The Deflated Balloon of a Strong Trump Presidency

Source: Independent

After President Obama’s weak reaction to the Russian interference in the Syrian civil war, the Russian annexation of Crimea, the world started wondering about an American leadership on the backfoot. The more hawkish of commentators even saw this as the beginning of the end of the American Empire or at least a President unwilling to further it.

President Obama had his own vision of a multilateral world, which was dovish to the extent that he ended up letting Russia dictate the direction of the Syrian civil war. He was a Wilsonian, albeit one skeptical about American moral superiority, who lacked the will to enforce his vision. A philosopher President who was even skeptical about his own convictions at times. President Obama also failed to follow his own red line for the Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad for carrying out chemical attacks on his own people by opting to deflect the decision to a vote in Congress. It was no wonder that many hawkish elements, many of them Republicans, were looking forward to a Republican Presidency.

However, everything changed with Donald Trump becoming the Republican frontrunner. Clearly, the American voter had a different mood this time around and was not taking anything from leaders making promises of globalization. With all the populist and anti-globalist rhetoric in the air, there was still one lasting factor traditional Republican view that Trump strongly promoted. The destruction of the Islamic State and deposing Bashar Al-Assad as the leader of the regime in power in Syria.

Trump came across as a strongman to many. Someone who would take tougher stances and establish America’s dominance over the world. However, President Trump’s completely spineless attitude toward Russian President Vladimir Putin and especially dealing the ceasefire in Southern Syria destroys the myth of a strong Trump Presidency. Now, we have an American Empire coming to terms with a precarious position in Syria.

The latest is that the Russia has signed an airbase deal with Syria, solidifying the presence of its troops for at least half a century to come. Instead of moving ahead with confronting the Islamic State, getting rid of Assad and confronting Russia, he reached a ceasefire deal for Southwest Syria with Russia. This development only points toward further military disengagement in the region. He does not seem to have any intention to confront the shrinking American influence either, as he too will apparently kneel before the Russian and Chinese aggression. He is more interested in creating an isolationist America than one leading from the front during the terms of Bush 41 and 43. Just because it will get you the votes in today’s political atmosphere.

It should be a great embarrassment to the Republicans for standing with Trump for his atrocious policies. While they are doing it for purely political reasons, they are going to lose the moral high ground that they are used to taking in front of the public. Politicians like John McCain and Lindsey Graham, who remain more concerned about the situation in the Middle East, should be particularly alarmed with the manner of the President they are standing by.

To many, the decline of America started with the election of a pompous narcissistic billionaire like Trump. It actually started with President Obama, elected on an anti-Iraq war mandate, withdrawing the United States from the global theater. To withdraw the role of actively policing the world for American values. While polar opposites ideologically and in terms of personality, both were symptomatic and also representative of the extreme polarization and a direction of international disengagement in American politics.

Supposedly someone with a liberal background, Donald Trump is going all out to pander to the hard-right conservative Republican base that has brought him to power. While those issues are going to cause much unrest domestically, his international stances, such as exiting the Paris Environment Treaty, are only going to undo the American moral leadership around the world.

Donald Trump and the politicians of his kind are taking the people of the United States back to the era of isolation and disengagement. They are taking America to the pre-Wilsonian era, which brought about great ideas such as the League of Nations and the United Nations to reality. Unlike the Republican tradition, they will not be the stalwarts of American moral leadership around the world. They are withdrawing America from the leadership of the world and leaving it in the hands of darker powers.

I know it’s still early days for the Trump Presidency, and given his unpredictable nature, anything is possible in the near future. However, the way he has handled the Syrian civil war so far takes out all the air that inflated the image of his leadership.

The post was published in The Nation blogs.

The Expectations from President Donald Trump

Source: abc.com

Source: abc.com

A few months ago when the Republican primaries started, I wrote that a Republican presidency was the best possible road for the situation in Iraq and Syria. The suggestion was more for a traditional Republican. Even though I did anticipate a Donald Trump presidency right from the start, it was never something that thrilled me. Of course, a conventional Republican such as Jeb Bush or John Kasich would have been a far better choice of leadership in these difficult and almost apocalyptic times in the Middle East.

While apparently handing the complete legislative control to the Republican Party, the American people seem to have reversed the effect in 2008 that made Obamacare possible, things matter more on the foreign front. On the issue of terrorism, President Trump overwhelmingly beat Secretary Clinton, and even had an edge over her on economy and immigration, embarrassingly.

Considering the situation in Iraq and Syria, President Obama’s sheer disregard of the crisis is an abomination and a moral disgrace. With the monotone narrative in the Democratic Party, there is no hope of finding a viable alternative there. Ironically, a President Hillary Clinton would by far have been the most sensible voice in a party with increasingly isolationist tendencies pertaining to Iraq and Syria.

Trump’s main litmus test is going to be economic, of course. One of his greatest campaign promises, and one of his greatest hurdles to pursue an aggressive military policy, and he is expected to hesitate unlike Bush 41 and 43. You cannot claim to know Donald Trump or what he believes in except his love for himself, but you can estimate that when it comes down to it, he is going to be more cautious than you would expect. Contrary to the image of a monster that has been constructed by media in the last quarter or so.

What is important to consider is that Trump’s electorate has not voted for him to take America to another war, even though that may be the need of the hour. President Trump has been elected to improve America’s economic growth, to add jobs, for protecting American traders from the risks of globalization, and to bring manufacturing factories back to the United States.

But if only the economy were the only hurdle in the way of a more responsible foreign and military American policy in Iraq and Syria. With the Russian President Vladimir Putin and Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad immediately reaching out, the signs for the future are not healthy indeed at all.

Besides, Donald Trump is hardly a traditional Republican conservative. His populist platform and trade protectionism are the residue of his past in the left, with perhaps the issue of abortion being the only one on which he may have appeared to evolve as a conservative. Who knows?

But he is not exactly a Rockefeller Republican either and probably you cannot expect him to respect free trade agreements. The outlook on his domestic policy is scary and his calls for registering Muslims sounds highly inappropriate. He is also likely to block more Syrian refugees from entering. However, it would be difficult to argue that he is not merely following up on his mandate anyway.

While the liberals of the world are mourning the loss of Hillary Clinton, who has the conscience to ask the question about Iraq and Syria? Where were the military forces of the free world when the Peshmerga were struggling to hold Mosul with the fierce battle raging against the Islamic State? Where was the outrage and mourning for the Iraqi Kurds and the Yazidis?

This is where regardless of his personal ideological beliefs, or lack thereof, Donald Trump must rise up to the challenge of dealing with the Middle East situation in a brave and urgent manner. He must do that at least for the sake of his party and even if that means going to war with the legislature. And he must do that without coming under the influence of Vladimir Putin.

 It is undoubtedly unfortunate that an intellectual such as President Barack Obama is leaving office with the situation in the Middle East worsened when he assumed it. It is sad that he has not been able to work to resolve the sectarian tensions in Iraq, which have spilled over into Syria to fuel the bitter civil war. It is sad that he has threatened but never followed up on his red line.

If liberal and responsible leaders are not going to do their job, you have no choice but to count on “demagogues” to bring the task to completion.

Good luck President Trump.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Pakistan’s Turn to the Dark Side

Source: ARY News

Source: ARY News

If the recent foreign policy developments for Pakistan did not have you worried, then it is time for serious reflection. Ever since President George W. Bush left office, you can feel a distance between Washington and Islamabad. The differences between the two countries were particularly seen at their worst when Pakistan decided to carry out nuclear tests in 1998 during the term of the Clinton administration.

While Pakistan and China have always had very strong ties since the 1970s, but nothing like the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has ever been seen before. It promises great prosperity for the future, but skeptics see it as yet another neo-colonial scheme in the region which could bring more harm than good. Not to mention the control it could possibly offer to the Chinese authorities in Gwadar.

Of course, the irony is not lost on the Pakistani left progressives and former communists who have been struggling against the military establishment since the 1950s. They recall how Afghan Jihad was mobilized by Pakistani military and masterminded by American National Security experts, out of fears of Soviets reaching the shores of the Persian Gulf. They also recall the harsh bans they had to endure during the Cold War years.

But let’s face it. The CPEC is too grand to be said no to. The magnitude of the project is so grand that even India would have agreed to it, had it been a primary beneficiary. The fact that Pakistan is turning to partners other than the United States and Great Britain for its economic and trade development sounds perfectly fine. Though you can’t help but wonder if the economic development comes at the cost of military alliances and other illegible footnotes.

Especially since the killing of Osama Ben Laden at the hands of US Navy Seals in Abbottabad, a humiliating episode for the Pakistani state, Pakistan’s position in the Western alliance has never been more precarious. The difference of interest between Washington and Islamabad on military action against certain militant groups in Afghanistan and within Pakistan have even worsened the tensions in the Obama years.

With the gulf of military cooperation apparently widening with a more disinterested US administration, Pakistan is apparently seeking new avenues with more sinister powers. On the surface, it was a welcome development that President Zardari paid a rare visit to Moscow in 2011 and that for the very first time, the Russian military participated in joint military exercises with Pakistan on Pakistani soil. Such an occurrence would have been unimaginable in the 1980s.

There is only one problem. Vladimir Putin and his open intimidation of the Western world. Not only that, his close association with Iran and the brutal Syrian dictator Bashar Al-Assad. At a time when Aleppo has become the greatest battlefield for the conscience of the world, it may not be the best time to favor Russia over the Western world. So let’s just hope the military exercise is just a harmless affair of two old rivals on the road to friendship.

Probably it has been a long while that Pakistani nationalist commentators have been dreaming of Pakistani statesmen standing up to the US authorities on an equal standing. Even though we have had a tradition of strong diplomatic figures from Zulfikar Ali Bhutto to Abdullah Hussain Haroon. So you could expect that Senator Mushahid Hussein Syed’s recent comment at a Washington think tank about the United States no longer being the superpower of the world would see much appreciation.

The only problem is that the statement of the Prime Minister’s envoy could be tantamount to an needless provocation. It could work all very well in terms of harnessing diplomatic leverage and probably it would be unwise not to make soft threats, but if behavior such as this is overdone, it could surely affect Pakistan’s future with the Western world.

Furthermore, it is important to choose your words. Not sure how calling the United States “a declining power” is so flattering, no matter what your objectives are. It has only been a slight sign of Pakistan drifting away from and slipping into the Chinese and Russian camp, other than the usual cockiness of Senator Mushahid Hussain, who is free to get carried away after retirement as much as he wants. It is just that the China-Russia camp does not offer the best of values in human civilization.

It is only a fair point to make that it takes two to tango. Perhaps the United States does not require the partnership of Pakistan as it used to during the twentieth century or perhaps it is sick and tired of nurturing the Pakistani military without the satisfactory fulfillment of its objectives. However, the United States still favors Pakistan enough with its more traditional and liberal politicians largely refraining from supporting a Liberty Caucus resolution in the Congress to declare Pakistan a terrorist state.

Even though the situation is far from being apocalyptic, the direction Pakistan is heading is certainly not that bright. There is nothing wrong in stating that we are living in a multi-polar world today, neither is there any harm in pursuing trade and commerce ties with the likes of China and Russia. But it would be wise not to burn bridges with long-time allies, whose values and humanitarian record we need to identify with more than authoritarian powers.

On the other hand, Pakistan’s greatest strategic concern India has been significantly improving its diplomatic standing in the West, even reaching out to Israel, since the fall of the Soviet Union. At the same time, India has not been alienating rival China and old ally Russia in its pursuit toward a freer and more vibrant economy and strong defense. Pakistan surely needs to take its diplomatic lessons from its bitter rival, despite India’s petulant insistence to isolate Pakistan diplomatically. At least the missed diplomatic opportunity with Israel cannot be emphasized enough.

As citizens, we can only hope for Pakistan to pursue more liberal and democratic policies and to stand with global forces representing such values than otherwise.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

Why Pakistan Must Stand Up Against ISIS

Source: ISPR/Dawn

Source: ISPR/Dawn

Just when you thought that the Obama administration is going to forsake the Middle East at the mercy of the menacingly destructive ISIS, there is finally a little ray of hope. According to a news report, the recent trip of the US National Security Advisor Susan Rice to Pakistan involved discussion of building an alliance against the Islamic State. In other words, the United States would be asking Pakistan’s help to deal with the situation, though it’s still wishful thinking.

Nevertheless, this offers Pakistan yet another opportunity to lead the world by example in fighting terrorism, as was the case in the global war against Islamist terrorism following 9/11. As a matter of fact, international military action against ISIS is far overdue. The silence of the UN Security Council on the matter has been shameful to say the least. Only Egypt, Turkey, and Jordan have retaliated weakly to the Islamic State, and that too, when their own borders and soldiers were threatened.

If Pakistan does respond to the call of the United States to join such a coalition, it would only be fulfilling its duty as a responsible member of the international community. No other country of the world should be an exception. As a matter of fact, all capable powers around the world should rise up to the challenge of ISIS.

There are a lot of people around the world who are blaming the Obama administration for being indirectly responsible for the current situation in Iraq and Syria. The Obama Administration with its half measures to depose Assad has helped turning Syria into a mass graveyard, and as the indirect consequence of which, ISIS has captured large parts of both Iraq and Syria, establishing its own state.

However, the most painful part of this story remains to be how the world has treated the Kurds. The 2003 Iraq War had finally given the Kurds an opportunity to found an independent state after decades of struggle and oppression by at least three major powers in the region. Even today, Kurds are still surrounded by enemies, with the worst of them all, ISIS, is barely being kept at bay by the Peshmarga. However, they cannot help but feel betrayed by their Western liberators, as their hopes of independence are in jeopardy again. Helping them, especially the Yazidi population, is almost a moral duty.

ISIS is slaughtering innocent civilians and is destroying the cultural heritage of the Middle East. It is simply a shame that not even a single nation in the world has decided to stand up to this challenge and tackle the growth of ISIS. As a matter of fact, the Iranians and the Syrians have been on the forefront to fight this menace. But this needs to change, if the world wants to see a substantial change in the current situation in the Middle East, which has given rise to probably the worst refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

I know there are a lot of people who would warn against entering another of “America’s wars,” reminding of the wave of terrorist attacks that followed throughout the country. Wars are never without a cost, but staying out of one is not always the more peaceful and safest option. Taking action against ISIS is as important as it was to fight against the Nazi Third Reich. While we mourn the death of Aylan Kurdi, which in all seriousness may or may not have anything to do with the Syrian civil war directly, but it would be even better if we focus our attention to the elements that are destroying the homes of Syrian families, including their dictator Bashar Al-Assad.

The allies must ask themselves why Assad is still in power, and if he is to be tolerated in Damascus, then what is the point of continuing support for the Syrian opposition? And what is the point of fueling this fire from a distance when we know that Putin’s forces are now in Syria. Maybe, they could help offer some help against the IS militants after all.

Does this mean that the anti-Assad powers around the world had a part to play of depriving millions of Syrians of their homes? All this destruction for nothing? It would simply be irresponsible to leave the situation in its current state just because bad intervention had caused the deterioration. Faux doves must be resisted both in the West and in the Muslim majority countries.

But apart from the trouble that Syrian nationals have been facing, we must not forget that ISIS is a real threat to the Pakistani state as well. Evidence has been found of ISIS presence and influence within Pakistan, and the Foreign Office has recognized the group as a threat to the national security.

However, Pakistan is not unique in being threatened by the growth of ISIS. Pretty much every nation in the world that values freedom is feeling threatened by the existence of this group directly or indirectly, especially those close to the Middle East. Considering the inaction of the Sunni Arab states, it is also important to fight ISIS to avoid offering it the privilege and legitimacy of being the de facto force of Sunni resistance against the Iranian Shia political influence, especially in Iraq and Syria.

A lot of people in Pakistan and in other Muslim majority countries like to blame ISIS on the enemies of Islam, by which they are referring to the United States, the EU and the allies such as Israel. Even if that is true, it should give Muslim majority countries and Arab states all the more reason to come together and get rid of this dangerous group that has been effectively demonizing the faith that represents their identity. Of course, Israel must play its part in fighting the ISIS as well.

We should be proud that Pakistan has been the front line state in the war against terrorism after 9/11. We should continue this honorable tradition of eradicating terrorist groups. We have celebrated the valor and sacrifice of our servicemen and women on the Defense day. It is important that we prepare ourselves to take on the threats that are jeopardizing the survival of civilization in the region as we know it at the same time.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.