HOUSTON, TEXAS: After decades of an uncertain relationship between India and the United States, Donald Trump’s victory in the US presidential elections presents an opportunity for India to put the relationship on an even keel. The fact that Trump distrusts the same sections of the American establishment that have caused problems for India will make it easy for India to work with him. Additionally, Donald Trump got the support of Hindus in the US and the “All American Rally for Trump” in Philadelphia, which was organised by Hindus, brought together various communities at a time when Trump was viciously attacked by the media. The rally helped turn the tide and clinch victory in the swing state of Pennsylvania.
Trump’s victory is the culmination of the anger against the establishment that started simmering from around 2008 when the George W. Bush administration and the Democratic Party bailed out loss making banks on Wall Street, using taxpayer money. Hillary Clinton was among the Senators who had voted for the bailout. Successive elections since then have seen the rise of politicians who have claimed to oppose the existing order only to betray the voters after being elected to office.
When Trump announced his candidacy for the Republican Party nomination, he instantly attracted a significant number of supporters, since other candidates were either part of the establishment or had no real chance of winning the election. Many other undecided voters realised that Trump could overturn the apple cart of the establishment by defeating both Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, thus ending the political fortunes of two powerful families that have fattened themselves by feeding off the system.
Between Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton, the two candidates represented all that was ill with American politics. The families of the two candidates are partners in businesses, and they work together to operate non-profit organisations that have accumulated large amounts of wealth. Either a Bush or a Clinton has held a senior position in the US government during 32 of the past 36 years and they can be directly blamed for many of the faults in the system. Furious voters saw the two candidates as part of a cartel that clung on to power by putting on a show of pretending to be political opponents so that the cartel could benefit no matter which of the two candidates won the election.
As Trump started questioning the economic and foreign policies, his popularity rose further. For years, the power structure in the US had shied away from discussing topics that really impacted the people, but had carefully crafted a narrative consisting of topics that, in polite terms, should be called nonsensical. Their narrative consisted of topics that had exactly two sides of the argument and the political rhetoric around these topics was always accompanied by manufactured outrage against each of the two sides. While the faux outrage drew in more people and kept them busy fighting each other on trivial matters, the politicians ganged up in the name of “bipartisanship” and went about their business of plundering the country in broad daylight, without facing any opposition.
A tiny minority of the population saw through this game but were labelled “fringe elements” and “extremists” and kept out of the mainstream for nearly 40 years. It was only after the Wall Street bailout of 2008 that they were taken seriously. As the number of people who realised that politicians had taken them for a ride grew, the anger of the people turned against the politicians in the establishment.
AGAINST THE ESTABLISHMENT
It was against this background that Donald Trump was cheered whenever he made a statement against the establishment, which included members of the media, who acted as propagandists for the politicians. It is this establishment that should also be blamed for the morass that is the India-US relationship. Ever since the relationship started spiralling downwards during the Lyndon Johnson administration, the members of the American establishment have been hostile toward India. Lyndon Johnson blackmailed India on the shipment of food grains when India really needed it, his successor Richard Nixon opposed India during the India-Pakistan war of 1971, and Jimmy Carter continued the anti-India policies with the Nuclear Non-proliferation Act of 1978, with the aim of targeting India. After a lull during the Ronald Reagan administration, the relationship continued its downward spiral as it underwent a mild deterioration under the George H.W. Bush administration and it reached its nadir under Bill Clinton. Almost every complaint that India has today on the economic and foreign policy fronts can be traced to the Clinton administration of the 1990s.
Interestingly, many of Donald Trump’s complaints against the system in the US coincide with the points India has made over the decades and provide an opportunity for India to work with him in a constructive manner. Just as many people in India, especially the advocates of Swadeshi economics, oppose globalisation due to the unfair controls imposed on India, Trump too opposes the trade deals of the 1990s that the Clinton administration signed in the name of globalisation.
For Clinton and his associates in various corporations, globalisation meant that every country in the world had to create regulations that would destroy the productive aspects of their economies and transfer that responsibility to a few multinational corporations. These corporations would be protected by governments through various laws such as monopoly rights granted to them through patent privileges. The corporations had access to free money by virtue of being connected to American politicians and the US dollar being the global reserve currency. This connection also meant that the corporations were granted contracts for World Bank projects which they billed at an inflated price. At the same time, these firms could hire the cheapest labour from around the world and this killed American jobs and hurt the American economy as well. With the advantages of access to cheap capital and cheap labour combined with protectionist laws rigged in favour of these corporations, local firms did not stand a chance against them. The only beneficiaries of globalisation were the multinational corporations as they gained control over both production and labour in every part of the world including US and India. The entire population of the world became a source of cheap labour for these firms.
This framework was the basis of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which are stacked against the peoples of US, India as well as every country in the world. Those who created these agreements also propped up economists such as Jagdish Bhagwati of Columbia University to shill for them and sing paeans about global institutions such as the WTO. According to these economists, the system of “Managed Trade” or trade managed by bureaucrats at the WTO, combined with production controlled solely by multinational corporations which had been accorded protection by banning competition, would somehow turn the world into a paradise. The agreements drafted by these economists were hypocritical as they called for a ban on subsidies for everyone but deliberately created loopholes for multinational corporations to receive subsidies in the name of research grants. Thus, pharmaceutical companies in the US, which were connected to the Clinton family, could receive free money from the US government in the name of “research”, allowing them to crush any competition.
The solution is to redraw the borders in the Af-Pak region with the portion consisting of the Pashto speaking population going to Afghanistan, while at the same time freeing Balochistan from Pakistan. It has been impossible to work towards this solution as the US State Department consists of employees who owe their loyalty to the establishment that is out of sync even with American interests.
The economists who were from various ivy league universities also abused their positions and justified the system of “Managed Trade” by trotting out the fact that a few low wage earners who were hired by multinational corporations suddenly earned more money than they had earned earlier. They conveniently ignored the fact that entire economies had been destroyed using illegitimate protectionist laws and the productive aspects of these economies had been taken over by the corporations in this process.
Donald Trump is an opponent of the rigged economic system based on the globalisation of the 1990s, and India should work with him to dismantle the Managed Trade regime. Such dismantling cannot be performed by Indian government’s economists like Arvind Subramanian or Arvind Panagariya, as they represent the interests of the existing global institutions and believe in the protectionist laws that shield corporations from competition. In order for India to work with the Trump administration, India needs to replace those who are aligned with the existing setup by those who oppose the existing system. Both Arvind Panagariya and Arvind Subramanian have outlived their utility of interfacing with those currently in power in US and it is important that they be replaced before Donald Trump takes over from Barack Obama.
Trump also sees through the fantastic claims of the lobby that wants an international treaty which will let the forces of globalisation set up an organisation to sell permits in the name of stopping global warming. According to this lobby, firms like Goldman Sachs can control the sea level by trading pollution permits on trading exchanges. India is a key target of this group and any treaty in this regard will result in Indians having to pay vast sums of money to a small group of people in UK and US in order to procure permits to carry out any economic activity. This system, also termed as “cap and trade”, was first proposed by George H.W. Bush who termed it as the “free market solution” for the environmental problem. Its strongest proponent today is Al Gore, who served as Bill Clinton’s Vice President. The most cynical part of this lobby is that they managed to successfully get several countries to endorse a resolution that was passed in 1992 at Rio de Janeiro. This resolution forbids the use of science to oppose any legislation that will allegedly let financial firms control the sea level. Like WTO and other institutions related to globalisation, the global warming regime also needs to be dismantled at the global level.
On the foreign policy front too, there is an opportunity to fix the system and bring peace to the unstable region of Pakistan and Afghanistan. In an astute analysis, Hamid Karzai has pointed out that Pakistan would collapse along ethnic lines if it did not fan the flames of Islamic fundamentalism and let the Islamic identity subsume various ethnic identities. Afghanistan too is a country that has forced warring ethnic groups to come together and form a government, an effort that has failed for a very long time.
The solution is to redraw the borders in the region with the portion consisting of the Pashto speaking population going to Afghanistan, while at the same time freeing Balochistan from Pakistan. It has been impossible to work towards this solution as the US State Department consists of employees who owe their loyalty to the establishment that is out of sync even with American interests. Newt Gingrich, who emerged as a key supporter of Donald Trump during the election campaign, has recognised the true nature of the State Department and has repeatedly called for its overhaul. In one piece, entitled the “Rogue State Department”, he has demanded that the State Department be made more accountable to the President. More recently, Gingrich questioned the State Department’s integrity after they interfered with a criminal investigation involving Hillary Clinton.
Trump opposes the rigged economic system based on the globalisation of the 1990s, and India should work with him to dismantle the Managed Trade regime. Such dismantling cannot be performed by Indian government’s economists like Arvind Subramanian or Panagariya, as they represent interests of existing global institutions and believe in the protectionist laws that shield corporations from competition.
Since India has been a target of the State Department’s shenanigans, it should work with Newt Gingrich and help remedy the situation so that the American foreign policy is reoriented away from its service to vested interest groups aligned with the Clintons.
While dealing with the issue of Islamic fundamentalism, it is important not to forget the welfare of expatriate workers in Arab countries. These workers are oppressed by the governments of the host nations. The Arab countries must be pressured by both the US and India into becoming more tolerant. To this end, they must be asked to allow immigrants to get full rights including the freedom to practice their religion and the right to apply for citizenship in the countries in which they have settled down.
Yet another common area of interest is the activities of various foundations like the Ford Foundation and Clinton Foundation which indulge in political activism and social engineering around the world. They should be expelled from India and the reasons for their expulsion should be clearly articulated. India may end up being pleasantly surprised with very little resistance from Trump as the Ford Foundation also works to alter the demographics in the US for political purposes. The foundation works closely with the Clinton machine and represents the ruling establishment. Several WikiLeaks cables also reveal that key people who were part of the Clinton campaign were responsible for pressuring India on behalf of Ford Foundation to backpedal on the decision to prevent foreign funding of NGOs in India.
As for the Clinton Foundation, it has collected money in the name of charity and used the money for business investments. It should be subject to investigation in the US. The Clinton Foundation has also been accused of receiving kickbacks in exchange for the Clintons helping corporations get contracts for rebuilding Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010. People from many foreign countries that received favourable treatment from Hillary Clinton as the Secretary of State have also donated to the foundation, and as a result, Trump’s label “Crooked Hillary” stuck on her. India too should join such an investigation and it may pay rich dividends, as a prominent regional leader donated somewhere between a million dollars and five million dollars to the foundation.
In order to achieve these ends, India needs a new set of people who can work with the Trump administration and communicate effectively with them. The employees of the Ministry of External Affairs cannot perform this task as they speak in a strange language which conveys that they have no position on any issue and are perpetually on the fence. Donald Trump holds strong opinions and does not shy away from taking on a topic head on and India too must find people who can work in this manner.
Arvind Kumar is a political analyst based in the US