By M Waqas Jan
Much has been written, both within and outside the US, on the extremely polarizing and divisive nature of Mr. Donald Trump’s presidency. Controversial, sensational and often the center of headlines himself, President Trump has left in his wake a plethora of shattered norms and conventions that have otherwise long been associated with the US presidency. Of all these shattered conventions however, none are more apparent than his purportedly unique take on US Foreign Policy characterized by his mantra, ‘America First.’
Be it the United States’ long-standing allies as part of NATO, neighboring trading partners such as Canada and Mexico, or even its more complex web of relations with countries in key regions such as the Middle East and South Asia; President Trump’s ‘America First’ policy has led to a radical revaluation of the way the US is pursuing its overseas interests with widespread repercussions.
This radical shift is perhaps most apparent in President Trump’s own statements and comments on countries as diverse as France, Mexico, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan where leaders have been often left flabbergasted by the unpredictability, obtuseness, and grave implications of a sitting US president’s sudden barbs against their countries. These include rancorous statements on for instance, France’s contributions to NATO, illegal immigrants from Mexico, Saudi Arabia’s importance as an arms importer (despite their deteriorating human rights records), and the most recent insinuations on how Pakistan ‘hasn’t done a damned thing for the US.’
These statements have been made amidst a series of off the cuff interviews and out of perhaps Mr. Trump’s own compulsion to tweet official US policy stances from his personal twitter account. Specifically with regard to Pakistan, these include the President’s tweets from earlier this year in January where he accused Pakistan of providing safe havens to terrorists, and giving the US nothing but lies and deceit in return for billions of dollars of US aid.
Despite the tenuous nature of Pak-US relations over the last few years, President Trump’s statements while characteristic of his over the top nature, mark a fresh departure from the fine line that had previously characterized US diplomacy towards Pakistan. The US’s previous overtures of asking Pakistan to ‘do more’ via a measured carrot and stick approach seems to have been wholly done away with, replaced by public outrage and vitriol by none other than the president himself.
However, apart from the President’s statements the US has still shown a willingness to engage and move forward as apparent by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Islamabad earlier in September, followed by his meeting with Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi at the sidelines of the UN summit in New York. These were followed by another recent visit by a mid-level US delegation to Islamabad earlier this month. These meetings still underscore the key role Pakistan is expected to play in the Afghanistan peace process, as well as in a number of key security issues that remain at the center of US interests across the wider region.
Hence, while the US President appears to have taken an overtly hard-line against Pakistan, other key officials and spokespersons have continued to employ a more measured tone that while setting clear expectations from the Pakistani government, still nevertheless acknowledge Pakistan as a key partner with an important role to play in the region.
This discrepancy between the President’s apparent hard-line stance versus the State department’s ‘business as usual’ tone towards Pakistan, does make one wonder then the extent to which the President’s statements are in fact representative of actual US foreign policy. While many observers, even in his own government, have accused him of continuously pandering to his constituents even in the face of key issues pertaining to US National Security and Foreign Policy, there is consequently a definite lack of structure and cohesiveness that has so far differentiated other arms of the US government from the White House during this Presidency. Not to mention the unending intrigue currently plaguing the White House; the revolving door that has seen a number key staffers and officials being fired and replaced and the President’s own increasingly fragile hold over power in the face of an ongoing Federal investigation, that carries with it the threat of impeachment. US Foreign Policy under Donald Trump has thus so far veered from routine practicability to outright nonsensicality, all with major repercussions for the entire world.
Based on these observations,one can imagine how difficult it must be for the numerous government officials, specialists and advisers pervading throughout the US bureaucracy to be continuously managing the international fallout from the President’s numerous gaffes and impulsive statements. After all, there have been numerous reports of divisiveness and major disagreements within the White House and key departments within the US government. Instead it seems that the few lobbyists and close advisers that have the President’s ear these days are the ones who are using his persona as a loose cannon and propensity to deliver over the top statements to their advantage; helping push their own agendas at the expense of wider US interests. For a US president that lacks objectivity and is so easily swayed, it has become increasingly difficult for countries such as Pakistan that have earned his ire, to meaningfully engage with him on any level directly.