So, who is next in Washington?
The US elections will be the prime determinant of the world’s future. If Trump wins a second term, his tenure will pull the US back internationally, weaken multilateral organisations and also trade blows with China.Updated: Jan 01, 2020 06:35 IST
United States President Donald Trump wants Americans to come home. Or, if they are playing cop overseas, be paid handsomely by foreigners. In some regions, the US leader simply wants out. It is a theme that will play out even more forcefully in 2020. Many Democratic Party candidates, out to deny Trump re-election this year, equate him with isolationism. Before US voters turn out in November, he wants to bring American troops back home from at least one war. And he doesn’t want the US to be involved in any new ones. The coming year will be about regional powers and near-superpower China jostling to take advantage as the US turns more inward and the world gets hairier.
Chinese President Xi Jinping will try and seize the moment. Watch him try and squeeze South-East Asia out of the Western orbit. He will use the trade war with the US to make China self-sufficient in microchips, software and servers and, to create a market for all this, export its digital standards across the world.
Russia will sell its military equipment across West Asia, Africa and even Europe. Vladimir Putin’s real prize: persuade Ukraine to accept the loss of Crimea. Iran has already assembled an informal Shia empire stretching to the Mediterranean. Knowing Trump is shy of exchanging fire, Tehran will consolidate its hold on Yemen and otherwise corner arch-enemy Saudi Arabia. Advantage Iran – except its economy is tanking as oil prices stagnate and sanctions bite. The coming year is a chance for two-tier powers to flex muscle. But most have feet of economic clay, thrive on US insouciance and weak neighbours rather than the real power. They will assert themselves and likely make a mess of things.
Don’t expect the US’s erstwhile allies to fill the blanks. The European Union will be free of the British by the first half of 2020 but don’t expect too much. For all his warnings of “bipolarisation between the US and China,” France’s Emmanuel Macron is in a yellow straitjacket. Germany, Spain, Italy and almost all the Continent will be on the hunt for stable leadership.
Brexit divorce over, Boris Johnson will seek to ensure alimony doesn’t sink the economy. Expect Trump-like tax cuts and monetary generosity. Japan will be ship-shape politically, but its economy will struggle as will Shinzo Abe’s hopes of re-militarising his country. Israel’s political gridlock may continue well into 2020 but, whatever happens, the era of Binyamin Netanyahu is over.
The war in which Trump would like most to lower the US flag is Afghanistan. New Delhi is bracing for this likelihood. The only silver lining is that Pakistan, long salivating at the prospect of a Taliban takeover, doesn’t have enough silver to take advantage. It will begin 2020 with an economy smaller than Bangladesh’s. But US presidential campaigns often become so all-consuming as to leave no space for any policy initiative so the Afghan war may stagger on. A geopolitical dark horse that could change all this is Burkina Faso: the small African state is in danger of being the third country to fall to Islamic State fighters.
The US elections will be the prime determinant of the world’s future. A second-term Trump will see the US pull back internationally and weaken multilateral organisations, but also trade blows with China. If he is defeated by a leftwing Democrat, the first will still hold and the third may not. If a mainstream Joe Biden-type wins, only the third may hold. Which is why the world will hold its breath as the campaign unfolds. Trump’s victory is not assured: independent voters are uncertain, six or seven purple states are in play, and the US economy, like the rest of the global economy, may tank in 2020. Be assured, Trump will be dangerously entertaining and will make Twitter the unofficial media partner of his campaign. What will be the indicator for the world to watch: the mood of Michigan workers and Wisconsin dairy farmhands in November.