has successfully breached the ASEAN.

Critics of Obama say that the eight years of his presidency have featured inaction, inattention and withdrawal from global affairs.

While the decision to pull out from Iraq was understandable, the speed of the withdrawal from Afghanistan has had widespread repercussions.

Likewise it would have been foolish of the Americans to go in too deep into European ventures like Libya and Syria, but its own pivot to Asia proved to be anemic.

Obama did little to check Russia and instead reached out to make peace with Iran and Cuba.

The emergence of Francois Fillon as the centre-right candidate for next year’s presidential elections in France, combined with the inclination of the US President- elect to make a deal with Russia could upend the verities of the Obama era which had sought to cordon Russia from Europe through economic sanctions.

Outreach

A US-Europe-Russia deal has vast implications. It will almost certainly involve handing over Syrian affairs to them, in exchange for Moscow backing off in Ukraine in exchange for the Americans acquiescing in the occupation of Crimea and lifting the sanctions.

NATO expansion into Ukraine and Georgia would be checked and the US would permit Assad to regain control of Syria with the commitment of fighting the ISIS.

People who complain about the amorality of all this forget that the US and China were supported the Pol Pot regime because of their antipathy for Vietnam.

This is what big power politics is all about. The outreach to Russia could have another important result – the pullback of the Russia drift towards a proto-alliance with China.

This will have important implications for the One Belt One Road project, as well as Chinese military modernization, which still relies on Russia for crucial elements such as jet engines and high quality air defence systems.

Fallout

The one area which remains an unknown is Iran. Conservative elements close to Trump have a deep antipathy to Iran and Cuba. In the case of Cuba, it is motivated by Cuban exiles that have deep roots in the conservative establishment.

In the case of Tehran a great deal of it arises from Israel and its powerful American supporters who view the current regime as an existential threat.

However, the US knows that any going back on the nuclear deal could have serious consequences, notably a breakdown of the big-power consensus that led to the Iran nuclear agreement.

The US would find it difficult, if not impossible, to resume the economic sanctions that had, to an extend, brought Iran around.

There could be a negative fallout for India as well. Our big geopolitical riposte to the OBOR, the Chah Bahar project could come undone.

In addition, our energy security could be affected in view of our huge purchases of Iranian oil. New Delhi would have to make choices here and they are not likely to be simple.

Not going with the Americans could have repercussions elsewhere, while tailing them could seriously damage our standing in a region which is vital to our security.

But again, making choices and shaping policies is what big power politics is all about.

This article originally appeared in Mail Today.


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Observer Research Foundation

Observer Research Foundation

ORF was established on 5 September 1990 as a private, not for profit, ’think tank’ to influence public policy formulation. The Foundation brought together, for the first time, leading Indian economists and policymakers to present An Agenda for Economic Reforms in India. The idea was to help develop a consensus in favour of economic reforms.

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