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Opinion

October 12, 2018

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Laughing with Trump

Weary of my growing frustration with the reigning superpower’s shenanigans in the Middle East under Bush-43, my former editor would admonish me: “Take it easy. The ‘leader of the free world’ is here to entertain us. This is so much fun! Enjoy it while it lasts”.

Indeed, the eight eventful years of the man who saw the world in the stark binaries of ‘with us or against us’ had been all fun and games for distant pundits and analysts around the world. However, for those inhabiting the vast region called the greater Middle East, stretching from North Africa in the West to north-western China in the East – in the words of inimitable Iqbal, Neel ke sahil say lekar taba khaak-e-Kashgar (From the banks of the Nile up to the soil of Kashgar) – those eight years of W had been far from amusing.

They obliterated two countries, not to mention nearly two million lives and a great ancient civilisation. Indeed Iraq had been celebrated as the cradle of civilisation until the ‘coalition of the willing’ decided to unleash shock and awe on the Muslim country in the name of fighting terror and other holy pretexts – that too on the watch of the blessed world community and its fine institutions dedicated to the preservation of peace, freedom and democracy.

Dear readers, there is a reason I have lately been thinking of the Bush years since the angry US voters in their infinite wisdom decided to spring Donald Trump on America. And it has been one heck of a ride and riotous rollercoaster since the real estate billionaire, once known for his numerous affairs and firing people left, right and centre on TV, took charge of the most powerful office on the planet.

Pitted against the current occupant of the White House, W, the poor, perpetual butt of jokes and a favourite of late-night television hosts, comes across as the very epitome of reason and common sense.

For his many eccentricities and flaws, not to mention the endless war on terror, Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and other disasters, Bush’s White House had been guided by seasoned hands – some of them having worked with his father. This hasn’t been the case with the current US administration.

Many of Trump’s appointees were apparently chosen for their radical, neocon views rather than their experience or expertise. Even those former military types who had been inducted with great fanfare had to leave soon, brought down either by scandals, like colluding with Putin’s Russia in manipulating the US elections, or thanks to the mercuric temperament of their boss.

Many close allies and personal friends of the president have found it hard to keep pace with his myriad mood swings. Former Exxon boss Rex Tillerson, for instance, was chosen for the critical job of the secretary of state despite having no experience of diplomacy or a political office.

The avuncular Tillerson brought much gravitas to the difficult job of being America’s top diplomat. But when you have a boss who wants to hog the limelight all the time, often cutting his chosen men and women to size, it’s not easy doing your job well and surviving long. No wonder poor Tillerson flipped his lid more than once, calling his boss an “idiot”.

Perhaps, Tillerson had been the most reasonable and pragmatic of the lot employed by the president. Otherwise, this administration has had the dubious distinction of putting the most powerful country, its influential institutions and mighty war machine in the hands of Islamophobic extremists and fruitcakes like Steve Bannon.

Once considered one of Trump’s ideological mentors and gurus, Bannon is understood to be the brain behind many of the president’s delusional obsessions, like the outrageous and unprecedented ban on Muslims and the much-vaunted “beautiful wall” that Trump promised along the border with Mexico to keep out immigrants, criminals, drug dealers and rapists, to use the president’s own words.

However, even someone like Bannon couldn’t survive in Trump’s White House for long, joining an endless procession of high-profile departures, beginning with national security adviser Michael Flynn, who had to go over his involvement in the Russian meddling in US elections.

Numerous others have had to go over the same issue, even as special counsel Robert Muller expands his probe looking into the scandal that has already scorched the president’s son and son-in-law, and threatens to go right up to the man at the top.

Indeed, this administration may go down in history as the “biggest loser” in the sense it has had to lose as many as 50 top officials in less than two years. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing, I guess, considering the radical views and ideological orientation of many of these powerful men and women.

Clearly, even those men and women who were trusted and handpicked by Trump himself found it hard to function in what has mildly been described by John Kelly, the White House chief of staff under Trump, as “Crazytown”. Kelly, another Trump pick, himself privately described the president before other aides as an “idiot”, according to a new explosive book by Bob Woodward of the Watergate scandal fame.

Woodward’s new bestseller portrays this White House as utterly “chaotic, dysfunctional” and being in a perpetual state of “nervous breakdown”.

Given Woodward’s legendary reputation – he has covered the White House from Nixon to the Bushes and from Clinton to Obama – it is hardly surprising that the book, ‘Fear: Trump in the White House’, has been selling like hotcakes.

However, Woodward is not the first author to shine the spotlight on the pandemonium of this White House. He only reaffirms in excruciating detail the picture of chaos painted earlier this year by Michael Wolff in his incisive blockbuster, ‘Fire and Fury’. Considering Woodward’s professional integrity and stature, ‘Fear’ certainly carries greater punch.

Not surprisingly, the president has been quick to dismiss ‘Fear’ as “lies” and “the exact opposite of fact”. But how do Americans and the rest of the world view the sobering spectacle unfolding at Washington’s 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue?

America’s global image plummeted following Trump’s election amid widespread opposition to his administration’s policies and a widely shared lack of confidence in his leadership.

Now, as the second anniversary of his election approaches, a new 25-nation Pew Research Center survey finds that Trump’s international image remains poor, while ratings for the US are much lower than what they were during Barack Obama’s presidency.

Of the people surveyed in 25 countries, only 50 percent had a positive view of the US – a figure roughly even with Pew’s 2017 survey and down from the 64 percent that saw America positively at the end of the Obama administration. At home, the president enjoys the lowest ratings of a first-term president.

Ironically, frustration with Trump and the US is highest among some of America’s closest allies and partners. The survey also showed that respondents from across the globe have less confidence in Trump’s ability to lead than they do in Russia’s Putin and Germany’s Merkel.

Large majorities across the world feel the US is doing little to help solve major global challenges like climate change. There are signs that America’s soft power is also waning. While the US maintains its reputation for respecting individual liberty, fewer people believe this now than they did a decade ago.

The writer is an award-winning journalist and editor.

Email: Aijaz.syed@hotmail.com

Twitter: @AijazZaka

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