By Wajahat Qazi
Stan is a suffix employed at the end of certain countries. The suffix usually denotes countries that are defined by narrow and insular nationalisms. The rise of Donald Trump, the ideology that the he espouses and the policies that flow from and the man’s ascension to the highest office in the United States suggests that the United States is also adopting a narrow, insular and parochial brand of nationalism. This is reflected in the slogan, ‘Make America Great Again’. The policy sets that flow from the slogan entails an inward looking United States include a retreat from the post war international order- the delicately crafted alliances, multilateral institutions like the United Nations, a hiatus in the mega-historical trend, globalization, a spanner into complex interdependence and the economic order that flowed from it, the creation and maintenance of the European Union and perhaps even dissolution of NATO, among other things- which , added up means an isolationist United States. If these themes pan out and denoue , the whole world is at the cusp of deep uncertainty- politically, economy and in terms of international relations and global security.
It took delicate and imaginative leadership to craft the post War international and world order. This, in turn, led to what be called ‘relative peace’- spotted or dotted by some blemishes- all under the aegis of the United States leadership. While many will question this assertion, but perhaps the best example of the relative peace that descended upon the world was the creation of the European Union- initiated by some European policy and political entrepreneurs but propelled and supported by the United States. This was no mean feat given the historically Europe had torn itself in an orgy of internecine violence and bloodletting which reached an apogee in the two Great Wars of the 20th century. United States leadership also led to most parts of the world clubbed together in what has been termed ‘complex interdependence’- the thick and dense flows of commerce and trade- that bound many nations together. One clear cut instance of complex interdependence is the buying of United States’ Treasury bills by China which, in turn, determines, to an extent, the United States interest rates and by extension perhaps even the world. The United States has also maintained relative peace between adversarial countries like India and Pakistan. Yes, there were blemishes and odd features like the Vietnam War and then the second Gulf War which created a vacuum in the Middle East but on balance, the United States leadership has led to ‘relative peace’ in the world.
Trump and his team’s vision for the world and the United States itself would lead to what may lead to ‘world disorder’. Mercantilist nationalism complemented by destruction of the post war political and economic foundations of the world would throw the world into a tizzy. All this is well known but what is perhaps not well understood is that Trump’s vision and the policies that flow from it would have profound consequences on the United States itself. The country may be at the cusp of a broader and wider decline. The question that arises from this assessment is: Would Trump be responsible for this decline?
Partly is the answer.
I am not a historian but a bird’s eye view of developments in the past couple of decades lend themselves to the assessment that it might be in the heyday of United States’ power that the seeds of decline can be discerned. The reference here is to the unipolar world wherein the United States was peerless in terms of power and influence. The country’s ‘power elite’, chose to employ and instrumentalize this unprecedented concentration of power, to embark on Wars of Choice- in Afghanistan and especially Iraq. It is here that the ‘ inflection point’ of United States decline might be held to lie. While the fact that these Wars of choice hurt the country but the real issue lay in what historian Paul Kennedy has called, ‘ the Imperial Overstretch’. That is, an Imperium’s extension beyond its military and economic means. This, I would aver, set the stage for the United States relative decline. The country then became morose, bitter and polarized and it is these condition that begat Trump and his cohort. What Trump is doing and proposes to do mean hastening relative decline into perhaps absolute decline. The United States president then is accelerating a trend that had already been set in motion.
Whether or not the checks and balances that inhere in the United States’ Constitution will withstand the pressures of the Trump Presidency might be beside the point. What is critical and significant is how the United States will decline or reconstitute itself. Great Power status that the United States enjoyed for decades does not flow from the number of tanks or missiles that a country has or more prosaically, it does not depend upon merely the power projection capability of a nation; instead it is predicated upon how a country comports itself –within and without, how it treats and welcomes the outsider(s), and what it does for the world at large. There then is an element of altruism involved in being a Great Power. But Trump wants to make America into an interest based power which entails abdicating responsibility and other related factors. The question now is: What, to paraphrase an American author, will the post American world look like? And will it be a force for good?
A post American world will be one without familiar markers and will be characterized deep uncertainty. Much of the shape and form of this world will also be determined by how other countries will respond and react to the Trump juggernaut. Whether Trumpistan and the world that flows from this vision and version of the United States or the post American world will be a good or not is not clear. It, to paraphrase, a now obscure American strategist, remains in the domain of the ‘unknown unknown’.
—The author can be reached at: [email protected]