This work by Professor Sreeram Chaulia adds expository grist to the mill of international studies by focusing on the effect of the Donald Trump presidency on India, Turkey, Brazil and Nigeria. His detailed mastery of the subject matter, mainly in operational terms, is quite evident, as is his use of elegant and colourful language, and some condescending and sarcastic descriptions that do not help his case. The book also contains a dazzling array of facts and footnotes.
The diagnostics of the book are detailed and fairly summarised here: Donald Trump is seeking to extricate the United States from various agreements and protocols that he believes are deleterious to America’s national interest, and this creates an opportunity for regional actors to become Leviathans in their own right. Beyond the diagnostics, the work is short on specificity of recommendations, and in this way, it is really not actionable.
The long 57-page Introduction describes America’s policy-makers in a way that almost lampoons them. Chaulia’s point is that these card-carrying liberal internationalists, who “assign automatic primacy to the U.S.”, assign the rest of the world to the equivalent of America’s scriveners, footmen, and vassals. He refers to “an infinite superiority complex” that supports the projected divine right of America.
In every stereotype, there is usually some truth. A reader might envision thousands of horn-rimmed, earnest policy wonks, slaving away at white papers that no one will read, ensconced in the soi-disant East Coast Corridor in well-snaffled Guccis, sipping Evian and nibbling on watercress sandwiches at vast mahogany desks. Ironically, these policy scribes are the essence of multilateralism and the liberal international order that Chaulia supports – a structure that President Trump, the author says, has abandoned.
The four countries selected to study the impact of the new America are a curious bunch, and one wonders why Chaulia has included India with them. India, the fifth largest economy in the world and a country with moral authority dating to ahimsa and Mahatma Gandhi, irrespective of whether the BJP or Congress Party is in control, is in a league by itself. Chaulia indicates that they were selected because they are emerging powers that find themselves on unfamiliar ground with the Trump Administration.
The section on India suffers from a “nobody loves me…nobody loves us” complex. The author focuses on differences of an operational nature, such as restriction of visas, the relatively modest U.S. trade deficit with India, the Trump Administration’s legal action against India for export subsidies – and New Delhi’s perceived snub when President Trump declined an invitation to the 2019 Republic Day parade. Yet in strategic terms, India and the U.S. are aligned with common interests: fear of the ascent of China, the rise of Islamist jihad, and opportunities for trade and investment.
The partnership with India spans four U.S. and three India administrations, starting with President Clinton and Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. By stating that ‘Make in India’ and ‘Make America Great Again’ are irreconcilable, Chaulia seems fixated on slogans designed for consumption – and unable to see degrees of nuance. And in spite of the shortcomings of American foreign policy that Chaulia describes, he quotes a 2017 Pew Research poll, carried out in India, that gives only 9% unfavourable ratings to the U.S.
One may conclude that Turkey, known as ‘the Sick Man of Europe’ since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, which included what is now modern Turkey, continues to be not only sick, but ontologically impaired and in the midst of an identity crisis. Rejected for membership by the European Union, one may also note that it has aligned itself with West Asia, and, of late, with Russia, with the purchase of the sophisticated S-400 air defence system – in response to the question, “Who am I?” This is hardly Donald Trump’s doing.
Chaulia correctly explains that the main differences between the U.S. and Turkey, besides the S-400, are Turkey’s perception of all Kurds as affiliated with the insurgent Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), and the refusal of the U.S. to extradite the cleric, Fethullah Gulen. Turkey indeed views the U.S., which has supported some Kurds in the fight against the ISIS, as a catalyst for Kurdish separatist aspirations. While Chaulia views President Trump as an enabler of Turkey’s potential for regional leadership, in view of de-emphasis of the region by the U.S., he is not optimistic that this can occur under the illiberal President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Brazil is presented as a land of opportunity with respect to leadership in South America, and Chaulia notes the similarities between its new president, Jair Bolsonaro and Donald Trump. Both are portrayed as right-wing populists, who view societal elites with contempt, and who have at least initially embraced each other.
Yet, it is well known that Brazil’s modern history is full of hope and under-achievement. An informed reader may conclude that for Brazil to achieve its potential, the overarching statist system, hyper-regulation, corruption, and massive pension obligations must be moderated – and this does seem to be beyond the work of just one man. Chaulia is somewhat optimistic that Brazil can return to an internationalist role; however, he believes that Bolsanaro’s effort to align Brazil with its Western antecedents is misguided – brought about because of “infatuation” with President Trump. He foresees a “fickle” future relationship with the U.S.
As for Nigeria, a partner with the U.S. during the Obama and Trump administrations, Chaulia laments the withdrawal of the U.S. from West African security efforts, requiring more responsibility on the part of what is known as the G5 Sahel – Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad, and Mauritania. With all the strategic challenges from Russia, Iran, China, and North Korea, Chaulia does not explain why the U.S. should immerse itself in yet another vortex. So while the author does not like it when the D.C. Gucci wonks prescribe medicine for others, he unhesitatingly thinks America should expend resources for the G5 Sahel to stabilise the region against the terrorist organisation, Boko Haram.
The ascent of China in trade and investment is well covered in this work, particularly the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) seeking to link dozens of countries with China and a trade and investment protocol dictated by that country. What is not covered is the downside of this Initiative for Sri Lanka and Kenya, and the predicament of Pakistan, which was effectively forced to borrow extensively from China, for whom this Initiative may prove to be an example of extreme overreach.
Chaulia also is of the view that most economists believe job losses in the U.S. are due to automation and not to trade and immigration.
The author fundamentally believes that the retrenchment efforts and personality of President Trump have given regional actors, such as these four countries, the opportunity to assert themselves in their regions and in the world. He also believes that they have been “Trumped” by a perceived U.S. abandonment of liberal principles and a more isolationist approach. He does not foresee the U.S. going back to a globalist order of things, citing America’s “exhaustion” and “decline in world politics.”
Trumped: Emerging Powers in a Post-American World is highly informative. However, it contains too much information (TMI) about the affairs and operating interactions of these four countries with the U.S. that readers are left to summarise much of the essence all for themselves.
Trumped: Emerging Powers in a Post-American World (Bloomsbury, 2019)
Frank Schell is a business strategy consultant and former senior vice president of the First National Bank of Chicago. He was a Lecturer at the Harris School of Public Policy, University of Chicago on South Asian affairs, and is a contributor of opinion pieces to various journals.
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