Focus on Policies, not Partisan Politics


March 26, 2017

Focus on Policies, not Partisan Politics

by Bunn Nagara@www.thestar.com.my

Image result for Trump and Xi

Beyond the noisy protests over Trump’s presidency, there are important policy issues and implications that need better understanding – but which are still neglected.

NOT too long ago, there was hope, even a belief, that the fuss about Donald Trump’s fitness for presidential office would fade away after his inauguration. But even after more than two months into the presidency, critics are still carping and cynics are still canting. The real issues affecting people’s lives, badly neglected by the US media, are still being ignored.

Since US policies have a global reach, its actions affect other countries in various ways. So what can we expect from the Trump White House?In strategic terms, Trump has inherited some foreign policy challenges from the preceding administration. Then there are issues he has created on his own.

Nearest home is the controversy over the Mexican border “wall”. This is a typical issue blown out of proportion by Trump’s own grandstanding and his opponents bent on inflating it.

Trump first said he would build a wall, then added it could be a fence in parts. Since there is already a part-wall, part-fence on the border, what is his proposal and the objection to it about?

On Syria, Obama had already shifted from insisting on President Assad’s immediate removal to accepting his place as head of government. From being regarded as “part of the problem,” an Assad still popular with his people came to be seen grudgingly by Obama as part of the solution – but still one that had to resolve itself.

Trump is not keen on ousting Assad either. Assad has even suggested that Syria may host US troops dispatched by Trump to fight terrorism together.

For both leaders, exterminating such terrorist groups as IS is top priority while welcoming Russian support in the fight. Trump would openly receive what Obama would haltingly accept, with little or no difference on the ground.

Where differences largely comprise rhetoric, they become unbridgeable. In non-official Washington, this concerns “Russia”: not as a large Eurasian nation with a rich history, but as the bogeyman Other.

“Russia” is also a way for Trump’s enemies to dredge the swamp for issues to hit him with. This would at least deter any attempt at “resetting” relations with Moscow that would alarm the US deep state.

Since the issue of Syria is mostly a function of US-Russia relations, the Trump White House will soon have to decide what to do and how to do it. Beltway ideologues have already put a pugnacious Trump on the defensive over “Russia”, so his room for manoeuvre is limited.

Developing a clear and coherent position on Iran is just as delicate, especially after Trump had pledged to tear up the Iran nuclear deal. His primal aversion to Iran derives from a lack of familiarity, images of hardline mullahs, and limited contact with the Syiah sect.

Iran, however, can breathe a sigh of relief now that Lt-Gen Mike Flynn has been replaced as National Security Adviser. Flynn was exceptionally caustic about Teheran and dismissive of it.

Image result for Trump and Xi and North Korea

Since US-China ties are the world’s most important bilateral relationship, China should command most of Washington’s attention among all its foreign relations.The relationship was never pristine as Trump blamed China for currency manipulation and unfair trade terms. It crashed to a low after Beijing criticised Trump for speaking to the Taiwanese President, and Trump responded by questioning China’s core strategic interests.

China then moved to salvage the situation. President Xi Jinping spoke personally to Trump on the phone, followed by a visit to Washington by State Councillor Yang Jiechi to arrange a summit.

The White House is now planning to host Xi at Trump’s opulent Florida estate over April 6 to 7. Among the issues they will discuss is a lethally recalcitrant North Korea.

As expected, Trump will say China needs to do more to rein in North Korea, and Xi will say China is already doing all it can with this Jong-un of an upstart. On the economic front, matters may be less predictable but just as important.Trump may reach for a new deal with Xi in an early bid to establish his legacy in world trade. And nothing beats striking a new, productive deal with a rising China.

Elsewhere, Trump will be fettling the terms of new trade deals with various countries. These distinct new bilateral relations will be the “spokes” of a customised world trade wheel, with the US as the hub.

The question for Xi and Trump will be where China would be in the wheel, since it is too big to be just a spoke. The economic reality could be that China is fast becoming the axle for the entire wheel.

On the yawning trade deficit and colossal US debt, Trump will try hard to close the issues. Unlike most previous presidents, he sees their successful conclusion as a vital mission and a measure of his competence.

Given the circumstances, pledging to balance the budget and eliminate national debt in eight years as Trump did would be a fool’s errand. It may be no more than an incentive for voters to elect him for a second term.

Independent analysts expect Trump’s tax-cutting and public expenditure policies to add US$6tril (RM26tril) to US national debt over the next decade. At the same time, the Congressional Budget Office said Obama’s fiscal trajectory would have added US$10tril (RM44tril) debt over the same period.

Trump’s plan to cut taxes across the board is said to encourage business growth. This is expected to affect SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises) if no other industry sector to expand their businesses.This approach to revive US industry is deemed conservative, but also somewhat unconventional. It is still trickle-down economics but in a different way.

Unlike most Republicans’ (and Democrats’) preference for encouraging corporations to expand abroad, reap economies of scale, multiply profits and then be taxed more on their higher turnover, Trump would cut taxes and encourage them to return home, hire more American workers and energise the economy that way.

This would mean less outsourcing abroad, fewer foreign relocations for manufacturing, more job creation at home and a healthier economy. Some of this has already begun.

Trump would also cut foreign labour content in the manufacture of US goods. This comes in restricting the entry of foreign migrants and the “export” of US jobs.

In the short to medium terms, this would see a measure of economic recovery as wages rise and consumption picks up. However, since the global economy is an integrated planetary entity, it would also mean higher prices for US goods and a decline in US competitiveness.

Developing sets of bilateral trade deals with various countries will also take time. Meanwhile, this region will see development of the ASEAN Community, besides the ASEAN-proposed Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) agreement and the China-proposed Free Trade Area of the Asia-Pacific (FTAAP).

The US will be without the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) and the TTIP (Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership). Other countries averse to this situation for their own interests must now learn to accept it.

Superpowers act in their own self interests and not out of a charitable impulse to assist another country. Smaller and less able countries may want to ally with a larger and more powerful one, but not vice-versa.

Bunn Nagara is a Senior Fellow at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) Malaysia.

13 thoughts on “Focus on Policies, not Partisan Politics

  1. Dr. Phua, if you think the defeat of Trumpcare is bad enough for Trump to bear, wait till his proposed budget that is coming up. Vast majority of Americans have shown that they strongly refute almost every aspect of the proposed budget, a plan described as perfectly mirroring the agenda of Trump’s extremely wealthy cabinet members. A new Quinnipiac poll published Friday revealed that a wide majority of US citizens oppose the sweeping cuts proposed by Trump to popular long-term government programs. I believe any Republican who votes for this budget would join the unemployment line next mid term election.

    Trump’s budget is forwarding the policies of the very rich, at the expense of those who are the most vulnerable, including children, teachers, nurses, and the vast army of the American poor. It is described as “morally obscene” by Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. Among the results of the Quinnipiac poll, 84 percent are against cutting funding for new infrastructure projects; 67 percent are against cuts to environmental and climate change research; 83 percent are against removing money for extracurricular educational programs; 66 percent are against the complete defunding of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and 79 percent are against ending the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program.

    In cut after cut, the Trump budget proposal pours salt in the wounds of the very working people Trump pledged to help. They say the budget is the political philosophy statement of the president for the country, and that of the governor for the state. Now we know Trump really does not give a f**k about the working people he pledged to help. I should be happy with his budget because it is giving me a big tax cut. But I’m not, for I always believe that the working people are the roots of a society that have to be properly taken care of. If the roots of the society are not well taken care of and start to decay, there goes the whole nation. And people like us who have so-called made it should give back to the healthy functioning of the society.

    I know, I know, diehard rightist ideologue would condemn me a socialist and my buddy CLF might bash me a commie-lover. In fact, like commie Deng Xiaoping, I don’t care a cat is black or white as long as it catches mice. I don’t care whether it is Malay cooking or Chinese cooking, as long as the food is healthy and taste good it is good cooking. Eating Malay cooking does not make me a Malay, and eating Chinese cooking does not make me any more Chinese. I follow the compass in my heart called conscience. To hell with all the ideologies and isms.

    To avoid a government shutdown, the Senate must pass some form of budget bill by April 28. Well folks, get your sodas and popcorn ready, sit back and watch the circus show. This time Trump will ban his son-in-law from taking any more skiing trip, I’m sure.

    • @LaMoy, I would guess someone rather wealthy like yourself would favor Trump’s favor the rich tax/economic plan. But, amazingly that is not the case. I take pride in being an American, knowing that there are elites like yourself.

    • This video shows how socialism or idea promoting disproportional communal responsibility at the expense of individual responsibility produces more selfish people than Americanism:

  2. Shut out all the noise one gets the eerie feeling that underlying all of Trump’s foreign policy words and actions lurks Putin the puppet master, as it should be, because the latter has been at the geopolitical game for decades whilst the former thinks he is the great white hunter who can slay the Russian bear and Chinese dragon on an international game show.

    And the failure to get the Obamacare replacement bill through must tell him that Congress is not a subsidiary of Trump Inc.

  3. The writer should stick to writing about Malaysian politics. He does not have first hand information and the pulse of the American citizens or the political parties. How can he say “The real issues affecting people’s lives, badly neglected by the US media, are still being ignored.” He does not understand Trump and his call of”fake news”. The US media is guilty of too much coverage on every issue affecting American lives. Watch CNN coverage on the hour every hour or MSNBC.

  4. Trump used to criticize Obama for golfing. He told the American people during his campaign that he would be so busy working for the American people and would not have time to play golf. But in his 9 weeks of presidency and he has been to golf course 13 times. Fox News tweeted a news alert yesterday that Trump was spending the weekend working at the White House, when he was spotted at the golf course at Virginia Golf Club on Saturday and Sunday, with golf cleats on. Now you guys understand why we in the States call Fox News as Faux News, all lies and fake news. Take a look at how American laughing at Faux News:

    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/trump-weekend-working-golf_us_58d87282e4b02a2eaab520a7

    • Trump repeatedly say he is not involved in running his business so what the hell is he doing visiting his golf clubs? He should be hauled up by the Ethics committee for indirectly patronizing his businesses even when hosting the Japanese PM because he could have hosted Abe in the White House and the US Government won’t have to pay Mar a Lago a single cent.
      Trump is a mobile pussy grabber showing off his properties to world leaders instead of using the government owned White House facilities. If Trump doesn’t want to live and work in the White House the government should not pay for rental or fees of other venues.

  5. The American people, through mass mobilisation, can put a brake on
    Trumpism at home.

    However, abroad is a different matter altogether.
    Already, Trumpist foreign policy is leading to greater and greater US involvement in Middle Eastern civil wars i.e. Syria and Yemen.
    Trumpists have not learned from the disastrous interventions in
    Iraq and Afghanistan ?

  6. Trumpcare, Obamacare, who-cares..?! Not WHO for sure.

    Look, good ole USofA spends almost 3 trillion USD on health and yet has the worst mortality/morbidity rate outcomes among the top 10 economies, bar PRC. Advancement of health, medical and pharmaceutical sciences may be excellent, but how they are practiced takes the patty cake.

    That’s because the physicians, nurses and other paramedical staff charge per procedure and even the glass of water is considered a ‘service’. They ‘investigate’, even when the diagnosis, prognosis, therapeutics and other management options are starring them right in the face. They cover themselves with needless high tech imaging, repeat after repeat blood and other fluid sampling, biopsy after biopsy and so on until the poor patient exsanguinates. Pay per procedure. That’s not Medicine, that’s to cover their ass should it become a medico-legal claim..! Then the medical insurance scheme/scam becomes ridiculously expensive, arcane and wonky.

    For example, do you really need an MRI, if a ‘simple’ spinal tap has revealed meningitis? Or that MRSA becomes a problem because of rampant, illogical and non-indicated prolonged use of top-line antibiotics? But i’m no highfalutin’ physician, so really who cares – besides the poor Americans who got themselves into a mess no government ‘policy’ can extricate them from?

    That’s unbridled capitalism for you! Flesh eating bacteria, indeed.

    Btw, LaMoy, far be it that i love unchecked Capitalism, inasmuch as i hate Commies (esp the PRC strain) – it’s just that i detest False Fat-Cats.

    • CLF healthcare in the US are managed by bean counters and physicians much as they like to deliver a caring and compassionate treatment are hindered and barred by the bean counters. Then there is the I am never wrong syndrome, blame it on the physicians as their malpractice insurance is a gold mine. Americans are a litigous society with many sharks and ambulance chasers attorneys ready to take a case on contigency basis – no recovery no fees. Night tie tv are full of theae ads each one claiming to have recovered millions.

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