STRAIGHT TALK

According to Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times, with every passing day the US president’s behaviour becomes more worrying.

One day he demeans a federal judge who challenged his travel ban, the next day, without evidence, he accuses the media of hiding illegal voting or acts of terrorism.

His lack of respect for institutions and truth pours out so fast, you start to forget how crazy this behaviour is for any adult, let alone a president, and just how ugly things will get when there is a real crisis.

The world today is more interdependent than ever before. The globalization of markets, the pervasive spread of cell phones, the rapid advancement in science and technology, the new mass movements of migrants and the disruptions in the weather due to climate change are aspects that are all intertwined and impacting one another.

As a result, a president is needed who can connect all of these dots and navigate a path that gets the most out of them and cushions the worst. But Trump is a dot exploiter, not connector. He made a series of reckless, unconnected promises, not much longer than tweets, to get elected, and now he’s just checking off each one, without thinking through the linkages among them or anticipating second-order effects.

It is a great way to make America weak and overstretched again. Trump wants to get tougher with China on trade and security.  It took a lot of time for President Barack Obama to organise an alliance of Pacific trading nations that surround China and enlist them in a trade pact that supports US-style of rule of law, greater market access for US intellectual property and products and promotes US values, as opposed to China’s.

This treaty called the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP for short was scrapped by Trump on Day 1 apparently without having read it. Now there is every reason to believe that the Asian-Pacific allies of the US will fall even more under China’s economic sway and trade “rules.” How smart is that?

And by the way, why is labour in Mexico cheaper than in America? One reason is that Mexico has weaker labour rights and lower environmental standards. What would TPP require of Mexico and other signatories? That they bring their labour rights and environmental standards closer to the ones prevailing in the US.

Instead, Trump is building a wall to keep out Mexican immigrants and force companies to move to the US. Let’s see what happened after 9/11, when the border crossings with Mexico and Canada were severely constricted for security?

It forced some assembly line shutdowns at US auto companies, like Ford, because their supply chains stretched to Mexico and Canada. The lower-cost work is done in Mexico and then integrated with higher-value-added work in America, which enables the US car companies to compete on price in Europe, Japan and China.

So what did the US, Canada and Mexico do after 9/11? They created a North American security envelope, explained Seth Stodder, Obama’s assistant secretary of homeland security, so if you fly into Mexico or Toronto from the Middle East, our Homeland Security Department now probably knows about it.

“Since 9/11, we and our Mexican and Canadian partners have worked to secure the North American perimeter by sharing information on people and goods coming to our countries, cross-referencing that information against terrorism databases and working collaboratively to identify potential bad actors trying to come to North America”.

If a wall is built and it is demanded that Mexico pay for it, how long will it go on cooperating with us? And if Trump forces all these US-based multinationals to move operations from Mexico back to the US, what will that do? Help wreck the Mexican economy so more Mexicans will try to come north, and raise the costs for US manufacturers. What will they do? Move their factories to the US but replace as many humans as possible with robots to contain costs thus defeating Trump’s plan of creating more jobs in US.

The UN says there’s a record 65 million displaced migrants and refugees, mostly from the developing world, trying to get into secure places like the US or Europe because of a plethora of civil wars, state failures, climate stresses and population explosions.

What did Trump do his first week? Appoint climate deniers to key posts and ban US aid to health groups that provide abortion as a family-planning option in developing nations.

Trump wants to partner with Vladimir Putin to defeat ISIS in Syria which is, no doubt, a worthy goal. But Putin hasn’t been only trying to defeat ISIS. Ironically, he has also been trying to defeat democracy in Syria to keep the genocidal pro-Russian dictator there in power.

Will that be the goal of the US too? And who are Putin’s allies in Syria? Iran, Hezbollah and Shiite mercenaries from Pakistan and Afghanistan. Will they be US allies, too? No. We will enlist Iraqi and Syrian Sunnis to help us, says Trump. But he just barred them from entering the US so how cooperative will they be?

And whom else might this ban keep out? Remember Steve Jobs? His biological father was Abdul Fattah “John” Jandali. He came to America as a student in the 1950s and studied at the University of Wisconsin. He was from Homs, Syria. Michael Flynn, Trump's national security advisor, has resigned over contacts with a Russian diplomat and reports that they were part of a federal investigation.

Flynn’s departure marked another embarrassing setback for an administration just over three weeks old and beset with many other vexing issues. The recent unsettling situation has also created turmoil in the White House.

While, in an unprecedented move, over a hundred technology companies and some giant retailers have joined forces to fight Donald Trump's controversial ban on people from certain countries entering the US.

What repercussions will follow in the months to come is hard to guess, but it is amazing what a mess one can make when only we check boxes, but don’t link them.

trust@helplinetrust.org.pk