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DSA is as much yours, as it is ours! (November 2018)

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The grisly details of Saudi dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s last moments continue to make news across the world. The fact that the purported crime occurred in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul make for truly bizarre reading since a diplomatic facility is not known to be a murder site. What makes the whole episode even more interesting is the ever changing position of President Donald Trump of the United States.

From an initial dismissal, to a gradual acknowledgement, then a denouncement, to a consistent line that business interests must not be affected, Trump has covered all the possible scenarios. But it is the ‘business interests first’ position that merits greater attention, especially since it declares a position that can, and sometimes will, run totally contrary to a committed policy on human rights and the rule of law. These are the pillars on which the US founded a policy that claimed a moral and ethical duty to global citizens. That policy is in serious jeopardy now and India better prepare for its debris.

India should have been better prepared to understand the pendulum positioning President when he took a remarkable u-turn with North Korea. It was not considered negative; on the contrary, it was a positive change to an unworkable policy on that isolationist dictatorship. It has brought about a calibrated improvement in the atmosphere over the Korean Peninsula. Remarkably, positive steps have been taken towards greater Korean unity, both at sporting events, as well as socio-military developments. But not all that Trump does in Asia has a happy beginning, or, an end.

The Saudi murder mystery is part of a pattern when it comes to dealing with those regarded as ‘friends’, which means good for business, and those who are not on the right side of Trump’s law. On that score, a committed policy and an agreement can be jettisoned in a whim when it catches the fancy of the President. The reversal of President Obama’s agreement with Iran was the beginning of the end when it comes to sanity in the Gulf. A globally recognised pact was sacrificed only so as to please some voters caught in the time warp of history.

The shifting of embassy premises from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem was another such policy reversal that met with universal opprobrium. It runs completely contrary to the two-state solution that remains a policy commitment, for it doesn’t advance the cause of peace between Israel and Palestine. And, now the contradictory declarations over the Khashoggi matter. But in this case there is at least clarity since business interests are known to prevail all over. This is a position that India must keep in mind when preparing its Asia policy analysis and implementation. Too many get carried away by visualising hypothetical benefits from an assumed US-China showdown. The fact remains that this imagined showdown may well never happen, and the benefits simply remain a mirage. For under President Trump, a business deal that sweetens the policy may well appear, and all those hoping to pick up crumbs be left with none to collect.

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