Trump’s speech at the State of the Union: an analysis

The absence of Pakistan from Trump’s SOTU speech indicates that either he did not consider Pakistan specifically or he was clear in his mind that the substance of his remarks will directly or indirectly address Pakistan

The President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, on completion of one year of his presidency, delivered a speech at the State of the Union on 30 January 2018. The speech projected internal and external policies of the US. It helped the world understand the nature of their diplomatic relations with the US, possible future cooperation, the US vision of the world and indicated a way to promote and serve the US interests all over the world.

The State of the Union is a constitutional forum. The article 1, section 3 and clause 1 of the US Constitution provides,” (The President) shall from time to time give to the Congress information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.”

Trump started his speech with his vision of ‘America first’. He lauded the services and role played by Americans in different walks of life within the country and abroad. The national aspect having an international expression of his speech was Otto Warmbier.

He told the story of Otto’s going to North Korea and returning to the US in a horrible condition. He told this incident for projecting North Korea as, “menace that threatens our world”. While narrating the story of Seong Ho, a North Korean now living in Seoul, South Korea, he intimated about torture committed by North Korean authorities on Seong-ho, who wanted to know whether he met any Christian during his visit to China. Here Trump’s mind went beyond America and the Christians living in the country. He probably wanted to convey a message to all the Christians that they must get united against North Korea or countries having similar exposure.

The geostrategic and geo-economic location of Pakistan, the US presence in Afghanistan, increasing influence of China in the region and an emerging China-Russia understanding vis-à-vis the US may compel the US policymakers to reconsider Trump’s commitment of his country’s assistance for its interests

The international aspect of his speech covered all the main points of foreign affairs. It included North Korea, the US immigration policy, modernising nuclear arsenal, the fight against the ISIS, and to re-examine the military detention policy and keeping Guantanamo Bay detention facilities open.

He also invited the Congress “to pass legislation to help ensure American foreign assistance dollars always serve Amercian interests and only to America’s friends”. Trump also condemned the countries which voted in favour of the UN resolution rejecting the US decision of shifting its embassy to East Jerusalem. He also discussed the sanctions imposed on Iran, Cuba and Venezuela and lauded efforts and sacrifices of the US military and non-military forces in the country and abroad.

After the speech, the national media of Pakistan reported that the US president did not mention Pakistan in his speech. It indicates that either the president did not consider Pakistan specifically or he was clear in his mind that the substance of his remarks will directly or indirectly address Pakistan. The absence of Pakistan in the statement may also be due to the reason that Trump talked a lot about Pakistan in the first year of his presidency. Going through Trump’s speech carefully shows that he, in fact, addressed Pakistan indirectly.

The US president held Russia and China as their rivals. China has been expanding its influence on the trade and strategic routes of the Indian Ocean. China’s presence in South Asia and South East Asia may obstruct the interests of the US and its allies in the Strait of Hormuz and Strait of Malacca. Moreover, since Sino-Pakistan collaboration under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC), Pakistan is on the watchlist of the United States. Thus, the status of China as a rival of the US will undoubtedly impact Pakistan.

The current relations between China, Russia and Pakistan have never looked more cordial. The former Soviet Union, now Russia, signed Security and Friendship Treaty with India in 1971. It greatly helped India to achieve its ulterior motives by interfering in the eastern wing of Pakistan and subsequent conversion of East Pakistan into Bangladesh. Pakistan supported the US against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. But in the post-cold war period that has redefined the bilateral and multilateral relations.

Russia has supported the CPEC and is also working on Eurasian Economic Union. China, Russia and Pakistan are making efforts for the restoration of peace in Afghanistan. According to a media report, China is pursuing to be included in the peace process in Afghanistan. Thus, it appears that Afghanistan is emerging as an important possible theatre of the competition between the great powers. Pakistan’s role again will be vital.

Secondly, the speech contains that the US foreign assistance will be for the American friends and interests. Apparently, Pakistan has lost that status. India and Israel are the friends of the US. The military cooperation between Israel and India is undoubtedly against the countries including Pakistan. The US has accused Pakistan of providing safe havens to the terrorists. Thus, Pakistan may not take benefit of the US assistance. However, the geostrategic and geo-economic location of Pakistan, the US presence in Afghanistan, increasing influence of China in the region and an emerging China-Russia understanding vis-à-vis the US may compel the American policymakers to reconsider Trump’s commitment of his country’s assistance for its interests and friends. The point to be pondered here is that if the US extends its assistance to Pakistan, it may help the recipient not to incline to China entirely.

Thirdly, the President expressed his determination to fight the ISIS. Reports suggest that the ISIS is getting stronger in Afghanistan and there is a talk on the growing presence of the militant group in Pakistan as well.

Lastly, the US President lamented on the countries which voted against the US decision of shifting its embassy in Israel to East Jerusalem. In other words, he considered these countries, not as friends. Thus, they may not receive the US foreign assistance. But this may not work, as Japan, the United Kingdom, India and other European countries also voted against the decision.

Trump also indicated quarters which might receive the US foreign assistance. Trump is advancing his vision of “America first”. The US president may initiate a war for securing US interests. This war may not be necessarily equipped with weapons but through diplomacy or both.

The writer is an author and has a doctorate in Political Science

Published in Daily Times, February 9th 2018.