America’s unique elections | Talat Masood

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When the US, the world’s sole superpower and the oldest democracy, begins the electoral process of choosing its President it arouses interest across continents. This time the interest has been even more profound as the elections have been highly abrasive and ugly and have left even its most staunch allies and analysts aghast. The unfortunate aspect is that both the candidates have failed to inspire the voters and have stooped low mostly engaging in character assassination instead of delving on major national and global issues. The New York Times recent comprehensive survey of how the world is viewing American elections confirms the view that American image and reputation has been badly tarnished both at home and abroad. With the news that Hillary Clinton lead over Donald Trump has narrowed and that FBI is investigating Hillary’s private server sent shivers around world capitals. Fortunately for Clinton, the FBI failed to find anything against her.

Trump’s election as a Republican nominee and the support of its base electorate is being attributed to several factors, most important being the economic stagnation of majority of the people. Perceived fear among white population of being flooded with immigrants and foreign cultures thereby America losing its original identity was another weighty reason. Trump also benefited in the primaries due to the infighting and mistakes of his fellow Republican aspirants. Nonetheless, even if Trump were to lose still the very fact that he commands such a large following of supporters and admirers should be a matter of concern to US and the world. It will also be an indicator of the political and economic forces that are at play in the US and the world that are influencing American people’s thinking. Political scientists are trying to fathom the phenomenon influencing this polarisation. There is a school of thought that believes it is the impact of globalisation and media revolution that has deprived polity of its basic norms of behaviour and politicians are taking the lead. Doubts have arisen about the very future of liberal democracy.

Donald Trump’s hate rhetoric and general attitude toward Muslims is a matter of deep concern. In the event of a terror attack it will not be surprising if he would impose draconian laws and subject them to greater surveillance and checks. If left to him he would like America to be a white Christian country with no place for Muslims, Latinos and other minorities. He has been no less prejudiced against the blacks as his past record indicates.

Globalisation has brought about movement of talent to America from both developing and developed countries. Trump’s policy of restricting their flow will rob America of the best talent from these countries. These policies have driven majority amongst these segments of population more inclined to vote for Clinton.

If Hillary were to make it to the presidency she is likely to face a hostile Congress and formulating new policies would be a challenge. However, if Republicans lose the Senate her hands would be strengthened. Her first foreign policy task, apart from Middle-East, would be dealing with a highly assertive Russia and modulating relations with China. Both candidates have expressed their willingness to further strengthen and consolidate relations with India. Trump seems inclined to develop a close relationship with Russia and his personal rapport with Putin apparently provides the advantage of resetting the relationship. From a global perspective it may be sound proposal provided it does not lead to encouraging Russia to advance its territorial ambitions. But Trump’s critics are deeply concerned that he fails to grasp the geo-political implications of Putin’s aggressive moves in Ukraine and the Balkans. In his earlier remarks Trump had devalued the importance of NATO that sent wrong signals to US allies and shook their confidence. A more serious concern is his lack of maturity in handling nuclear matters. Trump’s loose remarks that Japan and other allies develop their own nuclear capability, as they pose a burden on US economy, exposed the bankruptcy of his strategic insight.

In sharp contrast Clinton will be a strong ally of Europe and Japan and take a tough stance on Russia. Whether she will succeed in changing Putin’s policies only time would tell.

Many of us must be wondering to what extent would it make a difference to Pakistan if Clinton or Trump wins. In all likelihood both candidates would pursue current policies with minor variations, but Clinton would be relatively a better choice. Not that one has high hopes that there will be reduction in US pressure but at least we would know what to expect from her administration and be in better position to deal with it. Hillary also has a deep understanding of the region having been closely associated and influenced events as Secretary of State in Obama’s administration and as an observer during Bill Clinton’s presidency. On Pakistan there would be renewed pressure to act against Haqqani network and the Taliban leadership that is active in Afghanistan and threat to US troops in particular. US military and economic assistance to Pakistan would decline and be more contingent on compliance of its security interests. US, however, cannot afford to bypass Pakistan. Its nuclear capability, geo-strategic position, dominant role in the Muslim Ummah and the potential market of 200 million people cannot be easily ignored. Despite present difficulties change in American administration provides a fresh opportunity for the two countries to reset their relationship. This clearly would require greater accommodation of each other’s interests and concerns.

It has been described as the worst ever election in US history because the political leaders, especially Trump has stooped really low to bring his opponent down. He has been pouring poison against her and there were no holds bar. If one were to take Trump on his remarks then he may not accept losing gracefully in the true American tradition. His insistence that the system is totally rigged may well be an empty threat and a cover in case he fails to make it.

Published in The Express Tribune, November 9th, 2016