Most Pakistanis, and much of the world, have reacted with a mixture of fear and confusion to Donald Trump’s electoral victory. However many commentators are stating that non-US residents have little to fear. Their reasoning is that most of Trump's policy statements are in regards to domestic issues, not foreign policy — i.e., repealing the Affordable Care Act (Obama Care), banning all Muslims, deporting illegal immigrants (even if they have children that are US citizens by birth) and, of course, building the infamous Wall. While these policies are each reprehensible to varying degrees, commentators attempting to play down the global implications of a Trump administration assure us that these policies are either: 1) patently unachievable (e.g., building a $20 billion dollar wall across a 2,000 mile frontier, or banning 1.5 billion people from legally entering the country); or 2) do not have much effect on non-US residents (repeal of Obama Care, deportation of illegal immigrants).
The above mentioned arguments are mostly correct. Trump’s foreign policy statements (such as “secret plans” to destroy ISIS or “reassessing” US involvement in NATO) have been amorphous at best, and the specific domestic policies mentioned in the preceding paragraph probably are indeed unachievable or of limited international effect. However the purveyors of such arguments ignore certain other specific domestic policies espoused by Trump that will almost certainly have far-reaching ramifications on Pakistan and the world at large.
Firstly, one of the few consistent beliefs championed by Trump is that climate change is a hoax. Accordingly, he has stated that he will withdraw from the Paris Agreement, which is a climate control treaty painstakingly negotiated by representatives of 195 countries. The Agreement aims to fund and implement the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions with a view to slowing and eventually reversing global warming — a phenomenon which the overwhelming majority of climate scientists agree is occurring as a result of human activities. Withdrawal by one country does not negate the Agreement. But if the US refuses to fund and adhere to its obligations there under (which are economically cumbersome) will China? Will India? US withdrawal could very well undermine the entire delicate arrangement and have enormous repercussions on the global environment, and particularly on Pakistan. This is because (as has been reported by numerous international agencies) the Indus River is extremely sensitive to global warming because a high proportion of its flow is derived from glaciers — which are fast melting due to warming and which will result in the eventual destruction of the entire Indus river system. This phenomenon could have been slowed by implementation of the Paris Agreement allowing us vital time to take necessary counter measures. This precious time may now be lost.
Secondly, Trump is a strong supporter of deregulating the US financial sector and has stated that he would repeal the Dodd-Frank Act. Dodd-Frank, which was passed in the aftermath of the 2007-09 financial crisis, attempted to create greater transparency in the financial sector and allow regulators to spot the sort of activities which caused the Great Recession. Now Trump wants to repeal the Act and has not stated any intention of replacing it with alternative regulatory measures. This would replicate the non-regulated runaway financial sector that was the primary cause of the Great Recession — an event that, as we all know, had global implications.
Thirdly, Trump's idea to create jobs (aside from mass deportations of illegals) is to impose tariffs on imports, specifically on goods imported from China and Mexico. The rationale is that such tariffs would force US companies to bring their manufacturing units in these countries back to the US. But US companies could simply move these units to Vietnam, India, Indonesia, Brazil, etc. Trump has said that in such case he would then impose tariffs on these countries as well. Such measures ominously echo the infamous Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act of 1930, of which none other than Ben Bernanke has said, "Economists still agree that Smoot-Hawley and the ensuing tariff wars were highly counterproductive and contributed to the depth and length of the global Depression." So this domestic policy could cause international trade wars and retaliatory tariffs, particularly with respect to manufactured goods. As Pakistan is a developing economy which relies on the export of manufactured goods (as opposed to the service sector or IT), such a scenario could have significant harmful effects on Pakistani exports.
Another popular line of argument is that due to the various checks on Presidential power embedded in the US Constitution, Congress will be able to prevent Trump from doing anything destructive. However, this argument does not really apply to the specific Trump policies set-forth above. Firstly, as the GOP has historically been anti-regulation, deregulation of the financial sector would be unlikely to meet significant resistance in the GOP-controlled Congress. Secondly, US statutes passed in 1917, 1974, 1977, and particularly the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, empower the President to impose import restrictions, tariffs and retaliatory trade policies without the consent of Congress. And finally, as the US ratified the Paris Agreement through executive order, withdrawal therefrom could also be done this way — i.e., with a stroke of Trump's pen.
But perhaps the most insidious result of the 2016 US Election is not a particular policy that may or may not be implemented by the Trump Administration. Rather, it is the likely re-energisation of extremist Muslims and jihadis resulting from the very fact that Trump was elected. The IS has been suffering from a marked decline in volunteers, particularly from the West. But imagine the bonanza the extremists’ message has just been handed. The Al-Minbar Jihadi Media has already issued a statement saying “Trump’s win of the presidency… shows the overt and hidden hatred against [Muslims]”. Jihadi propaganda can now be simplified to “America elected this man”, followed by a clip of a Trump rally where he calls Muslims immoral, hate-filled jihadis with nothing on their minds other than killing non-Muslims — followed by rapturous applause from his rabid audience. After seeing this, how much easier will it be to radicalise a 16-year-old Muslim sitting in San Diego or Manchester or Frankfurt or Multan? How much easier does it become to sell the “Islam vs the West” narrative to Muslim youths?
So perhaps the international community’s greatest fear should not be in relation to what Trump may do, but rather in respect of what has already been done by the American electorate.
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