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Trump has weakened the U.S., taken us in the wrong direction: Nicholas Burns

| 01/10/2018

The former U.S. diplomat on Donald Trump’s first year in the White House, and what it means for India

Nicholas Burns has served in the U.S. government for 27 years and worked closely with several Presidents, Republican as well as Democratic. As Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs from 2005 to 2008, he led negotiations on the India-U.S. Civil Nuclear Agreement. Currently a Professor at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, he travels to India often, keenly follows developments and India-U.S. relations. As Donald Trump completes one year as President, he talks about the entire gamut of India-U.S. ties in the context of changing American priorities and how India is viewed by friends in America. Excerpts:

President Trump will complete his first year in office later this month. Has this first year been different from that of previous presidencies?

I think President Trump’s America First policy is a fundamental departure from 70 years of American foreign policy under both Republican and Democratic Presidents. It is a very negative departure. President Trump has weakened the U.S. and has taken us in the wrong direction. He is diminishing our commitment to some of our alliances. He has disavowed America’s traditional support for the World Trade Organisation, for big multilateral agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He has also turned his back on the existential basis of American society, which is that we are an immigrant nation. He wants to severely curtail immigration…. he has refused to take even a single Syrian refugee. He has put a travel ban on several countries, mainly Muslim. On these three structural areas — alliances, trade and immigration — he has turned his back on what Republicans and Democrats have supported for years. Besides, we have withdrawn from the Paris climate agreement, and we are the only country that is out of it now, and we are the second largest carbon emitter. Most importantly, the President appears to not see himself — as every American President since Franklin D. Roosevelt has seen himself — as the leader of the West, leader of a democratic alliance of countries, a supporter of democracy.

On alliances, the President has given conflicting signals though. He has said that the U.S. remains committed to its allies. So what do we take from this?

He has not been consistent. Every time he speaks up for South Korea or Japan… we have to remember that not long ago, he accused the South Korean government of appeasement of the North Korean government, in wanting to talk to them. Words matter. When you are the President of the U.S., you have to be consistent in conveying what you believe in. This President has not been consistent. He sees the world almost solely through the prism of trade and investment, and ignores the value of democracy and other strategic issues. This to me is a fundamental departure.

But in his speech in Poland last year he portrayed the U.S.-Europe partnership as a civilisational alliance. So he does have a view, albeit different from his predecessors, on the foundations of that relationship?

There is a crisis in Europe — the crisis is the rise of right wing populism. People like Marine Le Pen in France, Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, Viktor Orbán in Hungary, some of the right-wing leaders in Poland are fundamentally anti-democratic leaders. They don’t believe in the kind of democracy that we believe in, or you in India believe in. What the President did in Warsaw last summer was to praise a government that is flirting with anti-democratic factions. It was misguided. This is the time when the American President must be standing with the truly democratic leaders. The President failed to convey what we stand for, what American values are.

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:Trump has weakened the U.S., taken us in the wrong direction: Nicholas Burns .” The Hindu, 01/10/2018.