Trumping the system

A hard bargain, but good for India
DONALD J TRUMP COCKED a snook at the political system, smashed the competition within his own party, alienated just about every constituency in America, rhetorically trampled on old shibboleths, openly courted President Vladimir Putin and the country’s old Cold War nemesis, Russia, even asking the Kremlin to cyber-dabble to derail Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party in the general election, waved off the A-listers of his own Republican Party panel of policy experts who had disavowed him, trashed the political play-book, and for his excesses was rewarded by the American voter with the presidency of the United States.

Trump’s ascent must remind Prime Minister Narendra Modi of his own rather dramatic rise as an insurgent upsetting the old order within the ruling BJP headed by Lal Krishna Advani, who wanted to contest the top job one last time, and then comprehensively beating the two-term Manmohan Singh-led Congress Party Government at the hustings.

Modi will, however, find Trump in the White House less socially convivial than Barack Obama but politically more simpatico, especially if the former plays the ‘Muslim card’ and gets the US to dump on Pakistan. Indeed, ‘Hindus’ residing in the US, who arranged for a Bollywood-style event in New Jersey a fortnight back in support of Trump, claim to have contributed ‘millions of dollars’ to the Republican’s election campaign, delivered the PIO vote to Trump in this state as also in Florida, and now hope to cash in by shaping the prospective Trump administration’s approach to South Asia. A member of this group, Dharam Dass, originally from Trinidad & Tobago, called me from New York to say this group would enlist the Trump regime in doing bad things to Pakistan, a possibility some in the RSS and BJP may happily clutch at. Such enthusiasms may get a leg up with the 58-year-old former US Army Lieutenant General Michael Flynn advising Trump.

A paratrooper, Flynn served with the 82nd Airborne Division and was the theatre intelligence chief during ‘Operation Enduring Freedom’ in Afghanistan, 2004-2007, and later partook of ‘Operation Iraqi Freedom’. Retired in 2014 after two years as Pentagon’s head spook—Director, US Defense Intelligence Agency, he was tapped for advice by a number of Republican presidential hopefuls, among them Carly Fiorina, Ted Cruz and Trump, because of his reputation as a hard-charging, no-nonsense, call-a -spade-a- shovel kind of soldier who had run afoul of the Obama administration. They liked his pungent criticism of ‘failed’ Obama policies in West Asia and the Maghreb, his attributing the intervention in Libya following the previous bad experience in Iraq and the nuclear deal with Iran to “zero strategic thinking out of [the Obama] White House” and to “a national security structure that has lost its way when it comes to strategic thinking and strategic decision-making.”

In the event, Flynn ended up joining Trump’s team at a time when better known, more highly regarded defence intellectuals and military professionals shied away from associating with the Republican nominee. Trump’s gratitude may translate into Flynn’s appointment as the next US Secretary of Defense, or National Security Advisor.

So, what are Flynn’s beliefs that may resonate with the Hindu fringe? In an interview published in the Washington Post on August 15th, 2016, he said that “Islam is an ideology and there’s a religious component to it that’s radicalised and in some cases it masks itself behind that religion, especially in our country, because of freedom of religion.” He went on to say that extremism is in the nature of Islam, asserting that “there’s a diseased component inside the Islamic world, the Muslim world… It’s like a cancer and it has metastasized and grabbed hold in a much bigger way”. “There is,” he added, “a problem in the Islamic ideology” but that this “significant expansion of radical Islamism” was not called out by a politically correct Obama.

Obviously, the containment of extremist Islamist ideology in the Muslim world, including Pakistan, could be a baseline for the Modi Government to egg on the Trump administration. Flynn also echoes Trump’s sentiments about restricting the flow of Muslim immigrants into the US from, among other countries, Pakistan. In any case, Flynn’s clincher is in his extending Trump’s line on NATO states having to pay for the US military presence in Europe to American client states in West Asia and in the US Central Command area (encompassing Pakistan and Afghanistan). Wealthy countries in this region, he said, would have to pay “for the relationship they want to have with the United States, to continue to provide some means of security and stability in the region” or, in lieu of financial compensation, Washington, he stated “can put a different set of demands on these guys. Our conversations have been too polite. Our conversations have been political conversations with political people who try to be politically correct and not with people who can say, ‘Okay, what is it we want to have going forward?’” Such a demand could involve, according to Flynn, the countries having to take verifiable steps to cleanse their societies of the extremist virus.

In this context, the problem for the Modi Government may be this: The Pakistan Army and political circles are past masters at emptying American wallets while ostensibly fighting terrorists. Islamabad has benefitted from similar US programmes of quid pro quo in the ongoing US war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, for instance, that have generally ended up enriching and strengthening the traditional elites in that country. And Messrs Trump and Flynn, consistent with their policy vis-a-vis NATO and West Asia, may demand either that India pay in cash for the US blunting the terrorist threat emanating from Pakistan, or pay in kind by fielding Indian Army units alongside US Special Forces deployed in Afghanistan—not the sort of bargain New Delhi may be looking for.

Russia, far from being a bugaboo for Trump, is a country the US president- elect thinks he can do business with as long as the Kremlin shows the US, in Flynn’s words, proper “respect”. China is another matter. Sino-US relations may be in for a bumpy ride because Trump will feel hard-pressed to deliver on his promise to correct the trade imbalance with China, renegotiate new terms, or shut off Chinese access to the US market, and thereby start a trade war. In either case, India is in a position to exploit the US fears of China, on the one hand, and to force Beijing to deliver on its infrastructure investment promises and actually open up the Chinese market to Indian goods, on the other hand.

The core benefit to India (as argued in my ‘Why Trump is Good for India’, Open, July 29th, 2016) could be that it will cure the Indian Government of perceiving the US as the foreign policy crutch of choice in the new millennium. For too long, New Delhi has banked on outside powers to protect and advance its interests. India will have to learn to rely on itself and its own resources as Trump presides over an America that cannot any more afford its own primacy.
Published as “Trust in Trump” in ‘Open’ magazine, Nov 11, 2016, at

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
This entry was posted in Afghanistan, Asian geopolitics, China, Europe, Geopolitics, Great Power imperatives, India's China Policy, India's Pakistan Policy, India's strategic thinking and policy, Indian Army, indian policy -- Israel, Iran and West Asia, Iran and West Asia, Pakistan, Pakistan military, Russia, South Asia, Special Forces, Strategic Relations with the US & West, US., Western militaries. Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Trumping the system

  1. andy says:

    If the result of Trump being elected POTUS is that India learns to take care of its own security rather than relying on crutches provided by external powers, it will be a huge step forward in Indias great power aspirations.For too long,India has relied on others to protect and advance its interests, all the while forgetting that its a cutthroat world full of Shylocks looking for their pound of flesh.

    Trump couldn’t be all that bad for India, says former US diplomat William H Avery. Infact, the he could be more of a problem for China and Pakistan, he adds.

    China and Pakistan, Avery says, have been using the US as a cash cow for decades: China by running a huge trade surplus ($366 billion in 2015); Pakistan by soaking up US aid (more than $30 billion since 2002), while pretending to fight radical Islam. All signs indicate that Trump would cut down on the flow of cash to both these countries.

    The US has lost five million manufacturing jobs over the past 15 years, while China has seen rapid growth in its manufacturing sector over the same period. Trump is electorally committed to bringing a material number of lost manufacturing jobs back to the US; the only way he can do so will be to offset Asia’s (especially China’s) labour cost advantage in manufacturing with a combination of tariff and non-tariff barriers.

    Such a move would come at the worst possible time for China, when a decades-long credit-fuelled investment boom may finally be turning to bust. For China, the potential outcomes of a trade war with the US range from sharply slower growth (best case scenario) to outright recession, which in turn could spark political unrest and, in a worst case scenario, revolution.Not a bad turn of events from Indias perspective.

    Trumps Presidency could see a diminished presence of US forces in the worlds hotspots, including the SCS.In such a scenario the SCS littoral states,distressed by Chinese belligerence, would either have to give in to chinas bullying or look to other Asian powers like India to balance china.Again not bad for India.All in all some interesting times ahead.

  2. Rituraj says:

    Problem would be if characters like John Bolton get key appointments. India would be hard pressed to adjust to clones of Michael Froman, as if one was not enough !

  3. Atul says:


    What is your stand on Indian NFU? And Why so? Can you explain?

    • Atul — Against, from when we in the NSAB group were drafting the doctrine in 1998. Explained in great detail in my books. Do please refer esp. to my ‘Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy’.

      • Atul says:

        Strange news coming from the additional notes signed during India Japan Nuclear negotiations. If I remember correctly, Indo-US one was a qualified approach if India conducts tests but this Japan one talks about cessation etc. Any clarity?

  4. Over the years, Tokyo has not budged even a bit on the “nullification” clause, which is in the second document Modi wanted not to be made public.

  5. ~!@#$%^&*()_+ says:


    Trump did this that and everything else, during the campaign. But tell me something why must Trump be considered the establishment outsider? What compelling evidence is there to show for the presumption that he is an outsider. In fact doesn’t is rise within his party of in the campaign suggests that he was being looked after well. Trump wanted to win elections since forever. He is a deal maker by profession, so what stops him from making one more with the establishment.

    If the deep state can support its candidate overtly then the same deep state can support its candidate with subterfuge too. And if voters can be fooled overtly then then the voters should be much more easily be fooled covertly.

    But on the whole I am betting that this is going to be bad for India but good for Syria/Ukraine.

    What will trump do for India. Will he stop this 300 single engined aircraft. Will he stop the nonsense in the Indian Polity that his people have started. Will he allow Indian trade surplus to rise further. Will he stop the bleed of Indian wealth that will now be round tripped. Will he release us from the demeaning LEMOA or COMCASA or will allow us to test our TN device.

    He will stop financing Pakis may be but that is only because the Chinese can now takeover the Pakistan and US does not need pakistan anymore. US needs India now.

    From Allah, America and Army it has changed to Bhagwan, America and Army. We were running against the tide earlier we have to do that again in future. Earlier we were fighting the war imposed on us by an outsider and again in future we will be fighting the other guys wars for him imposed by him on us.

    • 13 billion dollar deal between Essar and Kremlin oil giant Rosneft almost killed by Saudi and CIA. India will get nothing from Trump. China.Saudi, Pak ,CIA nexus is entrenched and too strong

  6. &^%$#@! says:

    Modi needs to be congratulated with regards to the stealth and suddenness of the recent demonetization exercise/operation. It was truly “shock and awe”.

  7. When Trump begin to show his true China, Pakistan colors he is for a big surprise. He will find out Indians aren’t lotus eaters any more the hard way. Modi has Russia, Israel cards ready.
    Sure, new avatars of Robert Blackwill, Ashley J Tellis and Robin Raphael will land in Delhi in January 2017, to insult India at our expense. They will preach India should cap Agni, Rs 1000 = 1 dollar, shut down Koodankulam, ISRO, DRDO and so on. Modi will show them and their sermons the door politely.
    In 1971 Indo- Pak War Nixon and Kissinger urged UK and China to attack India. Americans sent their mighty seventh fleet to destroy Indian Navy. Nixon called Indira bitch! Indira Gandhi didn’t blink. Brezhnev saved us.
    There was a time. In 1986- 1987 India -China border clashes, Rajiv Gandhi tested warming Soviet – China ties. China and America warned India another 1962 like painful, humiliating defeat.
    Weak, meek Gorbachev advised India to show the other cheek. American Defense Secretary arrived in Delhi to warn India to accept Chinese hegemony or perish. In reply Rajiv Gandhi airlifted 50,000 Indian troops to Chinese border.
    After tense standoff, China backed off. Show of strength saved the day in favor of the Indians.
    We never forgive or forget

    Jose Manimala Pala.

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