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Trumped by Dr. Sreeram Chaulia- Book Review

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“The Liberal Leviathan is shuttering up behind walls and a brave new world is out there to be carved by those who dare.” No one sentence in this book could best highlight the crux of the argument that Dr. Sreeram Chaulia presents. Trump is a contradiction to the very values that “Liberal America” has upheld since the World Wars and his contradictory nature has served to provide immense opportunities to emerging powers. In an era of uncertainty, the author thus provides immense clarity into the changing dynamics of the International world order. With the coming of Trump, there is an unprecedented scenario in world politics where emerging powers have a chance of filling the vacuum created by his isolationism. This is the crux of Trumped.

The international order that has been built up under the leadership of past American Presidents, is today being brought down brick by brick by another. Empires have crumbled in the past due to leaders who turned isolationist. Perhaps the best examples of these are Ashoka, Dom Pedro of Brazil and Gorbachev and, according to Chaulia, the American lead world order is suffering the same fate under Trump. His disregard for past US foreign policy and his heightened affinity towards his domestic populace is what defines both him and his policies. Linking most of Trumps actions and statements to his belief in America first, provides a firm understanding into what Trump is.

Trumped brings credence to the fact that the US President’s twin mission is to both deconstruct and unravel the American state apparatus along with breaking the world order to free American people. Trump believes in putting American politics first, but more importantly, he puts the American economy above all. Making America great revolves around making America richer and whether “ally or foe, whoever shells out cash, gets Trump’s, thumbs up.” However, it is not only the money that matters and Chaulia shows how Trump’s allegiance to his domestic populace is a defining factor in his foreign policy. He has supported the state of Israel, along with democracy in Venezuela, in order to lobby either evangelicals or anti-Maduro Venezuelans in the state of Florida respectively.

Most literature disregards and does not bring much focus to emerging powers and rather looks at current great powers in analysing effects of changing international dynamics. Chaulia therefore provides unique perspectives to the Trump problem. By looking at it through the eyes of four major emerging powers he brings emphasis to the fact that the Trump factor has provided a unique opportunity for these middle countries to utilize upon.

India, Turkey, Brazil and Nigeria are all key powers in their neighbourhood and have been strategic partners of the US at one point or the other. Today, Trump has upended the balance in these flourishing relationships and put the onus of adjusting to the same on the leaders of the emerging countries.

Highlighting the difference in their actions and decisions in dealing with this, Chaulia showcases the circumstantial nature of the relationship between Trump’s America and these emerging powers. They have chosen paths unlike each other in an attempt to stay abreast with the changing dynamics. However, though they have at times been pushed into corners in accepting Trump’s dictation of terms, it is clear that they refuse to be pushed around or walked over. In the words of the author,“Emerging powers are difficult customers for any hegemon because they are unwilling to play second fiddle.”This puts emerging powers on a pedestal and it is only through the manoeuvring of the challenges presented to them that they will either emerge victorious or diminished. Each country that the book highlights has a different set of challenges posed to it and only time will tell whether they treat the Trump factor as a bane or boon.

In the chapter on India he portrays extensively the stance that the country is forced to take in facing Trump. He seems almost disappointed by the actions of the populist president. Two things seem to bother the author in this chapter. Firstly, the fact that his actions have at times left the Indian establishment “scratching its head” and secondly the fact that Trump may be fine with a unipolar Asia dominated by China. Though it is clear that Trump’s withdrawal has forced India to look towards self-reliance, Chaulia advocates for something more. He urges India to take cognizance of the fact that the regional dynamics are changing and perhaps diversify its approach to the region. Any likelihood of such a move taking place is debatable. Nonetheless, he seems highly optimistic of the endeavours undertaken by Narendra Modi in both building India’s regional image and countering China.

In Turkey things seem to be quite the contrary. Chaulia has looked at Modi favourably however, he looks at Erdogan very differently. While Modi has tried to keep out of Trump’s bad books, Erdogan placed tremendous faith in the non-judgemental populism of Trump. Becoming openly confrontationist has seen Turkey turn heavily towards Iran and Russia, America and NATO’s key opponents at the moment. By attributing the cause of stagnating Turkey to Erdogan’s neo-Ottomanism he emphasizes the need for a change of leadership in Turkey to facilitate the countries rise.

In the case of a third emerging power, Trump has once again overturned previous US foreign policy with Nigeria as well. As has already been highlighted above, Trump cares more for economic gains than anything else. While previous governments condemned human rights violations, Trump was happy to provide the country with arms nonetheless. However, that is seemingly the only upside with the US today. In this aspect, Chaulia provides perspective from both sides of the coin. Trump will provide arms to anyone who shells out money or fights jihadists and yet he is casually racist towards Africans. Nigeria is thus also in a time of uncertainty and is seemingly backed into a corner as well.

Brazil is in another league altogether. If Modi has sought to keep out of Trump’s bad books, Bolsonaro has jumped right into his good books. While Bolsonaro believes he is doing the right thing by riding on Trump, he is in fact laying down Brazilian autonomy at the feet of the US. The author describes the Brazilian far right as lacking independent thinking in their understanding of the relationship with Trump and in a way, almost ridicules them. In this scenario Chaulia prescribes a change in Brazilian policy in moving back to south-south cooperation rather than its current motive of promoting a north-south axis.

This seems to be the only issue with such a book. Advocating changes, prescriptions or providing for possible futuristic scenarios could fall flat with the forever changing decisions of Trump. Professor Chaulia deserves credit for looking at almost every alternative posed to these emerging powers. However, one cannot think of all circumstances or foresee the events of the future. Trumped provides detailed insight into the events of today but how much longer will it still be relevant is highly debatable.

An interesting aspect of this book is that while it focuses on the four countries highlighted above, he also looks at the effects on others in the region. From China, Afghanistan and Pakistan in India’s neighbourhood to Iran and Syria in Turkeys neighbourhood. Trumped therefore focuses on the effect of the Trump factor on most regional actors and diversifies the scope of the book, bringing narratives from multiple recipients of Trump’s blundering foreign policy.

Dr Chaulia paints the current changes in the international order in a very straight forward way. His suggestions and rhetoric bring all focus to the situation at hand, and though Trumped may focus on a multitude of issues, it does not deviate from the main crux of the matter at all which is, that the coming of Trump has drastically affected the world order as we know it. His suggestion that “Trump has dealt the post-cold war liberal international order a hard kick in the solar plexus” perhaps best describes the current scenario.

This in fact brings one to another important aspect of the book. The author’s use of metaphors and innuendos throughout the book brings forth a sense of humour in the way in which he perceives international politics. Not many have looked at China as being akin to an 800 pound gorilla or indeed compared getting votes in the Senate for international endorsement as being equal to boiling the ocean. One would expect a book written by such a renowned scholar to be highly academic. However, the language used and the explanations provided portray the book in a very differently light. It is a book that can be read by all and keeps the reader engrossed in the unique perspectives provided.

Zeus Hans Mendez is a Research Associate and Centre Coordinator at the Centre for Security Studies (CSS), Jindal School of International Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global Univeristy. He is also a Research Assistant at the Centre for Security and Strategy Studies (CeSCube).

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Americas

Prospects for U.S.-China Relations in the Biden Era

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The U.S. presidential election which will be held on November 3 is drawing ever closer. As the Trump administration performs poorly in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, where the death toll in the U.S. exceeded 210,000, the election trend appears to be very unfavorable for Donald Trump.

According to a recent poll conducted by NBC News and the Wall Street Journal, Joe Biden led Trump by 14 percentage points in the national elections. It is worth noting that retired American generals, who have traditionally been extremely low-key in politics, publicly supported Biden this year, something that is quite rare. On September 24, 489 retired generals and admirals, former national security officials and diplomats signed a joint letter in support of Biden. Among them are Republicans, Democrats, and non-partisans, showing that they have crossed the affiliation, and jointly support Biden to replace Trump. Although the opinion polls do not represent the final election, with the election only being one month away, the widening of the opinion gap is enough to predict the direction of the election.

For the whole world, especially for China, it is necessary to prepare for the advent of a possible Biden era of the United States. During Trump’s tenure, U.S.-China relations have taken a turn for the worse, and China has been listed as the foremost “long-term strategic competitor” of the United States.

There is a general view in China that after the Democratic Party comes to power, U.S.-China relations may worsen. The reason is that the Democratic Party places more emphasis on values such as human rights and ideology and is accustomed to using values such as human rights, democracy, and freedom in foreign policies against China. However, as far as U.S.-China relations are concerned, it is too vague to use the simple dichotomic “good” or “bad” to summarize the relationship of the two countries.

However, it is certain that after Biden takes office, his policies will be different from Trump’s. An important difference between Biden and Trump is that Biden will follow a certain order and geopolitical discipline to implement his own policies, and he will also seek cooperation with China in certain bottom-line principled arrangements. It should be stressed that it is crucial for China and the United States to reach some principled arrangements in their relations.

From an economic point of view, should Biden become the next President, the United States will likely ease its trade policy, which will alleviate China’s trade pressure. It can be expected that the Biden administration may quell the U.S.-China tariff war and adjust punitive tariff policies that lead to “lose-lose” policies. If Biden takes office, he might be more concerned about politics and U.S.-China balance. In terms of trade, although he would continue to stick to the general direction of the past, this would not be the main direction of his governance. Therefore, the U.S.-China trade war could see certain respite and may even stop. In that scenario, China as the largest trading partner of the United States, could hope for the pressures in the trade with the U.S. being reduced.

China must also realize that even if Biden takes power, some key areas of U.S.-China relations will not change, such as the strategic positioning of China as the “long-term strategic competitor” of the United States. This is not something that is decided by the U.S. President but by the strategic judgment of the U.S. decision-making class on the direction of its relations with China. This strategic positioning destined that the future U.S.-China relations will be based on the pattern dominated by geopolitical confrontation. Biden sees that by expanding global influence, promoting its political model, and investing in future technologies, China is engaging a long-term competition with the U.S, and that is the challenge that the United States faces.

On the whole, if and when Biden takes office, the U.S. government’s domestic and diplomatic practices will be different from those of the Trump administration, although the strategic positioning of China will not change, and neither will it change the U.S.’ general direction of long-term suppression of China’s rise. However, in terms of specific practices, the Biden administration will have its own approaches, and will seek a certain order and geopolitical discipline to implement its policies. He may also seek to reach some bottom-line principled arrangements with China. Under the basic framework, the future U.S.-China relations will undergo changes in many aspects. Instead of the crude “an eye for an eye” rivalry, we will see the return to the traditional systemic competition based on values, alliance interests, and rules. Facing the inevitable changes in U.S.-China relations, the world needs to adapt to the new situation.

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Third world needs ideological shift

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As nations across the world have been pooling their efforts to contain the COVID-19 spread, the looming economic crisis has caught the attention of global intelligentsia. In the light of health emergency, The policy makers of Asia, Africa and Latin America have been struggling to steer the economic vehicle back to normalcy. Although, the reason for the economic slump could be attributed to the pandemic, it is also important to cast light on the economics of these tricontinental nations. Been as colonies for more than two centuries, these players had adopted the style of economics which is a mix of market economics and socialism. The imperial powers of the then Europe had colonised these nations and had subjugated them with their military and political maneuvers. Under the banner of White man’s burden, the Imperial masters had subverted the political, economical, social and cultural spheres of the colonies and had transformed these self-reliant societies into the ones which depend on Europe for finished products. The onslaught on the economical systems of colonies was done through one way trade. Though, the western powers brought the modern values to the third world during colonial era, they were twisted to their advantage. The European industrial machines were depended on the blood, sweat and tears of the people of colonies. It is clear that the reason for the backwardness of these players is the force behind the imperial powers which had eventually pushed them towards these regions in search of raw materials and markets i.e., Capitalism. Needless to say, the competition for resources and disaccord over the distribution of wealth of colonies led to twin world wars. Capitalism, as an economic idea, cannot survive in an environment of a limited market and resources. It needs borderless access, restless labour and timeless profit. While the European imperial powers had expanded their influence over Asia and Africa, the US had exerted its influence over Latin America. Earlier, at the dawn of modern-day Europe, The capitalist liberal order had challenged the old feudal system and the authority of church. Subsequently, the sovereign power was shifted to monarchial king. With the rise of ideas like democracy and liberty, complemented by the rapid takeoff of industrialization, the conditions were set for the creation of new class i.e., capitalist class. On the one hand, Liberalism, a polical facet of capitalism, restricts the role of state(political) in economical matters but on the other hand it provides enough room for the elite class and those who have access to power corridors to persuade the authority(state) to design the policies to their advantage. Inequality is an inescapable feature of liberal economics.

The powerful nations cannot colonise these nations as once done. The Watchwords like interconnectedness, interdependency and free trade are being used to continue their domination on these players. As soon as the third world nations were freed from the shackles of colonialism, they were forced to integrate their economies into the global economical chain. Characterized by the imbalance, the globalization has been used as a weapon by the Western powers to conquer the markets of developing nations.

The Carrot and stick policy of the US is an integral part of its strategy to dominate global economical domain. The sorry state of affairs in the Middle East and Latin America could be attributed to the US lust for resources. In the name of democracy, the US has been meddling in the internal affairs of nations across the developing world. Countries like Iran, Cuba, Venezuela, Libya, Iraq and Syria have challenged the US,a global policeman. Back in the day,soon after assuming the power, the Left leadership in Latin American countries had adopted socialist schemes and had nationalised the wealth creating assets, which were previously in the hands of the US capitalists. Irked by the actions of these nations, the US had devised a series of stratagems to destabilize the regimes and to install its puppets through the imposition of cruel sanctions and by dubbing them as terrorist nations on the pretext of exporting violent communist revolution. With the exception of the regimes of Fidel castro in Cuba and Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the US is largely successful in its agenda of destabilizing anti-American governments in the region. The US has a long history of mobilising anti-left forces in Latin America, the region which US sees as its backyard, in an attempt to oust socialist leaders. At present, by hook or by crook, the trump administration has been trying to depose Nicolas Maduro, the president of Venezuela, a socialist.

In addition,The US has been colonising the minds of the third world citizens psychologically with its cultural hegemony and anti-left indoctrination. It is important to understand that the reason for the neo-fascism, which is unfurling across the developing and developed world alike, is rooted in capitalism.The third world citizenry is disgruntled and the ultra-nationalist right wing forces in these countries have been channeling the distress amongst the working class to solidify their position. Growing inequalities, Falling living standards, Joblessness and Insecurity are exposing the incompetence of capitalism and have been pushing a large chunk of workforce in the developing countries into a state of despair.Adding to their woes, the Covid-19 has hit them hard.

The US, with the help of IMF and the world bank, had coerced the developing countries to shun welfare economics.The term “Development” is highly contested  in the economic domain.Capitalists argue that the true development of an individual and the society depends upon economic progress and the free market is a panacea for all problems.Given the monopolistic tendencies in the economical systems across the developing world, the free market is a myth, especially in a societies where a few of business families, who have cronies in policy making circles, dominates the economical and social scene.The time has come for the governments of these nations to address these issues and ensure that the wealth would be distributed in a more equitable manner.

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Americas

The Election Circus and an Event in the Cosmos

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The election in the US is held on the Tuesday after the first Monday in November.  A  Tuesday was chosen to allow people enough time to drive to the election site after Sunday, reserved for religious services and rest.  Those were the horse and buggy days and it took a while. The people clearly had greater ardor for democracy then considering we get a less than 50 percent turnout now when voting sites are usually less than a five-minute drive. 

Most states are either heavily Republican or Democrat so the results there are a foregone conclusion.  The winners get the electors assigned to the state on a basis of population.  The electors then vote for the nominees receiving the most votes in the state when the electoral college meets. 

There are about a dozen battleground or swing states; among them Pennsylvania and Florida are prized for their high electoral votes — hence the repeated visits by the candidates.  Trump won both in 2016.  Will he this time? 

Meanwhile two New York papers are busy running negative stories on candidates they oppose.  The New York Times offers tidbits against Trump.  The latest this week is that Trump has a Chinese bank account.  The fact is not new since the information was filed with his tax returns — one has to report foreign bank accounts over $10,000 — but the news is intended as an example of Trump’s hypocrisy for he has been speaking out against doing business in China.  The accounts in the name of Trump International Hotels have been moribund since 2015. 

The New York Post, much less distinguished than the Times, is after Hunter Biden and through him his father, candidate Joe Biden.  Last week the Post unearthed a dubious email purporting to show then Vice President Biden possibly meeting with Hunter’s potential business partner.  This week there is a photograph of the Bidens, father and son, flanked by a Kazakh oligarch on one side and a former president of Kazakhstan on the other.  The latest on the email issue has a certain Tony Bobulinski, one of the recipients, confirming the Post email adding that Hunter sought Dad’s advice on deals.  There is also a proposed equity split referring to ’20’ for ‘H’ and ’10 held by H for the big guy.’  

New York State may be a secure prize for Democrats but news stories these days are picked up on the internet and spread nationally and internationally.  Surely the two newspapers have something really big up their sleeves for the week before the election.  

Charges and counter-charges in the final presidential debate.  Biden repeatedly blamed Trump for deaths from the Covid 19 epidemic.  On almost everything Biden promised, Trump’s rejoinder was why he had not done it in the 47 years he was in public office including 8 years as vice president.  This included mimicking Biden’s previously successful tactic of talking directly to the public.  The same interests fund both major parties and they generally  get what they want except that Trump mostly funded his campaign himself. 

From all the ridiculousness to the sublime.  Images of M87 are the first of any black hole swallowing whatever is within range.  We are told of the discovery of a black hole in the center of our own Milky Way, presumably the eventual destination of everything in our galaxy.  From this perspective the Trump-Biden debate, although quite important for our immediate future, seems to diminish to nothing in significance.  

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