Minhaz Merchant

Minhaz Merchant is the biographer of Rajiv Gandhi and Aditya Birla and author of The New Clash of Civilizations (Rupa, 2014). He is founder of Sterling Newspapers Pvt. Ltd. which was acquired by the Indian Express group

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Trump Goes Toxic

The West has polluted the world for over 200 years since the industrial revolution in the 1770S... through the 1900S

Photo Credit : Shutterstock,

President Donald Trump has overplayed his hand. Elected against the odds, Trump has made three potentially fatal errors in his young presidency.

First, by walking out of the Paris climate agreement, he has abandoned America’s claim to global leadership – an unchallenged position it has held since the end of the Second World War. Trump’s meandering speech decrying the dangers of global warming as a pretext to walk out of the Paris accord was strong on rhetoric, weak on fact.

Second, by mollycoddling Saudi Arabia Trump has weakened the fight against Islamist terrorism. The Saudis are the fount of Wahhabism, the toxic religious philosophy that spurs radical terror groups like the Islamic State (ISIS), al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Third, by taking his travel ban to the Supreme Court, he has doubled down on his anti-immigration stand. If the Supreme Court either refuses to hear the matter – or finds against the ban – Trump’s presidency will be severely damaged.
Consider each of these three missteps. By pulling the US out of the Paris climate accord, Trump has backed America’s traditional polluters: petrol cars, coal mines and smokestack manufacturing industries that belong to the 20th Century.
Forward-looking business leaders like Elon Musk, CEO of  Tesla, resigned from the President’s advisory council within 12 hours of Trump’s announcement to withdraw from Paris. Musk makes electric cars so his resignation has an element of self-interest: Trump’s move will slow the switch to electric cars by lowering the bar on carbon emissions.

Most business leaders, however, have criticised Trump’s regressive policy to dismiss the real threat of global warming. To add insult to injury, Trump accuses India of seeking billions of dollars in aid to meet its carbon emission targets. That’s simply untrue. India has legitimately sought funds from developed countries to upgrade technology in order to meet its commitments under the Paris agreement.

The West has polluted the world for over 200 years since the industrial revolution in the 1770s. It has grown rich off colonialism, the African slave trade and invasive settlements in North America and Australasia – while continuing to pollute copiously as it developed industrially through the1900s.

America remains the world’s second largest polluter after China. It spews 15 per cent of the world’s total carbon emissions into the atmosphere compared to India’s 6.3 per cent. On a per capita basis, an American emits ten times the carbon pollutants of an Indian. China, the world’s largest polluter, emits 29 per cent of the world’s pollutants. On a per capita basis, a Chinese emits more than four times the greenhouse gases than an Indian.

These historical and contemporary facts have not eluded Trump. He has chosen to ignore them in order to tell his voter demographic – old, white, under-employed men – that their smokestack industry jobs are safe.

The second big misstep which will return to haunt Trump as his presidency unfolds is his Saudi tilt. Saudi Arabia was an early sponsor of ISIS along with Qatar (with which it has cut diplomatic ties, ironically, over Doha’s terror links) and the United Arab Emirates. These Sunni kingdoms wanted to use ISIS to help evict Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, an ally of Shia Iran, Riyadh’s sworn enemy.

Assad is an Alawite, a Shia-affiliated sect. Shia-majority Iraq, Iran and Syria along with Lebanon’s Shia militia Hezbollah form a wall against Saudi-led Wahhabism in the Middle East. Before the illegal US invasion of Iraq in 2003, Baghdad was one of the Arab world’s most secular cities, albeit ruled by a brutal Sunni dictator, Saddam Hussein, who nonetheless kept Sunni-Shia tensions at bay for three decades.

By siding with the more fanatical interpreters of Islam like Saudi Arabia, Trump has backed the wrong horse. He is right in reversing former President Barack Obama’s policy of regime change in Syria and identifying ISIS as the real threat, not Assad. But the Saudis are playing a double game. As the defeat of ISIS in Syria (Raqqa) and Iraq (Mosul) nears, the Saudi royals have turned against their progeny. Riyadh’s unhinged enmity with Tehran will roil the Middle East for years to come. Trump’s visceral dislike for Iran has drawn him closer to the Saudis, a decision he will come to regret.  

The third policy error of the Trump presidency is its anti-immigration stand. The White House-led travel ban from six Muslim-majority countries, defeated multiple times by lower courts, is now with the US Supreme Court. It is unlikely to make it through a court that traditionally frowns on issues which violate Constitutional guarantees against religion-based discrimination. If the Supreme Court does not allow the travel ban to go through, the Trump presidency will be shorn of the little credibility it has left.

Instead of cosying up with the backward and brutal Islamists who rule Saudi Arabia, Trump should by now have launched a concerted assault on the Taliban in Af-Pak. The truck bomb that killed over 90 people in Kabul’s diplomatic enclave was the handiwork of the Pakistani Army. Afghanistan should be the focus area for Trump. Pakistan’s terror factories that attack Afghanistan are a global menace on par with ISIS.

America’s defence secretary, James (‘Mad Dog’) Mattis, has grasped the problem quicker than his boss Trump. He said recently that the US had switched tactics from driving ISIS out of Raqqa and Mosul, to “annihilating” them there. The logic: if the ISIS freelance fighters get out alive, they will be tomorrow’s lone wolf suicide bombers in London, Paris or Orlando.

It is the same policy of annihilation – no escape, no surrender – that must be employed against the Taliban in Af-Pak and proscribed Punjab-based terror groups like the Lashkar-e -Taiba whom the ISI deploys in Jammu & Kashmir.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to meet Trump later in June. Modi shouldn’t mince words. Trump is a dealmaker by profession. Modi has much to offer, including the world’s second largest consumer market.

The magic word for Trump is jobs. India, far from taking away infotech jobs from Americans, can create millions of new jobs in the US with deals across defence equipment, infrastructure, telecom, retail and technology.  

Trump may err on climate change, Saudi Arabia and immigration. But he knows a good deal when he sees one. Modi must give it to him.

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