The POTUS and Geo-Politics in the Region

By this Friday, when this issue of Mauritius Times comes out, the die will be cast and the totally unthinkable, for much of liberal media and market forces in the US and elsewhere, will have happened: Trump is the new POTUS (President of the United States).

Against all odds, the billionaire maverick, raising and spending far less financial resources than his opponent, must have hit the right mix of chords to sway a majority of US citizens in what will remain the most acrimonious and bitter fight to the finish. A mix of both popular adherence to, if not enthusiasm, for Trump’s bluntly stated views and an angry pêle-mêle rejection of liberal media, Washington establishment, Hollywood stars and much of the Clinton-Obama legacy.

The “tea-party” that became noisily vocal with Sarah Palin has today found its unequivocal champion, a mantle astutely marshalled by Trump, often against traditional conservative and Republican pundits, to exploit the social disorientations of “lifers and birthers”, the frustrations with immigration and criminality and the pain and anger of those hardest hit by decades of free trade, deregulation and open markets.

Millions of Trump fans and electors couldn’t care less if they overlooked or cheered the worst in their champion, they had found the perfect exutoire for the feeling of having been, for too long, profoundly ignored, bruised and angered. Much as with the Brexit feeling, the Trump wave caught the atmosphere and successfully rode the change mantra throughout large swathes of middle America.

Obviously there will be huge amounts of post-electoral analysis not only by US Democrats and Republicans, but also by the stupefied liberal media, by amazed watchers of the geo-political scene worldwide and by intrigued major foreign capitals, for this is an electoral outcome with potentially far-reaching implications.

Several things are yet to happen before the US itself and the major world powers get a better grasp of what a Trump Washington administration might look like. Every winner, whatever the harshness of a long, rough campaign has to extend an olive branch, mend bridges, heal the scars and offer hope and perspectives to a deeply divided country. If half the country is jubilating, the other half will be stunned, depressed and possibly scared. The balancing act between the two halves of the country might be reflected in the tone and quality of Trump’s victory recognition speech on Wednesday, his first major act as incoming POTUS, and it was indeed refreshingly gracious.

Secondly, the simultaneous results of the Senate and House elections under way have to come in and confirm whether the conservative and Republicans will be in full control of either or both legislative bodies that the President needs on his side to get key legislation through. Obama was so effectively hemmed in by an opposing legislature that he was mostly ineffective in his second mandate. There is every reason to suspect that Trump will hold enormous sway over the Republican law-makers and will confer on the US Supreme Court an even more conservative aura.

Thirdly, much now depends on the quality of Trump’s presidential aides, staffers and ministerial appointments to key portfolios like Foreign Affairs, Defence, Justice and International Trade. On the international trade front all major financial centres will be jittery until policies are defined. In the geo-political sphere, Trump’s victory will be sweet music to the US military-industrial complex. But nobody really believes that Trump’s wilder statements on major foreign policy, national security or international partnerships against terrorism and their occult sponsors will not be better reigned in by a team of right-wing or conservative appointees, back-room strategists and think-tanks capable of better articulation of what will probably be an openly hawkish agenda.

So, it is very early days yet, but what might a Trump administration that looks set for an eight-year horizon, have as implications in our region of the world? Certainly, the question of national sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago would be the first domain where our Foreign Office would watch carefully the new Trump and Theresa May dual act. Talks with the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office over the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT) are unlikely to progress constructively until the US policies in the Indian Ocean region are firmed up.

In the region, Theresa May has been on official visit to India to try and deepen strategic, investment and commercial relationships with Modi. The latter would have been also comforted by conservative think-tanks suggesting that POTUS Trump would do well to plan an early state trip to New Delhi and further a US, India, Australia and Japan geo-political strategic alliance. Equally comforting to Modi’s India would have been Trump’s clear campaign statements that have unequivocally condemned terrorism and any of their occult state funders and abetters. In the post-ISIS era we stand to benefit from better mastery of our national security risks from Mauritian terror apprentices and potential cyber-deviants through cooperation with regional stabiliser countries.

A hawkish US policy could also extend to a new equilibrium with China as military, naval, space and economic rivalries between the two giants interplay beyond the narrower but still vexing questions of security in the south China seas. The Indian Ocean trade routes are vital for energy, raw materials and some essential commodities. The coastal regions remain vulnerable to high-sea piracies and Mauritius retains a pivotal role as southernmost port and through its vast oceanic economic zones criss-crossed by naval superpowers.

It would be wise to enrol our country’s respected diplomats into a careful and in-depth analysis of upcoming regional geo-political scenarios, our alternatives and develop a considered foreign policy stance. Individual, incoherent and fragmented initiatives by different national players and agents should no longer be the order of the day.

U.C.

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