Trump: Off the Hook

After a twenty-two-month investigation on alleged Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential election special counsel Robert Mueller handed over his report to US Attorney General  Raymond Barr last week. While the report is not public Barr has released its conclusions. Mueller has stated that there is no evidence that President Donald Trump and his election campaign conspired or colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 US Presidential election.

Mueller has however held that Russia, by itself, had sought to intervene in the election process; consequently, during the course of the investigation many Russian individuals and entities were indicted for allegedly doing so. Of course US prosecutors cannot really act on these indictments for it will be impossible for them to get hold of the indicted Russians.

On allegations against Trump for obstructing justice Mueller noted “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime it also does not exonerate him”. In his letter to US Congressional leaders, Barr asserted that as Mueller had not reached any legal conclusions on this charge it was his duty to decide if the President’s conduct described by Mueller constituted a crime; he had reached the conclusion that it did not.

Trump is elated because the fear of an adverse Mueller report leading to criminal charges has lifted. Such charges could not have resulted in a trial but Trump’s moral authority would have vanished and impeachment would have been likely. Trump’s satisfaction is all the greater for Mueller also concluded that no further indictments were necessary. Thus, Trump’s son and son-in-law are also off the hook.

The opposition Democratic party is deeply disappointed and some of its members in the House of Representatives may begin processes to dig out facts to embarrass Trump. However, as the Mueller investigation was extremely detailed and thorough it is unlikely that their efforts will reveal facts that can seriously damage Trump. The Mueller report too when it is finally made public may contain portions that indicate some instances of impropriety on Trump’s part but this is unlikely to faze the President or his supporters.

With all this effectively behind him there will be a more assertive Trump. How will he now act in the domestic and foreign policy spheres? Some thoughts are given below.

 A Trump bid for a second term is now assured. It is true that Trump did not win the popular vote in the 2016 election and a strong challenger may emerge from among the Democrats but it is never easy to defeat a sitting President. Besides, Trump’s base is intact. He will no doubt feed it with assertive actions on issues such as immigration and trade protection and inaction on issues such as environmental protection or gun control. Liberal America will wring its hands. It will be able to do little more.

Now on some aspects of the external front. Trump’s decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights cannot be entirely attributed to the Mueller report because he had recognised Jerusalem as the country’s capital in December 2017 and so the US had shifted its embassy there in May 2018. It is likely though that an adverse Mueller report may have paused his hand on the Golan issue. The Golan decision may not attract the same intense vociferous opposition as the Jerusalem one because of the internal contradictions of the Arab and Islamic worlds.

Israel occupied part of the Golan Heights during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war. It claimed thereafter that the territory was necessary for its security and annexed it in 1981. That step was condemned by the United Nations and no country gave it legal sanctity. Now the US has become the first to do so. Trump has, once again, shown disdain for collective global action and has preferred to go ahead unilaterally. In this process he is only eroding the very world order that the US has sought to maintain since World War 2.

Trump announced the Golan decision with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu standing by his side in Washington. It is expected that the decision will boost Netanyahu’s electoral chances in the difficult upcoming Israeli elections. That this too constitutes meddling in another country’s election process perhaps escaped the US President at a time when Mueller’s report had catalogued alleged Russian intervention in the US process.

Significantly, Trump railed against Iran as he stood along with Netanyahu. Here too what he wants is the overthrow of the clerical order and regime change. The fact is that despite swearing to uphold the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries all states seek to do so, in keeping with their capacities, when they assess that their interests demand such action. It is only that the world’s most powerful country does not want that other countries should try to do to it what it routinely does to them!

Trump will now, with the Mueller boost, put greater pressure on his negotiators to conclude discussions with the Taliban so that he can order the return of more US troops from Afghanistan. The negotiation process will not be easy for the US is conducting itself virtually as a defeated power and the Taliban hold most of the cards. The next few weeks will show if the Taliban agree to a general cease-fire. That will indicate forward movement.

India’s region and the world will now have to get used to the idea that Donald Trump may be here to stay for six more years.