How should New Delhi read The Donald in White House

Depends on how nationalism, anti-globalism and xenophobia play out as policy in US, across world.

Written by C. Raja Mohan | New Delhi | Updated: November 10, 2016 4:42 am
Donald trump, hillary clinton, us elections, donald trump won, india us relations, barack obama, bilateral relations, india us, trump politics, trump, trump won, us presidential elections, indian express news, india news, world news, latest news US President-elect Donald Trump steps on to the stage in Manhattan, New York, barely hours before the results came in, sending tremors across the US and the world.

As the world come to terms with the shocker of a victory for Republican candidate Donald Trump in the US presidential race, India must avoid focusing too narrowly on the implications for bilateral relations in the near term. How Trump might deal with great powers like Russia, China and Japan and its neighbours like Pakistan and Iran is certainly important for Delhi. How Trump might constrain outsourcing of work and insourcing labour will be even more significant.

What is critical, however, is India’s recognition that Trump has brought US to a point of inflection. A change in US global trajectory will demand more than readjustment of India’s policies. It will need a sweeping re-imagination of India’s national strategy.

It is only by assessing the historic structural shift in the internal and external orientation of US that the President-elect promises that India can deal with the incoming Trump Administration. If the challenges on the economic front will be quite demanding, the opportunities on the geopolitical front could be quite inviting.

The source of Trump’s political triumph was in seizing what his multiple opponents in Republican Party and his eventual Democratic rival could not even see — that there was a political revolt brewing in the US heartland against rich and indifferent elites.

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If his opponents stayed with the familiar playbook, Trump took a different path — of mobilising the resentments of the working people and combining it with populism and nationalism. It was this daring bet that helped Trump withstand the merciless exposure of his many character flaws during the gruelling campaign. Trump’s strategy was based on three propositions that questioned the core political beliefs of post-War US.

Trump argued that the US economy was no longer lifting all boats. Many scholars had indeed pointed to the growing economic inequality in the US and a rank outsider and self-proclaimed socialist like Senator Bernie Sanders came quite close to defeating Hillary Clinton in contest for Democratic presidential nomination earlier this year. Yet, Clinton did not or could not integrate America’s growing economic anxieties into her electoral strategy. Trump outflanked his rivals by moving decisively to the left on economic issues. In the process, he turned the Republican platform on its head and successfully painted Clinton as the agent of the rich and uncaring elite.

Second, Trump reinforced his left turn with a powerful argument against globalisation. Like Sanders, Trump rallied the working people against trade agreements that he insisted were taking away US jobs. He combined his anti-trade strategy with an even more powerful offensive against immigration into the US. As in the Brexit vote in the United Kingdom last June, Trump tapped into the growing fears about porous borders and the loss of US sovereignty.

As terrorism became an increasingly domestic issue in the US, Trump also promised to clamp down on Muslim migration into the US. If the Republicans traditionally relied on the social conservatism of the working class, Trump found a powerful tool in xenophobia. Trump’s intense opposition to globalism and open borders helped him breach the so called ‘blue wall’ of support for the Democrats in the Mid Western region — once the industrial heartland and now the rust belt — and capture the Presidency.

Third, on the foreign policy front, Trump confronted, frontally, the mainstream views on the international role of the US. He demanded that US allies in Europe and Asia share more of the burden for common security. He expressed his willingness to accept Japan and South Korea going nuclear in defending themselves against China and North Korea respectively. He was open to cutting a deal with Russia in boosting the fight against the ISIS in the Middle East.

Trump has also promised to scrap the nuclear deal with Iran negotiated by President Barack Obama. As leading members of the Republican foreign policy establishment denounced Trump’s heresy and endorsed Clinton, Trump was unfazed. His insight that there is little political support in the heartland for costly foreign policy commitments so eagerly embraced by the strategic community in Washington, turned out to be accurate.

In promising to redress economic hardship at home, offering to strengthen US borders, mobilising the rage against globalization, and downsizing the needless international burdens of the US, Trump has shaken up the longstanding domestic political coalitions of US and laid out a different direction for America. Even a little bit of American movement along the path will have significant economic and political consequences for the rest of the world.

India’s economic differences with the US that had begun to acquire some salience under the Obama Administration are likely to get a sharper edge as Trump turns the US against globalisation. Delhi must look beyond accusations of protectionism against the US or claiming an entitlement for ever more visas for Indians and rethink a mutually beneficial partnership that has sustainable support in both countries.

On the geopolitical front, Trump’s reconsideration of US military burdens on the Eurasian landmass provides a rare opportunity for Delhi to expand its own contributions to regional security. Rather than act as a ‘lynchpin’ of the US pivot to Asia, India can become the leading element in the regional balance of power system. If the US under Trump views itself as a distant power that will help support rather than direct regional systems, India will have greater space and agency to construct a strong Eurasian coalition.

(The writer is Director, Carnegie India, Delhi, and consulting editor on foreign policy for The Indian Express)

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  1. R
    Ramesh Nittoor
    Nov 10, 2016 at 2:28 am
    Overt racial polarization, we perceive in a shallow, cursory reading of the situation may not really be the case which led to rise of Trump. The echoes of victory sound a different, and surprisingly bit soothing note! The rhetoric served a purpose, emotions are subsiding, and thanks to mature responses from HRC and Prez Obama, saner counsel have prevailed. A Reagan-II in making is what it appears to be; and the strategic focus is for real challenge ahead, the one for which HRC invoked Asian pivot. Such real work, is typically understated, per typical cool Dad ethos prevalent here. Expect a genuinely friendly response to Indian development needs to reverberate through the administration, as it does presently. An Elephant, per Hindi proverb has one set of teeth to show, and other to eat. This metaphor is strangely apt here; after a tear was shed, poll dust seems to be settling down.
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    1. D
      David
      Nov 10, 2016 at 1:12 am
      Well! India's focus should be internal economy, corruption, potion stabilization and internal security. Export oriented economy has pitfalls from changing goals of host countries. Self reliance is a better option in the long run. lt;br/gt;Indo US relationship is based on mutual interests. No one country is doing a favor on the other. Hence no free lunch. India is a vast market and strategically located. That's one of our major strength.
      Reply
      1. S
        santosh kumar
        Nov 10, 2016 at 5:39 am
        India must calibrate its move to openly accept the trump government. Yes, the bonhomies developed with Obama administration may not be of same warmth with Trump govt but we must recognize we had a good relation with republican as well during Bush administration. In fact post 1998, Clinton put sanction on us which was corrected by republican, so , no point of prejudice , yes, trump is rightist rose on xenophobic and jingoistic line which have become new normal throughout the world. When China can have unprecedented prosperity despite being politically closed and calculatedly guarded on economic line , why cant others too do same. BREXIT, protectionism, questioning of globalization after slow down n EU crisis have forced son of soils to cash in fear of its poce. India must be democratically resilient, engage all such varied development with open mind. Any whimsical or episodic response would be debilitating for our strewn diaspora n our ambition to cash in 3D's....
        Reply
        1. S
          santosh kumar
          Nov 10, 2016 at 5:39 am
          India must calibrate its move to openly accept the trump government. Yes, the bonhomies developed with Obama administration may not be of same warmth with Trump govt but we must recognize we had a good relation with republican as well during Bush administration. In fact post 1998, Clinton put sanction on us which was corrected by republican, so , no point of prejudice , yes, trump is rightist rose on xenophobic and jingoistic line which have become new normal throughout the world. When China can have unprecedented prosperity despite being politically closed and calculatedly guarded on economic line , why cant others too do same. BREXIT, protectionism, questioning of globalization after slow down n EU crisis have forced son of soils to cash in fear of its poce. India must be democratically resilient, engage all such varied development with open mind. Any whimsical or episodic response would be debilitating for our strewn diaspora n our ambition to cash in 3D's....
          Reply
          1. C
            Curious onlooker
            Nov 10, 2016 at 4:36 am
            The President elect may insist that the so called largest if not the greatest democracy in the world should behave as true democracy not name sake and representative only of a certain community and its religious culture. No more communal elitism. Trump may not put up with how the Indian leader chased Mr Obama around like a fawning little poodle for a one on one with him. For trade and technology be prepared to give and take and put your house in order removing needless capital controls and training your labour to behave.
            Reply
            1. V
              vivek
              Nov 10, 2016 at 3:13 am
              ALL INDIA WANTS THAT TRUMP SHOULD SAY THAT AMERICA VALUES THE GREATEST DEMOCRACY AND SUPPORTS INDIAS BID FOR PERMANENT MEMBERSHIP AT SECURITY COUNSEL. IF HE ENDORSES THIS STAND THIS WILL GO LONG WAY IN ESTABLISHING A DIFFERENT KIND OF RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN INDIA AND NEW US GOVT.
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              1. A
                Augustus
                Nov 10, 2016 at 12:52 am
                For the time being Trump has won but it will take a little time before he is tamed and brought to ground level
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