BY M. R. JOSSE
TAMPA, FL: Though this week’s write-up will focus on US foreign policy under President Donald Trump, mention must be made to the disarray infusing and infecting the body politic back home.
NO SILVER BULLET
I cannot but remind readers of his column in November entitled: “Panacea, or another Pandora’s Box?” wherein he expressed grave misgivings that the fabled elections mightn’t be the hoped-for silver bullet to resolve Nepal’s chronic political, economic and social problems/tensions.
Indeed, even weeks after the popular mandate against the NC-led coalition, the lame-duck administration led by NC’s Sher Bahadur Deuba not only keeps clinging to power but is undertaking far-reaching actions of questionable legitimacy.
If the former trait recalls that NC Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala took more than three months to transfer power to the Maoists who emerged as the largest party in 2008, the latter tendency smacks of the utter confusion that prevails on how the constitution should be implemented.
On a deeper level, it underscores that the constitution – despite all the hype – suffers from basic structural flaws that were ignored or brushed aside for the sake of expediency, possibly at the dictates of external power centres.
And, even if one were to ignore the turbid implications of a reported meeting between former King Gyanendra and UP Chief Minister Yogi, the unholy mess in Kathmandu today only reinforces my forecast that 2018 is likely to spawn instability and turbulence in Nepal.
President Trump is not new to controversy, spurred by his propensity for tweeting from the hip. Those on North Korea and Pakistan in the past week deserve attention as new doubts raise about the credibility of US foreign policy – and the mental stability of the president.
His tweeted response to Kim Jong Un’s braggadocio about his nuclear ‘button’ has exasperated a bevy of policy makers and media commentators, at home and abroad.
Peggy Noonan, speechwriter to former President Ronald Reagan and Wall Street Journal columnist, expressed the view of a big chunk of American opinion when she advised: ‘Button’ It, Mr. President, explaining: “Mr. Trump’s tweet is destructive and dangerous. Because it is cavalier about a subject that could not be graver. Because the language and venue reflect an immature mind, the grammar and usage a cluttered and undisciplined one.
“By raising the possibility of a nuclear exchange on social media, the president diminishes the taboo against nuclear war. Anything you can joke about on Twitter has lost its negative mystique. Destigmatizing the idea of nuclear use makes it more acceptable, more possible – more likely.”
Contrasting Trump’s behavior with that of that of Reagan who successfully negotiated with Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces Treaty in 1987, she recalls him famously quoting the Russian maxim: ‘Dovorey no provorey’ (‘trust but verify’).
More recently, Trump took a more sober stance when he said he hoped the proposed talks between North and South Korea would be fruitful. Incidentally, it is worth noting that State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert, at a briefing, predicted: “The talks will be limited to conversations about the Olympics and perhaps other domestic matters…not beyond that.”
The recent spat between the United States and Pakistan originated in this Trump tweet: “The United States has foolishly given Pakistan more than 33 billion dollars in aid over the last 15 years and they have given us nothing but lies and deceit, thinking of our leaders as fools. They give safe heaven to terrorists we hunt in Afghanistan, with little help. No more.”
Subsequently, the US announced suspension of all security assistance to Pakistan until Islamabad takes “decisive” action against terrorist groups, including the Afghan Taliban, and the Haqqani Network.
Understandably, this set off a perfect firestorm in Islamabad where Foreign Minister Khawaja Asif told a parliamentary committee that the US was making Pakistan a scapegoat of its failure in Afghanistan, and accusing Trump of “speaking India’s language.”
While it is significant that Islamabad and Washington were still engaged in security cooperation, it is a geopolitical maxim that Islamabad’s vulnerability increases if it does not listen to the US president’s warning – or, if it listens too much!
Notably, US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis declared that the US had no indication that Pakistan intended to shut off ground supply routes for US supplies for its 14,000 troops in Afghanistan. Richard Olsen, a former Obama administration official, has been thus quoted: “Our choices in Afghanistan are already difficult, but if you want to make them even more difficult, continue to taunt the Pakistanis. The Pakistanis could effectively shut down the war.”
It is against this weird backdrop that this week much public attention has been directed to criticism of Trump’s mental state, and his declaring himself a “very stable genius” on Twitter, while later, at a press conference, issuing an explosive rebuttal of Michael Wolff, the author of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House”, in which many of Trump’s closest advisers question his intelligence, leadership and maturity even as they stroke his ego with praise and attention.
It casts Trump as a man who didn’t want to win the presidency, doesn’t understand the weight of the office and has little grasp of policy details.
As National Public Radio (NPL) reports, a group of lawmakers on both sides of the aisle were briefed by Yale psychiatrist Dr. Brandy X. Lee about Trump’s fitness for office. Last December, Lee warned members of Congress that Trump is “unravelling” and “losing his grip on reality”.
As the controversy swirls, and increasingly people talk of his possible replacement by the vice president as per the 25th amendment, individuals such as Ken Duckworth, director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, disagree reminding that several past presidents had similar qualities.
In any event, this issue will become a political football this midterm election year, as Trump’s credibility – and that of American foreign policy – are threatened with rapid erosion.