First feel of Trump’s ‘America First’


M. K. Bhadrakumar

Jan. 25, 2016


Prime Minister Narendra Modi happens to be only the second world leader with whom US President Donald Trump spoke with after the inaugural on January 20. The conversation took place on January 24, two days after Trump spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Presumably, a long ‘waiting list’ lies on Trump’s table. At any rate, do not feel flattered.

The White House readout of the conversation with PM Modi makes sombre reading. The purple prose characteristic of the halcyon days under the last two US presidencies is absent.

The readout is completely devoid of hyperbole – except in regard of fight against terrorism, which is close to Trump’s heart. In that fight, Trump expects Modi to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with him. Of course, it goes without saying that India must bear its expenses in the fight. Trump intends to go ‘dutch’ with his allies – paying for the US’s expenses if it becomes absolutely unavoidable.

Trump calls India a “true friend and partner in addressing challenges in the world”. It is a statement of fact and it is well-earned. The Modi government has gone more than half way to meet the US’ demands. The signing of the Logistics Agreement itself is a glaring instance where the accord is of no use to India in practical terms and the geopolitical gains are dubious.

Trump and Modi “discussed opportunities to strengthen partnership” in the fields of economy and defence. In Trumpian terms, this means US exports to India, civil and military, are top priority. Unsurprisingly, there was no reference whatsoever to ‘Make in India’. It is unclear whether Modi brought it up. Unlikely.

But then, how does India promote exports for the US industry in the Indian market at this odd time by restarting ‘reforms’ to facilitate greater market access for US exports? The GDP growth is stalling and the priority is to inject some dynamism. Again, the domestic political climate is turning against the ruling party and the smart thing will be populist policies, as Modi has realised.

Arguably, where we can help Trump will be by buying more weapons from American vendors. But Modi will have to throw out of the window all notions of ‘co-production’, ‘joint development’, et al. Trump will sell, Modi should buy. Technology transfer that meets Indian aspirations a la Ashton Carter? Just forget about it.

In regard of regional security, Trump and Modi discussed South Asia and Central Asia (read Afghanistan). India-Pakistan tensions probably figured. Kashmir? (PMO is yet to put out a readout giving its version of the conversation.)

The stunning thing is that Trump didn’t discuss Asia-Pacific or South China Sea. Troubling questions arise: Is Trump aware that there is a historic document titled the U.S.-India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region, which is displayed on the White House website? Or, is it another Obama legacy that he intends to dump in the waste paper basket?

Ironically, Trump spoke to Modi on the day after tearing up the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Modi should have reminded Trump about the ‘defining partnership’ between the two countries.

Is Trump altogether devoid of emotions? Not really. He was an altogether different man when he spoke with Netanyahu two days ago. Just look at the White House readout, here.

Doesn’t it hurt our national pride that after all this brouhaha about US-Indian defining partnership, Trump didn’t have a similar conversation with Modi Not that Netanyahu is in a position to make investments in American highways or manufacturing plants and other infrastructure costing trillions of dollars.

Yet, Trump is determined to win the favour of the Jewish lobby.Not that Trump won on Jewish votes. But then, he’s looking ahead. American Jews control the US media and think tanks and the academia – and the Congress – who have been systematically debunking his credibility as president and can make things extremely difficult for his presidency.

We see here another grotesque side of ‘America First’. Don’t bring in ‘values’ and all that crap. Ask what we can do for Trump. Probably, the Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar should be tasked to do that during his extended tenure in South Block.

The White House readout never once mentions US-Indian affinities based on cherished common values of democracy and human rights and so on. It rankles to see Modi holding a can of worms all by himself


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