19 August 2017

Africa: 'Trumpism' Is Mercantilism With a Different Hair-Do

Photo: Daily Monitor
U.S. president Donald Trump.
opinion

Emerging realities are reminding the world of what has occurred in the eve of the two World Wars. While modern and enlightened theories are being threatened; ideas that have caused tension and havoc across the globe in the 1930's are getting resurrected.

The paradox of today is that the concept behind collective action and cooperation between nations is either fading, compromised or manipulated to serve the political or economic interests of a few. The principle that erects institutions for global causes is being eroded by those that question their role and importance for world peace, stability and collective wellbeing.

With the 'good' being portrayed as 'evil', and vice versa, our world is on the brink of a mass confusion. The hotbed of those mass confusions is a rigid global order and policies advocated by the new leader of the so-called free world, United States president Donal Trump.

It is a time when the global order is bearing fertile ground for the rise of populism and nationalism. The retired but extraordinarily dangerous policies of the Trump administration are propelling mass confusion, adding to the anguishes of the day.

To corroborate how Trump's half-baked policies are sparking mass confusion across the globe three factors have to be raised.

First, Trump's ideas are bewildering, even to the post-Brexit world. The past seven months since Trump's presidency is an indicator that Americans are on a fast track to mass confusion, with plenty to testify how Trump policies gainsay his working principle - America first. The ongoing row in the Middle East is a clear testimony that Trump is shipping his baffling principles off shore.

Since the time Trump was a candidate in the U.S presidential election, he has been supporting populist and nationalist movements that had started to sweep the world in recent years. Worth mentioning in this regard are the likes of Nigel Farage's pro-Brexit United Kingdom Independence Party, and Frances far-right, anti-immigration, National Front, led by Marine Le Pen. It was unfortunate that such groups succeeded in the United Kingdom; but their ideology was defeated in France, thanks to the French electorate.

Trump move to support nationalism and populism is inflaming mass confusion. His agendas, as has been witnessed with the consequences of Brexit, are all futile. United Kingdom (UK) is soon to count the economic cost of Brexit with billions of pounds in lost businesses, capital flight and an uncertain future risking millions of jobs. The post-Brexit reality may also threaten U.Ks sovereignty. Scotland, which badly needs the European Union (EU), is considering a referendum to leave the four states that form the UK - the other three being Wales, England and Northen Ireland.

More than financial damages is how Brexit threatens the concept of integration and cooperation. For the EU, which has shown the fruits of unity and cooperation, Brexit is a step backward, denigrating the value of those essential traits whose impact is far-reaching to the peace, stability and harmony of Europe, and the world at large.

Ironically, Trump's socio-political movement, Trumpism, is threatening global agenda, sparking economic and political nationalism across the world. Basically, Trump's policies are self-refuting, with the whole set of actions and reactions pertaining to his policies appear to go against his own working principle, America First.

Trumpism resembles a body of economic thought known as mercantilism. An economic principle that originated in Europe, dating as far back as the 16th century, mercantilism takes foreign trade as the engine and the merchant class as the fuel of the economy. With its genesis ascribed to Britain, mercantilism was quick to spread to other parts of Europe, referred to as Colbertism and Cameralism in France and Germany, respectively.

The teachings of mercantilism outlaws win-win situations in the international trade regime. The policy inference is that countries have to subsidize their exports and levy substantial tariffs and quotas on imports so that products would flood foreign markets and help amass gold and silver, the then-international currencies.

Above all, the principles of mercantilism reach beyond the realm of economics to govern bilateral and multilateral relationships concerning politics and security. Therefore, mercantile policies likely drive other countries to economic nationalism, which later turns into a political rift, in the end instigating military confrontations.

Indeed, 16th century history reveals how mercantilist policies drove major European powers - Portugal, Spain, Great Britain and the Dutch Republic - into war. Anyone who understands the significance of history would understand how much the world is risking if Trumpism, a variant of modern day mercantilism, is allowed to govern the world order. Adapting mercantile principles in today's globalized world - as it appeals to Trumpism - is not just ironic, but a crime as political actors on the global stage should know by now how much it contributes to mass confusion.

And of all the significant geopolitical relationships the US can affect, Trump's attitude towards the Middle East may be the most detrimental.

Although the political system in the Gulf states, dominated by despotic Sheikdoms, is dire, waving alternative ideas to the agenda of the ruling families is taboo, if not punishable by law. The ruling class in those oil rich Sheikdoms do not tolerate any moves they believe could minimize regime life.

Worth mentioning in this regard is the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The country has been at the forefront in suppressing opposition voices. The billions of petrodollars in the coffer of the ruling Al-Saud family has been more than enough to convince the other Gulf States to live by the dictums of Saudi Arabia.

Any resistance or refusal, as in the case of Qatar, is met by aggressive economic sanctions. Tendencies of the country to domineer the Arab world have never been abated by Western powers, and the recent visit of Donald Trump to Saudi Arabia have invigorated the country's appetite to dominate its neighbours.

Trump's strategy for the Arabian peninsula looks to 'fighting terrorists' from within the Middle East by getting Saudi Arabia to play a vital role, endorsing the country to handle terrorism in the region. Pundits close to Middle East politics, however, raise the adverse consequences of the new development, arguing the inevitability that Saudi Arabia will take advantage of the responsibility.

The mandate will help the country silence progressive ideas in the Gulf region. Moreover, the aftermath of the new political dynamic is already exacerbating sectarian tension in the region. Subsequently jeopardising pragmatism in the region, which appears to have been spearheaded by the kingdom of Qatar.

Since the last decades or so, Qatar has changed its foreign policy to one of pragmatism, rather than sectarianism, in its diplomatic relation with predominantly Muslim countries. Qatar's progress is unlike that of other Gulf states, whose foreign policies are dictated by sectarian lines as defined by the powerful Saudi Arabia.

As a means to execute its new foreign policy, Qatar forged various mediums, one of which was the establishment of the Al Jazeera news network. Based in Doha, Al Jazeera has been hailed for serving the youth in the Arab world with alternative ideas different from the ones perpetrated by the Saudi government. This explains why Saudi and its allies would call upon the closure of Al-Jazeera as one of the thirteen demands made to Qatar before embargoes are to be lifted and relationships normalised.

All in all, the moves by the Trump administration are so far only injuring the long term interests of the populace of the Arab world. His policies add fuel to sectarianism, the number one reason for tension and turmoil in the region.

Worst of all, Trump's policies take their toll on the essential ingredients for the long term democratic development of the region as it disdains free speech and dialogue and allows coercion to persist. As it swaps progressive and enlightened ideas for 'dated' and 'degenerated' ones, Trump's foreign policy sparks mass confusion in the Middle Eastern in particular, and the world stage at large.

 (Ruhe215@gmail.com) Is a Lecturer in the Department of Economics At Jigjiga University.

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