Trump,Putin and Asia


December 5, 2016

Trump,Putin  and Asia

by Artyom Lukin@ Far Eastern Federal University

The US vote in favour of President-elect Donald Trump was a shock for Russian leaders, though a delightful one. According to public opinion surveys, Russia was the only country in the world that preferred Trump over Hillary Clinton. Post-election, the Kremlin argued that Trump and Putin’s views on major issues were very close and expressed cautious optimism that Russia–US relations could improve. In turn, Trump has repeatedly said that he would like ‘to get along with Russia’.

Image result for Trump, Putin and Asia

Putin and Trump seem to have chemistry absent in the Russian leader’s relations with both current US President Barack Obama and with Hillary Clinton. Trump is a pragmatic deal-maker, not an ideologue. He is not going to call Russia out on democracy or human rights. If Clinton had won, confrontation with Russia would have continued, and may have even escalated considering that Clinton’s foreign policy entourage included many figures with strong anti-Russia and anti-Putin views. Trump does not have any preconceived notions about Russia. He is therefore more likely to succeed in making a fresh start with Moscow — or at least in avoiding dangerous clashes in places like Ukraine and Syria.

But most importantly, the  incoming Trump administration has a fairly good chance of getting along with Russia because of the president-elect’s foreign policy philosophy.

Trump is keen to scale back the United States’ international commitments in order to concentrate resources on domestic priorities. Putting the United States’ own house in order is much more important to him — and, it seems, to his supporters — than performing the role of global policeman.

Image result for Trump, Putin and Asia

Trump’s views appear to be close to offshore balancing, a concept promoted by American realist thinkers such as Christopher Layne and Steven Walt. The offshore balancing grand strategy calls for eschewing costly onshore commitments and getting other states to do more for their own security.

Offshore balancing emphasises that the current US policy of maintaining global primacy is unsustainable because it can lead to imperial overstretch. Instead, it envisions a multipolar system in which the United States will still be the strongest player, although not a preponderant and overbearing one. Offshore balancing also stresses that the United States’ comparative strategic advantages rest in naval and air power. This is very much in line with Trump’s stated desire to build up the US naval forces.

If Trump follows at least some precepts of offshore balancing, this will relieve much of the current tensions in US–Russia relations. After all, a multi-polar world is exactly what Russia wants. Moscow may even agree to grant Washington the status of ‘first among equals’, provided Russia is given due respect as a great power. If Trump shifts military investments from the continental theatres of Europe and the Middle East toward the naval theatre of East Asia, this will only please Moscow. Historically, Russia has seen its main security concerns as lying to the west and south of its borders. The Asia Pacific is still of secondary importance.

If the Trump administration avoids lecturing Moscow on democracy (which is very likely) and strikes a grand bargain with the Kremlin on Ukraine and Syria (which is less likely but still possible), that would usher in a period of rapprochement in US–Russia relations.

But the most interesting question in all of this is: what impact will the Russian–US détente have on Russia’s ‘strategic partnership’ with China? Since 2012, ties between Moscow and Beijing have been expanding and deepening, especially in the political–military domain. Russo–Chinese alignment has mostly been driven by shared opposition to the United States, which they accuse of hegemonic pretensions and suspect of seeking to subvert their political regimes.

Image result for Trump, Putin and Asia

Moscow’s estrangement from the West in the wake of the Ukraine crisis has made it increasingly dependent on Beijing — and deferent to Chinese interests in East Asia. But if Moscow normalises relations with Washington, it will be less interested in pursuing a far-reaching entente with China. This will remove the risk of the Asia-Pacific being divided into two camps: the Beijing–Moscow axis versus Washington and its allies. The Sino–Russian partnership will continue, but it will shed much of its current anti-US overtones, with the emphasis shifting to economics and trade. Moscow will feel less obligated to support China on contentious issues in East Asia, such as the South China Sea.

Image result for Trump and Malaysia's Najib

Russia will also act as a more independent and proactive player on the Korean peninsula. It is an open secret that Moscow’s harsh protestations against the THAAD missile defence system in South Korea were caused not by immediate concerns about its impact on Russian security, but rather at the behest of Beijing. On the North Korea issue, Russia is interested in the resumption of the Six Party Talks, which may be possible if Trump decides to reopen a dialogue with Pyongyang. With relations between Beijing and Pyongyang marked by growing distrust, Russia is now the only neighbour with whom North Korea remains on more or less friendly terms, which could enable Moscow to play a mediating role.

The Trump victory will also affect Russia’s relations with Japan. The stark fact that US alliances can no longer be considered ‘ironclad’ has now been laid bare. Even though Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the first foreign leader to be granted an audience with the president-elect, Japan is unlikely to regain full confidence in the alliance. This makes it imperative for Tokyo to look for more partners in order to hedge against a rising China. Russia is one obvious choice. After the Trump win, we may expect Prime Minister Abe to re-double his efforts to court Putin.

Artyom Lukin is Associate Professor at the School of Regional and International Studies, Far Eastern Federal University, Vladivostok.

http://www.eastasiaforum.org/2016/12/02/53330/

Congratulations to the People of Thailand


December 3, 2016

Congratulations to the People of Thailand

by AFP

Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn becomes Rama X of Thailand’s Chakri Dynasty, but will not formally be crowned until after his father’s cremation, which is expected next year.

King-Rama

Crown Prince Maha Vajiralongkorn became the King of Thailand late Thursday, opening a new chapter for the powerful monarchy in a country still mourning the death of his father.

The 64-year-old Prince inherits one of the world’s richest monarchies as well as a politically febrile nation, 50 days after King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death.

After weeks of complex palace protocols the Prince was invited by the head of the National Legislative Assembly (NLA) to ascend the throne in an event broadcast on all Thai television channels.

“I agree to accept the wishes of the late King… for the benefit of the entire Thai people,” said Vajiralongkorn, wearing an official white tunic decorated with medals and a pink sash.

The sombre, ritual-heavy ceremony at his Bangkok palace was attended by the Chief of the NLA, junta leader Prayut Chan-O-Cha, and the powerful 96-year-old head of the privy council, Prem Tinsulanonda.

Red-jacketed courtiers looked on as a palace staff member, shuffling on his knees, presented the new King with a microphone through which he delivered his few words of acceptance.

Image result for New King of Thailand

His Majesty King Vajiralongkorn then prostrated himself, hands pressed together in respect, to a small shrine topped by a picture of his father and mother —Her Majesty Queen Sirikit Kitiyakara.

He becomes Rama X of Thailand’s Chakri dynasty, but will not formally be crowned until after his father’s cremation, which is expected next year.

Bhumibol’s reign, which ended on October 13, spanned a tumultuous period of Thai history pockmarked by a communist insurgency, coups and street protests.

Image result for New King of Thailand

It also saw breakneck development which has resulted in a huge wealth disparity between a Bangkok-centric elite and the rural poor.To many Thais, Bhumibol was the only consistent force in a politically combustible country, his image burnished by ritual and shielded by a harsh royal defamation law.

The United States offered its congratulations to the new King, saying it looked forward to strengthening ties with Thailand. “We offer our best wishes to his majesty and all of the Thai people,” the State Department said.

“His father, King Bhumibol, ruled the Kingdom of Thailand with vision and compassion for 70 years and was a great friend of the United States. The United States and Thailand enjoy a longstanding, strong, and multifaceted bilateral relationship, and we look forward to deepening that relationship and strengthening the bonds between our two countries and peoples going forward.”

Into the limelight

Monks chanted blessings at Buddhist temples to mark the new monarch’s ascension — an era-defining moment for most Thais who for seven decades knew only Bhumibol as their King.

His Majesty Vajiralongkorn does not yet enjoy the same level of popularity.He spends much of his time outside of the public eye, particularly in southern Germany where he owns property.

He has had three high-profile divorces, while a recent police corruption scandal linked to the family of his previous wife allowed the public a rare glimpse of palace affairs.

Thursday’s ascension ends a period of uncertainty since Bhumibol’s death prompted by the Prince’s request to delay his official proclamation so he could mourn with the Thai people.

Thailand’s constitutional monarchy has limited formal powers but it draws the loyalty of much of the kingdom’s business elite as well as a military that dominates politics through its regular coups.

Analysts say  His Majesty King Vajiralongkorn, untested until now, will have to manage competing military cliques.

In a brief televised address after the ceremony, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-O-Cha, who as army chief led the 2014 coup, praised the new King “as the head of the Thai state and heart of the Thai people.”

The Thai monarchy is protected from criticism by one of the world’s strictest lese majeste laws, carrying up to 15 years in jail for every charge of defaming the King, Queen, heir or regent.

That law makes open discussion about the Royal Family’s role all but impossible inside the Kingdom and means all media based inside the country routinely self-censor. Convictions for so-called “112” offences — named after its criminal code — have skyrocketed since the Generals seized power in 2014.

Experts say most have targeted the junta’s political opponents, many of whom support the toppled civilian government of Yingluck Shinawatra.

The emergence of Yingluck’s brother Thaksin in 2001, a vote-winning billionaire seen by many of the rural poor as their champion, prompted the recent round of political conflict. The army and royalist establishment have toppled two governments led by the siblings, accusing them of nepotism and corruption.

 

The Trump Effect and the UMNO-Red Shirt Buffoonery


November 27, 2016

The Trump Effect and the UMNO-Red Shirt Buffoonery on the Malaysian Economy

by Koon Yew Yin

http://www.freemalaysiatoday.com

 

I can see clearly that there are various push and pull forces at work in our economy. Some of these forces are linked to political ones which economists attached to banks or universities do not want to talk about publicly. But they are happy to do so privately or in coffee shops with their good friends.

Image result for The Trump Effect

Other forces are more obvious but it is still useful to emphasise them in case they are easily forgotten.

Let me flag some of these which will be of special concern to investors in the market.Firstly, there is of course the “Trump effect”.

Readers will recall that I had predicted – contrary to many analysts – that the US stock market would head higher post-Trump. Well, for now, my prediction has proven to be correct.

One of the world’s foremost business newspapers, The Financial Times, in a lead article on November 26 noted that when Wall Street traders departed for Thanksgiving, they could celebrate a rare achievement. On Monday and Tuesday, the four most widely cited indices of US stocks — the S&P 500, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the Nasdaq Composite and the Russell 2000 —hit all-time highs simultaneously. The last time a “grand slam” took place was on New Year’s Eve 1999, at the height of the tech bubble.

The article noted the breakthrough for stocks in the US which had moved sideways for two years since the Federal Reserve stopped its quantitative easing programme, seemed to confirm a regime change. Prompted by Donald Trump’s victory in the presidential election, the narrative has changed to preparing for an era of tax cuts, deregulation and fiscal stimulus, after eight years of markets being guided by the Fed’s historically low interest rates.

I also predicted in my article “Trump is better for business than Hillary, that the Malaysian stock market and other Asian markets will also strengthen as a result of the US economic recovery.”

Image result for The Red Shirt Buffoons

The UMNO Redshirt Buffoons

Specifically I had written: “History has shown that when the Dow goes up, almost all the stock markets in the world, including KLCI, go up.”

 Well, the second part of my prediction has still to happen.On November 10 when my article was published, the KLCI stood at 1652.74. At the close of November 25, it stood at 1627.26 – a drop of 25 points.

Of course it is much too early to say what will happen next but my prediction that our market will move in tandem with the US market – that is upwards during the next 12-18 months still stands.

There are two big dark clouds hanging over the market. One is the big black hole left by 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB) which most analysts are aware of but are too afraid to talk or write about openly for fear of being branded as anti-national or taken under Sosma and put into solitary confinement.

I will not go into the size of the 1MDB financial hole but will leave it to our accounting experts to do the mathematics. My main concern is not so much the actual financial loss incurred by the government.

Image result for Najib Razak

CIC of the Red Shirt Buffoons

Although this will go down in history as one of the biggest scandals carried out on a nation’s financial guardians and gatekeepers, frankly the actual financial loss is really not that big and it is one which the nation’s treasury can well afford.

What we cannot afford is the loss of confidence among foreign and local investors which cannot be easily quantified. Should this lack of confidence continue, then my predicted Malaysian market upturn will be undermined.

There is a second dark cloud – and this is the Red Shirts phenomenon. We have now seen the Red Shirts political ‘mat rempits’ come to centre stage in our political life. I am not only referring to Jamal Yunos but also his supporters and leaders who are now engaging in the use of force, threats of violence and other provocative actions in Parliament, Komtar and elsewhere and aimed at whoever they see as opposed to their vision of party, racial and religious dominance.

Everyone who has access to a smartphone will have seen the behaviour of these street and parliamentary hooligans and how they are destroying the peace and harmony of the country. Well, perhaps not everyone. It seems like the country’s leaders including the Prime Minister, the entire Barisan Nasional cabinet, the Inspector-General of Police, the Attorney-General and others responsible for law and order in this country have not seen these videos.

Or if they have viewed them, they do not care.

Let me be very blunt. The business community and investors in the country – foreign and local – do not read Utusan Malaysia or any of the Malay papers. They do not listen to Radio Malaysia or view TV3.

They care about how their money and the market is affected by these thugs and hooligans. They can make up their own mind on which way our national politics is going.

And if the Red Shirts phenomenon gets worse, we can expect some of them to take out their businesses and money.

Koon Yew Yin is a retired chartered civil engineer and one of the founders of IJM Corporation Bhd and Gamuda Bhd.

 

APEC beyond economic cooperation


November 17, 2016

APEC beyond economic cooperation

by Ippei Yamazawa, Hitotsubashi University and Toshiya Takahashi, Shoin University

Brexit and refugee problems in the European Union have caused uncertainty for economic integration, but APEC’s renewed commitment to it will provide some impetus to the global economy. While APEC is regarded primarily as a diplomatic opportunity for regional leaders, APEC’s achievements, based on wide-ranging government–business collaboration, provide it with the possibility to expand its role and help nurture regional stability.

Image result for Trump and APEC

APEC began in 1989 as a series of meetings among foreign and economic ministers in Asia and the Pacific. Invigorated by the European Single Market in 1992 and the conclusion of the GATT Uruguay round of negotiations in 1993, the United States, as APEC’s chair in 1993, created the leaders’ meeting to discuss the creation of a free trade area across Asia and the Pacific. The Bogor Declaration in 1994 set out a roadmap for trade liberalisation by 2020.

APEC’s economic integration has not made linear progress despite early high expectations. The 1995 Osaka Action Agenda, which combined voluntary trade liberalisation with facilitation and technical cooperation, provided concrete measures for achieving the Bogor Goals, but the Manila Action Plan a year later resulted in only small-scale trade liberalisation. Attempts at early voluntary sector liberalisation also failed in 1998.

In the face of the Asian financial crisis, expectations of APEC’s economic integration decreased substantially. By the 2000s the WTO’s Doha Round negotiation began, while free trade agreements proliferated across Asia.

Since then APEC has adopted a modest strategy centred on trade facilitation and technical cooperation, and economists and the media have lost their interest in its message of economic integration. Some of the member economies that were unsatisfied with voluntary liberalisation formed the P4 group, which later expanded to become the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

Image result for Obama, Xi and Putin

But legally binding trade liberalisation did not make much progress in the 2000s. The Doha Round negotiation remains deadlocked even after its 15-year effort. The TPP was finally concluded in 2015 but its ratification has been delayed and is now in question. In the European Union, economic integration is highly developed, but opposition to its centralised decision-making and flows of labour from later-developed member countries shadow its future.

In contrast, APEC’s pragmatic and flexible approach to trade liberalisation has succeeded in areas like customs procedures, business mobility, and standards and conformance. The 2001 Shanghai APEC summit declared an intention to reduce trade transaction costs by 5 per cent in five years. This was achieved through various task forces composed of governmental officials and the business sector. The Busan APEC summit in 2005 announced another 5 per cent reduction that also succeeded.

Image result for Trump and APEC

They fought over Trade

APEC has provided a program for economic and technical cooperation over small and medium industry development, structural adjustment and food safety that has not been achieved through other economic institutions. And it has contributed to Asia’s globalisation, starting in the 1980s and becoming the East Asian economic miracle by the 1990s. The rapid economic rise of countries like China and Vietnam can also be attributed in part to their involvement in APEC.

But APEC’s role in sustaining regional stability should be re-evaluated. Prosperity is a condition for peace. So is an increase in economic transactions. APEC has served regional peace and stability through prosperity and economic connectedness, though it does not deal with security issues directly.

APEC’s open membership worked for mitigating ideological and political dividing lines in the Asia Pacific after the end of the Cold War. Its early acceptance of ex-communist countries such as China in 1990 and Russia and Vietnam in 1998 promoted the liberalisation of their markets and opened the door to their acceptance in the WTO. Both China and Taiwan’s participation showed that APEC’s identity was beyond political confrontation.

APEC’s wide-ranging framework for talks and its flexibility in liberalising markets helps create political background for further regional cooperation. Voluntary liberalisation allows members to compromise with domestic opposition. The APEC experience shows that different positions on economic issues can be mitigated through continuing talks rather than renouncing them, and this learning can be applied to non-economic issues.

Image result for South China Sea

The South China Sea

Asia and the Pacific today face military build-up and unresolved conflicts in the Korean Peninsula, the South China Sea and the East China Sea. The APEC approach to reconciling differences provides the basis for resolving security and political confrontations in the region. While it is an economic institution, these political functions — which are the product of its twenty-eight-year history — should be remembered and reinvigorated with the aim of developing a regional consensus for ‘peace by talks’.

Ippei Yamazawa is Emeritus Professor of International Economics at Hitotsubashi University, Japan.

Toshiya Takahashi is Associate Professor at Shoin University.

APEC beyond economic cooperation

New World Order under stress


November 16, 2016

New World Order under stress

by Chheang Vannarith

http://www.khemertimes.com

In a result that stunned the whole world, Donald Trump has been elected as the 45th President of the United States, defeating the more favored Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton.

Image result for Trump's New World Order

Mr. Trump’s victory signified rising nationalist populism, not only in the US, but also in other parts of the world. It also challenges the liberal world order based on democratic values, economic openness and the rules-based international economic system.

From Brexit to Mr. Trump’s victory, there is one thing in common, and that is the increasing frustration against the old establishment driven by political elites. Many wish to see a different type of leadership and are hoping for change.

We are living in a highly unpredictable and uncertain world. We need to think the unthinkable and be prepared to adapt to unexpected changes. Those who can grasp the opportunities deriving from a crisis and uncertainty will remain competitive.

Image result for Trump's New World Order

The bipolar world established after World War II was replaced by a unipolar world in which the US played a hegemonic power. However,  US power has been declining since the world economic crisis in 2008. Over the past decade, the rise of others such as China, India and Russia has challenged the global role of the US from economic to security domains.

We are now entering either a multipolar world or zero-polar world. Under the multipolar world, there are multiple actors and stakeholders working together to shape and construct global governance and order.In a zero-polar world, there will be no country taking a global leadership role. The major powers will become more nationalist and inward looking. Selfish national interests and zero-sum games will dominate international politics.

If this happens the world will become fragmented and chaotic. Global uncertainties and risks are going to rise. No country will be willing and able to take a global leadership role to maintain world peace and order.

Image result for Hillary Clinton Clinton

The US is great nation largely thanks to democratic pluralism, multiculturalism as well as an open and liberal globalization which has provided tremendous opportunities for Americans. It has successfully integrated itself into and largely benefited from the rest of the world.

Now it is different. Mr. Trump seems to be opting for a more nationalistic, protectionist and inward-looking foreign policy. His populist political rhetoric will adversely affect the liberal order created by the US seven decades ago.

Mr. Trump lacks a robust foreign policy. He seems to mainly focus on populist domestic social and economic issues. Global issues such as climate change will not be addressed effectively without a strong US leadership role.

It is predicted that the US’ global role will further decline, which in turn will create a global power vacuum and a deep hole in global governance.

China, Japan, India and Russia are expected to fill the gap and play a more proactive role in maintaining global peace and order. However, these countries are still struggling with their own domestic issues.

Image result for Obama Pivot to asia a failure

Obama in Laos

In the Asia-Pacific region, the US has been the hub of regional peace and order. Since 2010, the US has introduced and implemented its “rebalance” or “pivot” to Asia in order to strengthen its alliance system, promote economic integration and deepen people-to-people
ties.

President Barack Obama has had a strong interest in promoting the US’ role in the Asia-Pacific. He has committed to strengthening an ASEAN-led regional architecture.

The US-led Trans-Pacific Partnership is a crucial US external economic policy towards Asia. However, it has an extremely low chance of ratification under the future Trump administration.
Under Mr. Trump’s leadership, the US will be less engaged in Asia.

In such a scenario, China will gain more strategic advantages in leveraging its regional influence.US allies in Asia will be forced to invest more in the defense sector in their collective deterrence strategy. Japan, South Korea and Australia will speed up their defense modernization.

The new world order as well as the Asia-Pacific order will go through critical tests, uncertain power diffusion and transition as well as a severe security environment.

As we live in a world with high uncertainty and risk, leaders need to be equipped with the capacity to think the unthinkable, have the courage to change and create a safe space for institutional innovation and transformative leadership.

It is a wake-up call for world leaders to reconstruct the world economy so it is more inclusive and sustainable. Unless fair and just industrialization, and social justice, are respected, the prospect of global disintegration and fragmentation will continue to haunt the world

President Barack Obama’s legacy: What happens now?


November 11, 2016

President Barack Obama’s legacy: What happens now?

By Sam Clench

The biggest loser of the US election wasn’t even on the ballot.

I’m not talking about Hillary Clinton, even though her political career has been crushed for good. No, the ultimate victim of Donald Trump’s stunning triumph is the man he will replace as president, Barack Obama.

“My name may not be on the ballot, but our progress is on the ballot,” Obama said before the election, urging his supporters to vote for Ms Clinton. “Tolerance is on the ballot. Democracy is on the ballot. Justice is on the ballot. Good schools are on the ballot. Hope is on the ballot.”

The president said he would consider it “a personal insult, an insult to my legacy” if Trump won. Well, here we are.

President-elect Donald Trump. Photo / AP
President-elect Donald Trump. Photo / AP

It’s a bizarre situation. Eight years ago, Obama was swept into power by America’s fury with his predecessor. This time, Trump won despite Obama’s remarkable popularity.

The president’s approval rating has risen steadily this year, and is now at its highest point since the heady days of his political honeymoon in late 2009.

“There’s a contrast with George W. Bush, who exited with very low favourability ratings,” Dr Gorana Grgic, a lecturer in US politics and foreign policy at the United States Studies Centre, tells news.com.au. “If you look at it from a historical perspective, Obama is up there.”

To give you some of that historical perspective, Obama’s ratings are comparable to those of Ronald Reagan, who often tops polls asking people to name the nation’s greatest president. But while Reagan’s legacy has shaped American politics for decades, Obama’s could vanish within months.

President Barack Obama on the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton. Photo / AP
President Barack Obama on the campaign trail for Hillary Clinton. Photo / AP

When Trump takes office, the Republican Party will control all three levers of power in Washington: the White House, Senate and House of Representatives. That means he will have free rein to pursue his agenda – and systematically dismantle Obama’s achievements.

The most obvious threat is to the president’s signature domestic policy, the health care law known as Obamacare. It’s already in trouble, with rising premiums and too few young, healthy people signing up to subsidise the nation’s older, sicker health insurance customers.

Obviously, Donald Trump has said that he would push for the repeal of Obamacare. The Republicans have already tried almost 50 times,” Dr Grgic says. Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell has confirmed that repealing the law is a “pretty high item on our agenda”.

Dr Grgic argues the next president should focus on “getting more people into Obamacare, increasing competition and seeing whether something can be done about rising drug prices”. That is probably what Ms Clinton would have done.

Instead, Trump plans to scrap the whole thing and start again. Obama’s foreign policy record is flawed, but he has overseen a dramatic recovery in America’s reputation, which suffered badly during Bush’s second term.

“Obama has been pretty clear on what his outlook is for the way that the US engages with the world. It’s a very multilateral approach. and it’s principled on ‘don’t do stupid stuff’,” Dr Grgic says. “It was very much a reaction to what was perceived to be the overreach of the Bush administration.”

The world is somewhat less enthusiastic about a Trump presidency. A global poll taken shortly before the election showed people in every overseas country surveyed, with the exception of Russia, overwhelmingly preferred Ms Clinton.

Displaying

Trump’s victory will clearly cause a seismic shift in America’s image – and its approach to the rest of the world.

The President-elect has been a scathing critic of Obama’s foreign policy doctrine. During the campaign, he called the much-hyped agreement with Iran, which aimed to curb the country’s efforts to develop nuclear weapons, “the worst deal ever negotiated”. Trump has promised to tear it up. He will also consider reversing Obama’s landmark decision to normalise relations with Cuba.

If those achievements are wiped away, Obama’s record will pretty much be reduced to the messes in Libya, Ukraine and Syria, which developed into a cataclysmic civil war on his watch.

“Obviously we have the nonintervention in Syria. Whether this was a mistake or not, we know Hillary Clinton was very vocal in support of a more assertive response,” Dr Grgic says.

“Obama had a very principled approach to foreign policy, and that involved mutual efforts and burden-sharing, and that simply wasn’t there in the early days of Syria.

“What you see in Syria now is a complete asymmetry of power, where you have the Assad regime being supported by Russia.”

President Barack Obama making Thanksgiving Day phone calls to U.S. troops, from the Oval Office in 2014. Photo / Pete Souza
President Barack Obama making Thanksgiving Day phone calls to U.S. troops, from the Oval Office in 2014. Photo / Pete Souza

Speaking of Russia, Obama’s efforts to rein in Vladimir Putin could be ditched completely when Trump takes control.

“There has been a complete breakdown basically of the relations between Russia and the US,” Dr Grgic says. That breakdown “started with the 2011 intervention in Libya,” which Putin opposed, and “spiralled” from there.

“It takes two to tango, right? I don’t think it’s just Obama’s fault for this one. It’s very clear that Putin has been very skilful in using this window of opportunity to assert Russia’s power,” she says. “When you are dealing with an autocratic leader, it’s very difficult to make a case for co-operation, when Putin is not constrained by the same factors as Obama.”

Trump repeatedly praised Putin during the campaign, calling him a “stronger leader” than Obama and suggesting he could work alongside the Russian dictator as an ally. That would mean a drastic reorientation of Obama’s foreign policy.

Displaying

But put aside the policy implications of a future Trump administration for a moment, because part of the legacy Obama wanted to leave is in tatters already.

Back in 2008, Obama energised his voters with a promise to revolutionise politics in the United States. Sarah Palin infamously referred to this as the “hopey-changey stuff”, and perhaps she was right to mock it, because the bipartisan dream Obama spoke of so eloquently never materialised. That was partly his own fault.

“Obama is simply not the kind of politician that likes to get down and dirty with the kind of everyday politicking, and the horsetrading. He was simply not willing to engage in politics as it is usually done on Capitol Hill,” Dr Grgic says. That hindered the president’s ability to negotiate with Congress.

“A lot of people have said that it’s a kind of product of his personality and who he was previously. An academic, someone who’s very aloof maybe. He’d rather debate things, he’d rather try to show that his argument is plausible or he has more evidence to support his course of action than make those compromises.”

With the Republican Party pulled to the right by its base and Obama unable to break the gridlock in Washington, we’re now witnessing “the most polarising environment ever” in the US, she says.

That environment led directly to the rise of Donald Trump. It decimated the Democrats, whose numbers in Congress have plummeted, and who now face an utterly dominant Republican Party at both federal and state level.

Obama’s one great talent was getting himself elected. His party has crumbled around him over the last eight years, with most of its rising stars turfed from office, and now there is no obvious leader ready to pick up the pieces when he’s gone.

Obama isn’t the only one to blame for this – not even close – but it’s an undeniable fact that he failed to bring the country together. White people and minorities are bitterly divided. Urban elites and rural voters openly sneer at each other. And now, in a sickening dose of irony, America’s first black president will hand over the White House to the man who spent years hounding him with a racist birther conspiracy theory.

“We want to do everything we can to help you succeed. Because if you succeed, the country succeeds,” Obama told Trump when they met today. Those were the right words, and they sounded sincere.

But inside, even if he doesn’t show it, Obama must fear for his legacy. His proudest achievement, health care reform, is in mortal danger, his foreign policy doctrine is about to be reversed, and the nation he hoped to unite is seething with resentment.

Hillary Clinton lost an election, and I’m sure it hurts badly. But Barack Obama could lose everything his presidency stood for, and that is far worse.

– news.com.au