Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1329, (26 January - 1 February 2017)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1329, (26 January - 1 February 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Another new world

Ahead of Trump’s entrance to the White House there has been much talk as to what might happen. Now the task is to discern what is already happening, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

I am writing this some hours before Donald Trump is crowned president of the United States. By the time readers see this we will be probably staring at a new world. Trump does not pause much to listen to his advisers or to what other institutions might have to say.

That the individual has a role to play in history is an established fact. Even those who emphasised the socioeconomic determinants of the movement of history, such as Marx and Engels, ultimately had to acknowledge the role of the individual. Engels went one further to say that “coincidence” also plays a role sometimes. The Trump campaign was unique, not because it ultimately brought him to the White House but because it proposed the previously unconceivable in form and substance and had the US along with the entire world sitting on the edge of their seats as never before. But as much as the new US president seems one-of-a-kind he is simultaneously an American expression of a widespread trend in the West the features of which have been well-identified. Also, like all individuals, he is like no other individual. In brief, Trump made of himself an American “brand name.” Now he wants to globalise it.

Times change even if past and present share a common feature such as the birth of a new era that bursts through the doors carrying with it new outlooks and instruments. In 1991, after the war to liberate Kuwait, George Bush Sr announced the dawn of a “New World Order.” Soon after, the Soviet Union collapsed entirely. This was a year or two after the fall of the Berlin Wall and rebellion in one East European country after the other. During the quarter of a century since that historic moment, the world changed on the crest of the third industrial revolution, the end of the Cold War and the vision of a new “global village” governed by the rule of law, the UN and the WTO. All hailed “globalisation” which at times held the Arab world in thrall due the multihued diversity of the “one world” and at other times aroused its indignation because, ultimately, it was a formula for the domination of the advanced West over all other countries — the “West and the rest” as a saying put it at the time. Still, the world had changed entirely. What was once an amazing invention — the computer and its offshoots — became not only normal and accessible but indispensable to our lives. But what was truly surprising was that in spite of that increasingly close inter-human contact, through modern travel and communications, a group of people would begin to launch small terrorist operations and then escalate these to massacres with the “invasion” of New York and Washington on 11 September 2001. With this the curtains of the global stage opened to the tune of another language. The promised light of the “End of History” that had heralded the liberal dawn was eclipsed by a darkness hailing from the Middle Ages and the “clash of civilisations.”

Does Trump’s rise to power crown the birth of another new world or is it another phase of an existing new world that is still in formation and nebulous?

Or is it all just about historical evolution in which the actors have changed but the play remains the same as the one we have been watching unfold in our modern era? The answer to this question is in the eyes of its beholders. It depends on where they stand with regard to the various perspectives of history. Perhaps here we should content ourselves with the definition of “new” as a reality that is definitely different from that to which we have grown familiar in the past quarter of a century since Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. Yahoo News political columnist Matt Bai observed that Trump subscribes to the isolation and the type of populism that is currently sweeping Western nations, and that is similar to that which led to the German economic recovery before World War II. Bai states: “Trump rejects free trade. He rejects our disproportionate role in the military defence of Europe and the West. He rejects the diversifying of our culture and the opening of our borders. You can say this is only a momentary digression. You can imagine that Trump represents a kind of national catharsis, after which we will get ourselves together and continue on with the sober business of statecraft and global leadership. But here’s the thing: Once you leave a vacuum, it’s not so easy to step back in and say you were only messing around. Economic rules get written. Rising powers exploit the moment. The world looks elsewhere for predictability.”

We have previously discussed the foregoing ideas in this column. However, henceforward our task will not be so much to analyse and to predict, as it will be to observe a reality that has already begun to take shape. I refer here not only to the team that Trump will be bringing with him to power, but also to the brigade he is assembling to pounce on the federal bureaucracy in order to dismantle a whole gamut of social and environmental programmes he dislikes and to roll back an array of laws he disapproves of. Republican Congressmen are still blinking their eyes in disbelief that they now have the chance to teardown the whole Obama legacy of social and economic reform. But it is also clear that it will not be long before the impact of all this will become evident, not just in the American social and economic environment but more important in ethnic and race relations in the US. The political movement in the US will not be in one direction, from Trump down. It will also emanate upwards from broad swathes of the American people, and not just Hillary Clinton supporters or those who question the legitimacy of Trump’s Russian-assisted electoral victory. It will also come from the millions who refuse to concede to a premature end to the liberal dawn.

In foreign policy, the Trump programme, or at least that much of it that can be deduced from his speeches and tweets, will begin with a grand adventure: A historic deal with Russia. It will cover all points of issues between the two countries: Ukraine, Syria, terrorism, US and Western sanctions, the dismantlement or weakening of international organisations such as the WTO and the UN, nuclear arms reductions (or the reverse since Trump does not seem very interested in preventing the spread of nuclear weapons) and, of course, North Korea, which is likely to be the first crisis or test that Trump faces.

The list goes on, but it is founded on a single premise, which is that a deal is possible. What remains unknown, however, is what Putin wants to get out of this American magnanimity that ultimately decrees a partition of the world or the creation of a kind of “condominium” with mandate power over the world’s fate. All of which brings us back to the beginning. We need to brace ourselves for another new world. It might be real, it might be the wisps of dreams or nightmares, it may merely produce some counterpoints to the greater curve of human progress. All these possibilities are open. The current plan is to wait and see. I do not think we will have to wait long. Fasten your seatbelt!

The writer is chairman of the board, CEO and director of the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies.

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