The U.S. presidential race isn’t only drawing attention and controversy in the United States – it’s being closely watched across the globe. But what does the rest of the world think about a campaign that has already thrown up one surprise after another? CNN asked 10 journalists for their take on the race so far, and what their country might be hoping for in America’ s next president. (We’ll also be checking in again with some of them as the campaign continues). The views expressed are the writers’ own.
Russia: A domestic win for Putin
When Donald Trump was declared the winner of the 2016 presidential election, he received a round of applause in the Russian parliament. It was a pure, almost childish expression of joy.
Since then, the “Russian factor” has loomed ominously over Trump’s impending presidency. The Russian term “kompromat” – compromising material – is entering the English language, much like “sputnik” did more than 50 years ago. The American press debates – in total seriousness – whether the Kremlin is literally keeping the President of the most powerful country on Earth on its leash and shaping his policies. More importantly, the notorious hacking story is far from over. For many in Washington, Vladimir Putin has become the main trickster of the election.
However, Russian officialdom was hardly expecting a Trump victory. Viewing the American election as a zero-sum game with the West, Putin planned for a likely defeat. Before Election Day, Russia’s propaganda machine was warming up to announce that a flawed American political system would never let the anti-establishment candidate win. That was supposed to be Russia’s consolation prize.
Then, defeat suddenly turned into victory. Russia is beyond satisfied with this serendipitous turn of events. A happy and astounded Kremlin will now try to get the most from Trump – from easing sanctions to making a deal on Syria and settling the Ukraine issue.
It is difficult, of course, to predict how Trump’s administration will address these issues and what the result will be. But this uncertainty hardly undermines the feeling that Russian officialdom has been experiencing: a sense they have achieved a moral victory over the West and its values.
Since the annexation of Crimea, the West has labeled Putin a pariah and a global threat. Yet now, Trump’s win has made something clear: It is not Putin who is a weak outlier before the world’s liberal order. Rather, it is the West that is divided and full of resentment. An outcast yesterday, Putin may now see himself as a major power broker in the emerging global Trumpworld.
The least that the Kremlin will now expect from the White House is a display of respect and equality. After what has been presented by Russian propaganda as years of unprecedented humiliation and offense from the West, Putin will easily sell his country’s newfound parity with the United States to the Russian public for his own personal gain.
Transforming Putin’s moral triumph into a dramatic expansion of Russian influence on the global stage will be trickier. But from the Kremlin’s point of view, it is probably doable.
Mikhail Fishman is editor-in-chief of The Moscow Times.
Mexico: Will Trump really pursue his ‘Mexican agenda’?
Mexico got Donald Trump elected. That, at least, is what President-elect Trump probably believes. His promises to build a wall (that Mexico will supposedly pay for), deport millions of undocumented immigrants, and renegotiate NAFTA turned Mexico and its people into the perfect scapegoat for the ills affecting America – unemployment, stagnant wages, crime and drugs.
Throughout his campaign, we all hoped he would tone down such rhetoric so as not to alienate the Hispanic vote (too much, at least). However, his rhetoric simply became more vitriolic – and more threatening.
So President Enrique Peña Nieto invited him to Mexico, perhaps in hopes that the hospitality and reality of bilateral relations would change Donald Trump´s opinion about the southern border (and awkward facts such as there being potentially millions of jobs at stake – on both sides of the border – if he decided to scrap NAFTA).
But mere hours after returning from Mexico, not only did Trump NOT change his mind, but he engaged (in Arizona of all places) in some of his most anti-immigration rhetoric yet. Meanwhile, in Mexico there was a backlash against Peña Nieto’s decision to invite Trump, forcing Finance Minister Luis Videgaray – seen as instrumental in arranging the visit – out of the Cabinet.
As the votes were tallied on election night, there was hope that Trump’s rhetoric was campaign garbage and not genuine policy. But in the two months since the election, Trump has reiterated his calls for a wall, insisted that Mexico will reimburse the US for the cost and called for the renegotiation of NAFTA and a border tax for companies that invest in Mexico and wish to send their products to the United States.
On the back of all this, the Mexican peso has plunged, and there is concern that on January 20, the least popular person in decades to be sworn in as US President will deliver a speech that could be catastrophic for the Mexican economy.
Since losing his role at the finance ministry, Luis Videgaray has been appointed foreign minister, and will head negotiations with the United States. Perhaps the President is hoping that Trump will now play and negotiate in an appropriate way. He likely is wrong.
Through his threats, tweets, and speeches, Trump may have left the President and his negotiators with no political wiggle room to sign any kind of agreement that requires ratification by the Mexican Senate. And the chances for a candidate from Peña Nieto’s party will likely be scuppered in the 2018 presidential elections unless the President can convince Trump not to initiate massive deportations and to stop insisting on building the wall.
But if Trump believes his “Mexican agenda” helped get him elected, it is hard to imagine he will do anything but continue to insist on his beautiful wall, deportations and a new and “improved” NAFTA agreement.
Ana Maria Salazar worked at the White House as policy adviser for President Bill Clinton’s special envoy for the Americas and was deputy assistant secretary of defense for drug enforcement. She writes, teaches and has anchored radio and TV news programs in Mexico since 2001.
Israel: Netanyahu breathes a sigh of relief
After eight years of hostility and tension with President Barack Obama, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will let out a huge sigh of relief Friday when Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th president of the United States.
For Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition government, Trump’s presidency is viewed as a new beginning when it comes to Israeli-US relations. One government minister went so far as to say that Trump’s victory in November signals that “the days of the Messiah” have come.
That might be a stretch, but for Israel, Trump seems like the antithesis of the outgoing president.
While Obama regularly pressured Israel to stop construction in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Trump’s advisers have said they will not. While Obama refused to move the US Embassy to Jerusalem, Trump has said that he will. And while Obama championed the Iran deal that Israel aggressively tried to prevent, Trump has raised the possibility that he will scrap it.
While this all bodes well for the current government in Jerusalem, it remains to be seen what Trump will do when it comes to Israel’s ongoing conflict with the Palestinians. Will he follow the longstanding US policy of pushing for a two-state solution or will he offer new options for a resolution?
Will he stand strong against settlement expansion or will he allow Israeli annexation of settlements as some government ministers are advocating?
So far, Trump hasn’t said much, although the announcement that his son-in-law Jared Kushner will serve as the president’s Middle East envoy seems to indicate that he plans to take on the thorny issue.
Like other countries in the Middle East, Israel is hoping to see a more engaged America playing an active role in the region. The presence of Russian military forces in Syria, for example, is believed to be directly linked to Obama’s decision not to enforce his “red line” on the use of chemical weapons in that ongoing civil war and humanitarian disaster. Leaving a vacuum allowed Russia to enter the country.
Will Trump re-engage the Middle East or will he prefer to remain on the sidelines and stay away from a region that has for decades frustrated consecutive American presidents?
Starting on January 20, the world will begin to get some answers.
Yaakov Katz is the editor-in-chief of The Jerusalem Post and co-author of “Weapon Wizards: How Israel Became a High-Tech Military Superpower.”
India: Did America get its Modi?
On the eve of the inauguration of Donald Trump, India is experiencing some of the same kind of anxiety it felt when Narendra Modi was about to become the country’s prime minister, back in May 2014.
A right-wing Hindu leader with a controversial political past who cultivated an image as an outsider, Modi’s rise to power disturbed the existing political equilibrium in the country, and his election brought with it a heightened sense of unpredictability and uncertainty among not just Indians, but overseas as well. Indeed, for many – particularly the country’s liberals – it took quite some time for the reality of a Modi premiership to sink in.
A sense of disbelief and uncertainty has gripped many people here again.
Will the improvement in India-US relations continue with a Trump administration? How will Indians settled and working in the United States be treated? Will the protectionist measures that Trump is talking about impact Indians living abroad? Will such policies affect the outsourcing that keeps so many Indians in India working?
These are just some of the questions Indians have. But the questions also extend to international affairs – how is India going to adjust if Washington decides to revise Obama’s policy towards the Middle East and western Asia? Policymakers in New Delhi are already worried, for example, that reimposing sanctions on Iran would impact India’s crude oil supply and delay the completion of Chabahar port that will create a new trade route for Afghanistan and drastically alter the trade dynamics in South Asia.
In addition, New Delhi is also keenly waiting to see how Trump goes about dealing with Pakistan. Will he continue the old policy of transactional engagement with the Muslim state or take a firm line over its support for terror groups?
But there is a more philosophical concern among liberals in India: The potential impact of a close political entente between Modi and Trump. The fear is that the political proximity between the two leaders, who have strong anti-Muslim, anti-minority images, will unleash and strengthen forces inimical to liberal and secular values. Such sentiment is already simmering in India since Modi assumed office in 2014 – and his presence has contributed to keeping the Indo-Pakistan relationship on tenterhooks.
Many on the Indian subcontinent see Trump as Modi’s alter ego. Closer ties between them might prove to be a double-edged sword for our country.
Sanjay Kumar is a New Delhi-based journalist who writes on national and international issues with particular emphasis on South Asia.
Britain: Trump creates a stir
On Monday, the British people learned that Donald Trump’s late mother was an admirer of the British monarchy. “She loved the ceremonial and the beauty, ‘cause nobody does that like the English,” he told an interviewer.
A family weakness for the British nostalgia industry is unlikely to have much impact on his approval rating among a population deeply concerned about the President-elect’s ethics, prejudices and mental stability.
What did get the UK talking was the identity of the interviewer. Michael Gove, who recently left the British Cabinet after losing a leadership election, has returned to his role as a columnist for The Times of London. He remains a prominent figure in Westminster politics and has retained his seat in the House of Commons.
Meeting with Trump in his capacity as a journalist, Gove is only the latest right-wing figure to irk the British government by flaunting a relationship with the President-elect outside official channels. Prime Minister Theresa May, who clashed frequently with Gove when they were Cabinet colleagues under David Cameron, has made clear that such freelance diplomacy will not hasten his political rehabilitation.
Even Gove, however, failed to match the stir created when the President-elect was pictured with Nigel Farage, the former leader of the UK Independence Party, before he had met representatives of the governing Conservative Party.
When Trump then suggested on Twitter that Farage should be appointed ambassador to Washington, May was furious. In Britain, where ambassadorships are traditionally held by long-serving career diplomats, this was seen as unprecedented interference in the affairs of Her Majesty’s Government. The Queen nominally appoints each ambassador and takes a close interest due to her contacts with other heads of state. If Trump shares his mother’s fondness for the Queen’s ceremonial role in British life, he would be well advised to respect her protocol.
As well as securing a scoop for The Times, Gove’s main aim in meeting the President-elect will likely have been to impress on him the existence of prominent Brexiteers other than Nigel Farage. Farage has enjoyed high visibility on British TV, his divisive rhetoric delivering strong ratings. Unlike Trump, he has not succeeded in translating that into electoral success, having failed at seven attempts to win a seat in Parliament. He was excluded by the official “Vote Leave” campaign in the UK referendum, run by more mainstream members of the Conservative Party, and campaigned instead with a smaller, unregistered “Leave EU” team dominated by UKIP. The anti-European movement in Britain is riddled with personal divisions; Gove, who played a major role in “Vote Leave”, will have bridled at Farage taking credit for the referendum.
None of these subtleties are likely to deter the British government from maintaining a formal alliance with the United States as long as it remains a world power. But the President-elect would be wise to avoid playing favorites with squabbling British politicians. Serious concerns remain about the future of the relationship with Britain; elements in the security services are concerned about the legal implications for the “Five-Eyes” intelligence sharing system should Trump authorize the use of torture by their American partners. In Scotland, he has long been an unpopular landlord, indulging in an ongoing feud with the ruling Scottish National Party over environmental and planning issues.
Diplomacy by Twitter is not the British way. The Queen would not approve.
Kate Maltby is a theater critic for The Times of London and regular broadcaster and columnist in the United Kingdom on issues of culture and politics. Her website is www.katemaltby.com.
Germany: Will Merkel confront Trump?
From a Berlin perspective, there is a particular irony in the inauguration of Donald Trump as the next US president. Today’s Germany in many ways is a product of the post-World War II era in Europe on which the United States has spent so much time and resources over the past decades.
Locking Germany into a collective European order has been key to pacifying the European continent, and has served Germany particularly well. Indeed, the principles that are so strongly rooted in this country are largely tied to the pacifist attitudes of the German public and a preference for an economic rather than a security role in foreign affairs. There is also a strong reflexive support among Germans for multilateral approaches aimed at building global institutions and international law, as well as for the need for Germany to have a predictable foreign policy.
But what Berlin has understood from the President-elect so far is that Donald Trump is not really very interested in any of these principles. Instead, his rhetoric runs counter to some of the most formative instincts of the political elite in Germany – and of the public at large. The question Germans have now is how Berlin will react once President Trump actually starts to shape politics rather than talking about it?
And there has been plenty in the talk so far to cause concern. For example, just last weekend, Trump gave a major interview with widely read German newspaper BILD Zeitung in which he called into question the role of NATO and the future cohesion of the European Union. Both institutions are fundamental pillars of German foreign policy.
Angela Merkel gave a first glimpse of her mindset in a news conference with the prime minister of New Zealand in Berlin that same day. “I think we Europeans have our fate in our own hands,” she said when asked about Trump’s comments. By her usually cautious standards this was another remarkable statement following her initial reaction to Trump’s election back in November.
When President Barack Obama gave a speech at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin in the summer of 2013, he called for an end to German complacency in international affairs. Developments in and around Europe over recent years have already seen a much more active Germany on the European and international stage. Berlin has understood that some of its vital interests – both in economic and security terms – have come to be challenged.
Trump is going to ensure Germany accelerates along this path, a reality that will have major implications for Germany and Europe. Berlin has a realistic understanding of its power, and where the German government has the resources to punch its weight it will attempt to do so.
But how willing will Germany be to confront President Trump on fundamental questions over the future of the European and global order? Germany currently holds the G20 presidency. That might give us a sign about how much Merkel is willing to say.
Almut Möller is a senior policy fellow and director of the European Council on Foreign Relations’ Berlin office.
China: Trump should avoid the Taiwan card
While the uncertainty surrounding Donald Trump’s incoming administration doesn’t bode well for anyone, the instability ahead could begin to recede if the new executive branch is willing to learn and acts sensibly.
For instance, Trump has repeatedly demanded “fair trade”. No one rejects the idea of fair trade, but if the focus is on “fair” rather than “unfair” trade, then the key issue is who decides what type of trade is fair or otherwise.
As long as the United States does not exit the World Trade Organization, America, like any other member of the WTO, is subject to the body’s arbitration mechanism to settle trade disputes.
The Trump administration may renegotiate the North America Free Trade Agreement or quit the Trans Pacific Partnership, but if it does, it will still be opting for negotiation and bilateral trade agreements with Asia-Pacific nations and other trade partners. In other words, Trump may not be a fan of globalism, but he still subscribes to bilateralism and even internationalism.
China, for its part, could well live with a China-US bilateral trade and investment framework, along with a WTO cap. The ongoing negotiation of the Bilateral Investment Treaty is an example. Trump wants “smart” negotiation, to which China has no objection. But if Trump refuses to settle disputes through negotiation, then China won’t be happy.
Still, China is wary of the possibility that the Trump team might try to play the Taiwan card as part of any bargaining. This would be unacceptable – China may be willing to negotiate or renegotiate over trade, investment and currency levels, but it will in no way be willing to renegotiate the “One China” principle. This is one thing that China will never put up for sale.
If the Trump administration can understand this key point quickly, and if it acts in a diplomatic way, then Trump does indeed have a chance to make America truly great again.
Shen Dingli is professor and associate dean at the Institute of International Studies at Fudan University.
South Africa: Trump brings a new style
South Africans in general were more inclined to support Hillary Clinton for president, but that did not happen. Why the support for Clinton? Because South Africans valued the longstanding relationship that their nation had developed with the Clintons, especially during the Mandela years.
Now that the election is over and Donald Trump has won, South Africa – like many other nations – hopes that it will be able to secure favorable trade relations with the Trump administration. Of course, the signs from the Trump camp suggest that the incoming administration will take a tough stance on trade. And though Trump did not single out South Africa specifically for criticism, he did warn more broadly that deals would need to be rethought because the United States is always losing out on trade agreements.
Another issue that might be of interest to South Africans is US immigration policy toward South Africa. Again, Trump warned over the threat posed by certain kinds of immigration, which became a feature of his campaign. If he cracks down it could make it tougher for South Africans wishing to secure a US visa.
But it’s not all trepidation. Some South Africans admire Trump’s apparent success with his own businesses. They hope that he will enjoy similar success running the United States. Indeed, if Trump is successful and the US economy performs well under his presidency, countries like South Africa will likely benefit, too.
As John Stremlau, former vice president of the Carter Center, told Africa’s News24, it is still unclear what shape the Trump administration’s foreign policy will take. However, as a businessman, it seems that Trump is determined to try his hand at making deals. It will be interesting to see what this new style means for business with Africa.
Tinashe Chuchu is a lecturer in the School of Economic and Business Sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa.
Egypt: A lesson for Americans
The election of Donald Trump was welcome news in Cairo. The US President-elect and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi met each other on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly meeting last September. After that meeting, both expressed a mutual admiration for one another. Sisi remarked that Trump would make a strong leader, which Trump reciprocated by praising Sisi as a “fantastic guy.” Sisi was reportedly the first Arab leader to congratulate Trump, and recently reportedly stated to the Egyptian press that he knew Trump would win as “his honesty touched the hearts of the American people.”
It’s not hard to imagine why these two men would get along. Both are not particularly fond of protecting human rights, and have demonstrated a deep disdain for the press. They abhor Islamists of all shapes and forms. Neither man handles criticism well, as demonstrated by their emotional outbursts. Both admire Vladimir Putin, who has spent time cultivating them both.
Overall, they share an identical black and white world view, reminiscent of George W. Bush’s “you are either with us or against us.” There is no middle way in Trump and Sisi’s world; only enemies to be annihilated or friends based on mutual interests.
With regards to Egypt and the Middle East, discourse on human rights and democratization will become background noise, as the Trump administration’s foreign policy will likely focus on advancing US economic and security interests. Trump and Sisi began collaborating even before the President-elect assumed office: Trump reportedly called on Sisi to withdraw the U.N. resolution against Israeli settlements, which ultimately passed.
Conveniently, the Egyptian media has dropped the commentary from Trump about Muslim bans and registries from its coverage, while equating the President-elect with Sisi; a strongman who will bring stability in an age of turbulence. However, almost three years since Sisi’s election, many segments of the Egyptian population feel disappointed in his leadership, as he has failed to bring stability or usher in the era of economic prosperity that he promised.
Given time, the American people, like their Egyptian counterparts, are also likely to find themselves profoundly unhappy with their new president.
Adel Abdel Ghafar is a visiting fellow at the Brookings Doha Center and the author of “Egyptians in Revolt: The Political Economy of Labor and Student Mobilizations 1919 -2011.”
Philippines: Will Trump challenge Duterte?
Considering that there are, by some estimates, around 300,000 Filipinos living as undocumented migrants in the United States, the question for many here is whether President Donald Trump will be true to his campaign promise of being tough on illegal immigration.
As for the about 3.5 million Filipinos living in the United States, they join other Americans in hoping that the Trump presidency will deliver stable jobs, better health care, and safer communities.
Like other Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines wants to know whether Trump will continue to endorse the rebalancing of American forces toward the Asia-Pacific region. More specifically, Filipinos have two other questions on defense: What will Trump’s policy be regarding the maritime dispute in the South China Sea involving China and its smaller neighbors? Will he uphold the mutual defense pact between the Philippines and the United States?
It is not only on defense that a Trump presidency raises questions for Filipinos. In terms of his economic program, for example, many wonder whether his vow to protect American businesses will mean less investment in the Philippines and the rest of Asia? They also wonder whether his call for the return of manufacturing and outsourced jobs to the United States will disrupt Asian economies.
Interestingly, Trump is often compared to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Both are non-traditional politicians who achieved surprising electoral victories despite their controversial, divisive – sometimes politically incorrect – views.
Duterte has frequently criticized the United States for its colonial crimes and political meddling, even making an unprecedented declaration of a “separation” of the Philippines and the United States. President Obama chose to ignore Duterte’s rants. Will Trump do the same thing? Will he comment on the alleged American plot to destabilize Duterte’s government?
Both are interesting questions. But perhaps the biggest question mark is over whether Donald Trump will raise the issue of human rights with Duterte, whose war on drugs has, by many accounts, left thousands of civilians dead.
Filipinos are extremely curious to find out what happens next.
Mong Palatino is a Filipino activist, blogger, and former legislator.