(Dr Pentapati Pullarao)
There are rightly great expectations about the visit of Donald Trump to India and every reason to expect gains for the USA and India.
But we must always keep in mind what the great British Prime Minister Lord Palmerston said about 230 years ago: “Nations have no permanent friends or permanent enemies. Only permanent interests”. That statement is the foundation of all diplomatic theories. Presidents come and Presidents go. But Indian interests continue. Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and George Bush visited India and were received well. President Trump has already helped India in its fight against terrorism. So his visit means a lot more than earlier US Presidents’ visits.
The major problem for India is not the economy, employment or health issues. The biggest problem is that we have a 10,000-kilometre border and two big enemies on them. Pakistan has been an enduring enemy from the day it was formed on August 14, 1947, and China became an enemy since the 1950s when it annexed Tibet and India gave shelter to the Dalai Lama. India spends lakhs of crores on defense. Nearly 40 lakh people are directly involved in defense and border safety. Indians should never forget the terrorist attacks on Parliament in December 2001, and 2008 Bombay terror attacks and daily attacks in Kashmir and elsewhere.
The USA and European countries practice the ”Balance of power” theory to control other countries. Balance of power is a theory that strong nations must always have another strong or equal nation as its opponent. Henry Kissinger was a great supporter of this theory and when he was Foreign Minister of USA in 1971, he supported Pakistan against India in the Bangladesh war.
Donald Trump became President of USA and threw aside all such old theories and became a one-man army and one-man diplomat for the USA. President Donald Trump will be visiting India on February 24. He is a newcomer to politics and contested only one election and became the President of the USA in 2016. In the last 3 years, Donald Trump has had a great impact on every corner of the world. Trump threw out all the old theories on diplomacy and economics and he has succeeded.
Trump’s impact on the world :
Trump does not operate as other US Presidents did. He takes quick decisions based on instinct and is totally unpredictable. Trump himself said that he is deliberately unpredictable so that no one can anticipate what he is going to do. This has made the world nervous, as they have learned that Trump will not hesitate to use all the arms and economic weapons at his command. A good example is a way Trump threatened North Korea and then suddenly started peace talks with North Korea. No American President dared talk to North Korea directly.
President Trump also openly said that citizens of countries where there is terrorism or where terrorists are not punished will not be allowed into the USA.. Trump openly banned people from 10 Muslim countries to visit the USA unless they underwent intensive scrutiny. No American President ever did this.
Trump also weakened the USA’s relations with Europe saying that Europe exploits the USA by not spending enough for defense. This has made Europeans upset, but they had to suffer in silence.
For the last 20 years, Americans watched in envy and worry about the sudden rise of China. No American President dared ask China to reduce its trade surplus with America. Trump imposed the most daring trade taxes on China and for the last 18 months a trade war is going on with China. No one in the world thought that Trump will do it and China was the most surprised at the boldness of Trump. Most economists agree that China has been damaged badly by the trade war.
Trump has used the “forbidden” word ‘ Islamic terrorism “, which no American President did. Trump said that most terrorism starts in some Islamic countries and he will not spare them. Trump bombed the Taliban-Controlled parts of Afghanistan and threatened Pakistan that if they support terrorism, he will punish Pakistan. Imran Khan tried all the tricks in the world. But Trump never forgot that Pakistan hid Osama Bin laden for 5 years.
At one time, when Trump put countries like Syria, Iran and other countries on the ‘ banned-list ‘ for visas, he nearly put Pakistan on this list. The American Military intervened and requested Trump that as Pakistan was needed for giving the ground route to Afghanistan and stopped Trump. Otherwise, Pakistan would have been on the Ban List.
Iran has immense oil wealth and has an Islamic government. Trump warned Iran many times and broke Nuclear agreements with Iran last year. Iran made many threats to the USA and Trump. Suddenly, without warning, Trump ordered the assassination of famed Iranian top general Qassim Suleimani on January 3rd, 2020. This was the rarest act of daring which no American president did. This showed that Trump is un-predictable and his enemies better are careful, as he will use the full extent of American power.
Against all opposition, Trump is building a huge wall along the border with Mexico. No American President has tried to stop illegal Mexican and South American migration. They were afraid that the millions of Mexican and South American descent voters in the USA will vote against them. But Trump has completed at least 35% of the Wall.
On the economy, American companies held nearly $ 1200 Billion in foreign banks, as the US taxes were too high. Obama refused to reduce them as he was against lowering corporate taxes. But Trump reduced the taxes to 15% and all this money returned to the USA, creating an economic boom. Unemployment in the USA is the lowest in over 70 years. Trump has put the American economy in a very good place.
India and America;
There are no major problems with America. The only demand for Trump is that India reduces the trade deficit of US $ 20 billion per year. India has been making efforts to reduce the trade deficit and since the USA is now an oil exporter, India will buy more oil from the USA. India should do its best to satisfy Trump on this issue. India is buying a huge quantity of planes and arms from the USA.
Visa issues with America. India has lakhs of people in the Software sector in the USA. Visas have become tighter. But American companies need Indians with their skills. Therefore, while the number of visas is not increasing dramatically, there is no significant reduction. India is working through the giant American IT companies on this issue. Even Trump knows that Indians are the heart of the technology sector in the USA and they are valued very much.
India’s relationship with Iran is another problem as we buy oil from Iran. But India has managed to continue buying oil from Iran. India is a very big buyer of American planes and arms. This has satisfied Trump to some extent.
India has avoided arguing with Trump when he makes some statement or tweets on an issue which goes against India’s interest. That is the best way to deal with Trump. The issue is quickly forgotten and thus far, Trump has not done any harm to India, even on the trade deficit. Minor problems will always be there.
What will India gain from Trump’s visit :
The greatest gain will be the images that will go from India to the outside world. Friends and foes will have much to think about the close relationship that India has with the USA and Donald Trump. India lives in a very hostile neighborhood and Trump is viewed as a very powerful US President. That message has to be sent to the world. Even neighbors like Nepal will get the message.
Pakistan and China will carefully weigh the impact of Trump’s visit. Pakistan will get a message that it is not on the same level as India. Pakistan tries to show itself as an equal to India. Yes, Pakistan may be equal to India on the cricket-field and nowhere else.
As for China, the message is that it should be more respectful of India’s concerns and not constantly try to make India nervous and distracted by inciting our enemies. China is fully aware that India and the USA share a strategic relationship, which means that our global goals are the same. India and the USA are nervous about the way China is pushing its military power everywhere.
The anti-China countries like Japan, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, and even Australia and New Zealand will be happy that India and the USA are getting closer and that this will help control China. Most Asian countries in the Indian Ocean are worried about China’s aggressive behavior. In diplomacy, a single action or image can equal a million words.
Pakistan will get a clear message that their terrorism cannot go unnoticed by the USA. Pakistan is aware that Trump is fully aware that it has sponsored terrorist activity to suit its interests. Trump’s visit will show that Pakistan might get punished if it continues its terrorist activities. President Obama did not stop Pakistani terrorism. But Trump is clear that he will not tolerate any source of terrorism in the world.
It is up to India to make President Trump’s visit a success. Trump is a man who likes pomp and show, like most people. Trump is also a very direct man and if he is convinced that India is a victim of terrorism and jealousy, then the USA will be of greater help.
Other US Presidents were cautious and subservient to their advisers and lobbies. But Trump decides his own policies and implements them immediately. He watches TV a lot and is very well informed. Trump’s re-election in November 2020 looks very sure and right now.
India must remember what Palmerston said. Nations have only permanent interest and all friendships are temporary. While welcoming Trump grandly, India must work harder on the diplomatic front with all countries.
Bill Clinton visited India in 2000 at the end of his term. George Bush visited India in 2006. Barack Obama visited India in 2010 and 2015. India did get great help from George Bush, as he smashed the Taliban and worked against terrorism. Visits of Barack Obama and Clinton were great public relations successes. But they did not do much to stop the terrorist activity against India.
During Obama’s time, Foreign minister Hillary Clinton said that India must always be balanced by China and Pakistan. Secretly leaked documents said that Hillary Clinton instructed her Ministry to “always balance India with Pakistan and China. Indians must always be nervous “.
Narendra Modi has handled foreign relations well, unlike his handling of the economy. Trump’s visit is important as it will create a good atmosphere after the visit and will earn India respect and space in the world. What tomorrow brings we don’t know. But right now, Trump is Top and at the height of his powers.
(Dr Pullaro is a New Delhi based economist and political commentator)