Twitter, Trump and the fate of the American empire : Dawn Columnist

The Twitter logo is shown with the US flag during the company's IPO on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, on Nov 7, 2013.
The Twitter logo is shown with the US flag during the company's IPO on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange, on Nov 7, 2013.PHOTO: REUTERS

KARACHI (DAWN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - Despite its high-market valuation, Twitter is reportedly losing money. It may be a blessing for the world if it was to shut down. Then, the "bellicose ignoramus" (in the words of Martin Wolf in the Financial Times) who has been elected as the 45th president of the United States would not be able to try and express impromptu US policies in less than 140 characters. Trump appears addicted to this medium as the channel to communicate his feelings, facts, and non-facts, reducing the discussion of serious policy issues to the level of farce.

Even prior to assuming office, Trump's tweets have moved markets, cowed corporations into making wrong decisions, provoked official démarches from China, evoked praise from Vladimir Putin, and created an unprecedented public disagreement between the incoming US president and the entire US intelligence 'community'.

If Twitter does not fold, it may be in the national security interest of the US, and indeed of world security, if these US intelligence agencies could prove their prowess by somehow shutting down Trump's Twitter account or making his smartphone disappear. While they are at it, perhaps the telephone lines to the White House could also be put on automatic response mode with a recording of Trump's effusive call with the Pakistan prime minister to ensure that he does not accidentally threaten war against India or one of America's remaining friends if they call.

If Trump's tweeted prescriptions are translated into policy, it could yield a diversity of disasters for America and the world. Here are some examples.

- Build a wall on the US-Mexican border to halt illegal immigrants. It is now to be funded (S$28.8 billion) from the US federal budget (since Mexico has predictably refused to pay for it). The wall, if it is ever built, is likely to be circumvented by tunnels and bribery and corruption.

- Question the "One China" policy as a means of coercing trade concessions from China. This crude proposal would destroy the foundation of the Sino-US relationship, often described as the most important bilateral relationship in the world. It could spark a crisis in the Taiwan straits, and possibly an unwanted war.

- Impose punitive tariffs on Chinese imports. This would invite Chinese retaliation, increase prices for American consumers and fail in reviving outdated US manufacturing jobs.

- Coerce China to reverse North Korea's nuclear brinkmanship. This may end current Chinese cooperation and embolden Pyongyang to accelerate its nuclear and missile programmes.

- Take military action against Pyongyang. Another Korean war would devastate both North and South Korea, America's ally. The possibility of North Korea's collapse will lead to pre-emptive Chinese intervention.

- Align with Russia in Syria to fight the militant Islamic State group (not Assad). Unless the US is prepared to induct ground troops, this alignment also implies acceptance of Iran's overwhelming influence in Syria and Iraq. This would contradict Trump's endeavour to restrain Iran's role in the region and to strengthen if not scuttle the Iran nuclear deal. It will also further alienate Saudi Arabia and other Arab allies.

- Lift US sanctions imposed on Russia (for its takeover of Crimea and role in eastern Ukraine). This will face strong opposition from both the Democrats and influential Republicans like Senators McCain and Graham.

- Engage in a nuclear arms race (with Russia). This tweet appears to contradict the desire for normalisation with Moscow. In any case, both Russia and the US are already engaged in significant nuclear modernisation. The real bone of contention is the US plan to deploy a strategic anti-missile system in Eastern Europe.

- Reduce financial subsidies for Nato allies and Japan. This could reduce US influence in Europe; intensify the vulnerability of the Baltic states, and enhance Russia's influence and role in Europe. Japan may turn to greater militarisation or seek accommodation with China and Russia.

- Align with anti-European Union nationalist parties in Europe, like France's Front National. This may contribute to the swing under way in Europe towards the right-wing, xenophobic and Islamophobic groups. It could erode the EU, divide Europe and remove a main pillar of the Western power structure.

- Support Israel's illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, thus undermining the two-state solution, the only viable prospect for durable peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The proposal to move the US embassy to (occupied) Jerusalem would confirm US alignment with Israel's occupation and confirm the narrative of terrorist groups, like IS and Al Qaeda, that Muslims can secure justice only through the force of arms.

Trump's approach to foreign policy is a reversion to the ruthless use of US military power and economic coercion in the 19th and 20th centuries to secure the strategic advantages that made America 'great'. But the world is no longer one where the US can dictate its will. Military and economic power is more widely distributed today, between the US, China, Europe, Russia and several emerging nations. Foreign military interventions, unless undertaken with local support, can be disastrous, as evident from the quagmires in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria. Asymmetric warfare has emerged as an effective avenue for the weak to inflict pain on more powerful adversaries.

The world today is also interdependent. Trade is a complex web of discrete and mutually reinforcing cross-national production and consumption. Mercantilist policies can disrupt these production/consumption chains to mutual detriment. The world also confronts several common challenges - climate change, poverty and nuclear conflict - which can only be addressed collectively by the international community.

It is uncertain if Donald Trump will be made cognisant of these realities once in office. The team he has chosen consists of mostly those who have shaped his regressive positions. There is thus little assurance that Trump's tweets will give way to well-considered policies.

Ignorant aggression has caused the downfall of many great nations and empires in the past. Does Donald Trump herald the decline and fall of the American empire?

The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.