It is axiomatic that a leader who is hamstrung domestically sees a decline in his or her global standing. Several instances can be cited from the past from countries around the world. An additional hypothesis that can be put forward is that leaders whose hold on their countries internally is firm and strong command more respect globally in the negotiating arena. Coming to President of the United States Mr. Donald Trump it is becoming increasingly evident that his hold on his government is slipping, starting with the inability of the White House to get its act together even after hundred days. If anything internal differences keep surfacing with increasing regularity. Whether this is due to his governing style or lack of administrative experience prior to becoming the president can only be conjectured.
For the people of the US and the world at large bombshells that could irreversibly damage the presidency keep going off one after another with increasing rapidity. It is not necessary to list them all for the purposes of this article; taking up the most serious one would suffice. A news item reported from Washington states that fired FBI director James Comey has agreed to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee in an “open session” to answer questions on the investigation into links between the Trump team and Russia. As the President was boarding Air Force One heading for Saudi Arabia, Chairman of the committee, Senator Richard Barr, said he hoped the former FBI chief’s testimony would “clarify for the American people recent events that have been broadly reported in the media”. Before going on to other consequences resulting from the sacking it should be possible to gauge the impact of Comey’s testimony in ‘open hearing’ on the American people and Donald Trump’s presidency itself. The hearing that is scheduled after the 29 May Memorial Day holiday could sound the death knell for the presidency, well before the special counsel former FBI director Robert Mueller appointed by the US deputy attorney general gets going with his mandate to unearth the truth. The deputy attorney-general Rod Rosenstein’s letter – Mr. Sessions the attorney-general had recused himself - gave Mr. Mueller the authority to look into the links or coordination between Russia and Trump campaign officials, but also “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation”. Robert Mueller has been described as America’s straightest arrow”. It is not difficult to see where that arrow is pointed.
Irrespective of what emerges from the hearing, Mr. Trump had actually put the noose around his own neck in his interaction with the Russian foreign minister in the White House several days ago. According to a leaked document detailing Mr. Sergey Lavrov’s visit accompanied by the Russian Ambassador Mr. Trump told the visitors, “I just fired the head of the FBI. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off”. Linked to reports that Donald Trump tried to waylay James Comey on several occasions – the latter it seems had been avoiding him – he managed to put across to him that he take it easy on General Michael Flynn because he was a good guy, or words to that effect, his presidency stands fatally damaged. It does not end there. At the same meeting Mr. Trump passed on highly classified secrets to the Russians without having discussed that he was going to do so with his intelligence community heads. How badly Israeli agents that had reportedly penetrated ISIS stand compromised is yet to be known. Naturally the Israelis would not like to damage the president. They are bound to underplay the damage.
There is growing talk of possibility of impeachment of the White House incumbent. That seems to be unlikely unless such startling revelations turn up that regardless of who controls the House or the Senate, both Democrats and Republicans would have no choice but to go ahead with the impeachment. Damage limitation internally will continue to ensure that the extreme step is not taken. Republicans control the Congress and it has been commented in the press that no Congress has ever moved to dislodge a president of the same party.
Even if Mr. Trump and the Republicans – for their own sakes rather than his – are able to control damage within the United States, none of them will be in a position to arrest the diminishment of the heft and prestige of the US president on the global stage. The reasons for arriving at this assessment – somewhat prematurely some might be inclined to say – are on the face of it unassailable. Only the most important ones are summarized below.
Starting with Russia, which is the most important issue before the US people and the inquiries under way. President Putin has offered to make transcripts of the meeting with Sergey Lavrov available that will show that no highly important secret was compromised. This could indicate on the face of it that the reset with Russia was being quietly negotiated by the Trump team during the buildup to the election. The quid pro quo can only be guessed at till one or more of the players involved feel compelled to throw light on it. The FBI director had set his sights on General Michael Flynn selected as the National Security Adviser by the Trump administration almost immediately on taking office. The revelations of the former’s lying and dismissal emerged equally fast. Mr. Trump did not want Mr. Comey to pursue General Flynn, calling him a good man. The real worry for Trump was that if probed in depth General Flynn could spill the beans, bringing in many more that were as or more importantly involved in interactions with the Russians. The name of Mr. Jared Kushner, the son-in-law, husband of Ivanka Trump keeps surfacing in this regard. If pursued it could take years to unearth all the details of the interactions with the Russians. Enough is already in the public domain to state that Russia will be the senior player in any future US- Russia negotiations in the years ahead. Whatever condemnation might be put out from time to time there is no way that Mr. Trump would be in a position to push the Russians beyond a point.
In the build up to his presidency and immediately on taking over Mr. Trump had the other emerging superpower China on the back foot because of the US president having so comprehensively routed his own political party as well as the opposition to become the US president against overwhelming odds - a feat unequalled in American history. For Mr. Xi Jinping the new US president was sui generis. Initially the Chinese head of state not being able to understand his US counterpart was seen to be apprehensive. This is no longer the case. A short tabulation of the reasons that most world leaders would have assessed for themselves is revealing:
- Not having had any administrative experience at the government level Mr. Trump in spite of his bluster and transactional leadership style is a novice in diplomacy and statecraft. The more seasoned of his opponents would now feel confident that they need not take his threats seriously;
- Mr. Trump is severely handicapped by an equally inexperienced secretary of state. What is more, unbelievably for the world’s superpower, the US president has ruthlessly cut down the budget for the state department, people who are indispensable for preparing options for negotiations with world leaders by the president;
- The whole world takes note of the US press. Washington Post, New York Times, CNN, Time and several other publications and electronic mediums of this stature provide important clues to statesmen and analysts around the world. Never has the world beheld such horrific confrontation between the head of state and almost the entire media. More often than not government’s get vital inputs, especially from media chains that have global coverage and have developed important links.
- It is beyond comprehension for foreign governments that they are dealing with a president who rails against his own intelligence agencies as well as their heads. At what stage do the intelligence experts switch off and turn away from the president. There is no recorded case in modern history where the president of the most powerful country in the world tells the foreign minister of the country considered in the US as most inimical to it that he does not trust his director FBI, intends sacking him so that he does not proceed with a certain line of inquiry. Amazingly, uncomprehendingly he goes on to add that he himself is not under investigation. A president of USA conveying that to a foreign power. That also not to his counterpart but to his representatives sent to meet him.
- By now the large majority of US people, the media and the world at large have begun to suspect that Mr. Trump’s word cannot be taken at face value. To put it simply he is not comfortable with the truth. Many heads of state and top diplomats do play around with the truth while negotiating with their counterparts, but they are almost invariably seasoned diplomats who have honed their skills and mastered the art of dissimulation after years and years of training and practice. Not so Mr. Trump.
In negotiations between world leaders longevity of the leaders concerned becomes an aspect that is invariably kept in mind. In the case of leading world leaders China and Russia both leaders are in for the long haul. Mr. Xi Jinping according to current projections is likely to continue beyond 2022. Mr. Putin is firmly in the saddle for the foreseeable future. In the next tier Mr. Modi and Angela Merkel are firmly established in their respective countries. The longevity of Mr. Trump seems doubtful. All leaders named have full control over all organs of government, delivery on the agreements being assured. Not so in the case of Mr. Trump.
It is not necessary to go on in this vein. At the global level beyond US allies and possibly within them as well Mr. Donald Trump stands severely compromised. Rather than holding long drawn out inquiries on his acts of omission and commission Capitol Hill and the non-partisan US people have to put America’s foreign relations in more competent hands – the sooner the better – for the sake of the US, its allies , friends and well-wishers.
The Mutually Assured Destruction hypothesis of the Cold War. The writer had attended the Imperial Iranian War College in Tehran during 1973-74. Prior to that in 1966 he had served with UNEF, Gaza just before the 1967 Arab-Israeli War.