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View: Domestically preoccupied US to be handicapped in dealing with Chinese challenge

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By Arun Singh


The mob assault on the US Capitol on Wednesday, though shocking and unprecedented, should have been anticipated. The failure was more of inadequate police arrangement and prior coordination between the several agencies involved –– the DC Metropolitan Police, the National Guards, the FBI, the New York and Maryland State Guards.

It would be fair to conclude that the US administration was not proactive in anticipatory preparation since the rally behind the White House, and the ensuing mob, was of Trump supporters.

Trump has not hesitated to use hysteria and coercion to his purposes. At the Republican convention in 2016, where he was anointed the Republican Presidential nominee that year, the energising chant for the audience was “lock her up”, aimed at his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton.

Ted Cruz, whose was the last wicket to fall of the Republican nomination contenders, had to be provided a safety escort when he failed to explicitly endorse Trump at the Convention. His comments over the past four years have often been seen as “dog whistles” to white racist sentiment, including refusal to disavow support from a Ku Klux Clan leader, and equating a white nationalist violent rally with other protest measures.

The events on Wednesday will be a major dent to US soft power claims as a “shining city on the hill”. Despite Trump’s foibles, 74 million Americans voted for him in November 2020, a number larger than in 2016. He clearly appealed to a segment of the voters that felt disenfranchised in post- Cold War globalisation, with higher unemployment, increased drug addiction, stagnant wages and lower longevity. He also tapped into the anxiety and insecurity of the hitherto majority white population, with increasing immigration and minority numbers. His shocking success was in bending the Republican Party to his will, with Senators and Congressmen who opposed him being defeated in the subsequent primaries. More than a 100 Republican House members signed on to judicial challenges to the November election, and to the effort in the US Congress on Wednesday to decertify electoral college votes from Arizona, Pennsylvania and some other states.

Eventually, however, some institutions did stand up to him. Vice-President Pence refused his admonishments to return some electoral college votes to states. Senate Republican Majority leader Mitch McConnell led a more than 90 (out of 100) vote overwhelming rejection of challenges to the electoral rolls. US Courts, at different levels, including those presided by Trump appointees, threw out all legal challenges as ill-founded. Republican officials in several states stood their ground in rejecting Trump’s claims of electoral fraud. Attorney General Barr, FBI, Cyber Infrastructure Security Agency reaffirmed that there was no widespread fraud in the elections, contrary to Trump’s assertions.

Despite Trump now asserting that he will do a peaceful transition of power, the path ahead remains complicated. There will be a ‘civil war’ in the Republican Party, among those wanting to distance from Trump and reassert “Conservative” values, and those seeing electoral benefit in continuing the Trump branded MAGA (Make America Great Again) slogan. Biden will need some Republican support to pursue his domestic agenda.

He has identified dealing with pandemic, economy, racism and climate change as priorities.

Despite the political schisms in the US, the correct approach for India would be to strive to maintain bipartisan support. A domestically preoccupied US will be handicapped in responding to international challenges, particularly the economic, technological and military challenge from China. In 2001and 2009, China had created incidents with US aircraft or ships to test the incoming administration. It is continuing with its oppressive measures in Hong Kong. US will be tested if China makes a move in the East or South China Sea, or related to Taiwan. The world is entering a phase of enhanced uncertainty as a result of a fractured US polity.

Writer is ex-Indian ambassador to the US.

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