“The king who is situated anywhere immediately on the circumference of the conqueror’s territory is termed the enemy. The king who is likewise situated close to the enemy, but separated from the conqueror only by the enemy, is termed the friend (of the conqueror).”
This is the earliest recorded note on the issue of friends and foes in the matter of governance. It has subsequently been used in other contexts of course and is generally reduced to the familiar dictum ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’ often attributed to Mao Zedong. What is important to note here is that neither Kautilya nor Chairman Mao proposed it as a general theory, but rather one which could be applied to given situations. Perhaps this is why we have that other adage which could be considered a corollary of sorts, ‘there are no permanent enemies or friends in politics”.
The recently concluded US Presidential Election prompted animated response from Sri Lankans of different political/ideological shades both here and in the USA. They are as divided, one might say, as the people of the USA, perhaps for reasons that are not too dissimilar, reasons that appear to be drawn from the above political observations on friendship and enmity. It’s probably not surprising considering that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were said to be the most unpopular candidates in remembered history. After all, Republicans were told ‘hold your nose and vote Trump’ even as their Democratic counterparts pleaded, ‘hold your nose and vote Hillary’.
It was a close race and one where the winner lost the popular vote. Naturally, the Democratic camp felt cheated by the elections system or rather the system of selection in the USA. On the other hand, if system was at fault, then the die-hard Clinton supporters can’t really complain, for they were happy when system-flaw hoofed out Bernie Sanders in the Democratic Primaries. Trump was not the first ‘winner’ who lost the popular vote, he was the fifth, following the election of John Quincy Adams (1824) which helped launch the Democratic Party, Rutherford B Hayes (1876), Benjamin Harrison (1888) and George W Bush (2000), when the Supreme Court in a split decision refused to sanction a re-count in Florida.
One can only speculate whether the Democrats or rather the anti-Trump camp (which is broader than the support base of Clinton) would have been as vociferous in their protests had it been some other Republican that had secured the White House. As for Trump supporters who are yelling that the Clinton camp is in denial and telling them to shut up and accept the result, they are silent on the kind of denial that the most racist and bigoted of their camp demonstrated when Barack Obama won in 2008. As of now, it appears that a lot of people, across the so-called political divide, are trying to get on non-existent moral high horses.
Trump came with a lot of baggage that has upset a lot of people in the USA and elsewhere. Women and minorities, in particular, have reasons to fear a Trump administration given his brash sexism, racism and homophobia. Trump’s victory has in fact emboldened the worst elements of Intolerant America (of the US) and promised legislation to overturn key progress on resolving grievances of women, minorities and LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Queer) groups could only make things worse.
His trigger-happy brashness is certainly worrisome given that the Republicans have control of the Senate and Congress and not just for US citizens that have reservation about Washington’s foreign policy prerogatives of late. On the other hand, there would be those who think that it is best to have the true face of US foreign policy in the top seat because it would all be straight-up without the frills, double-speak and subterfuge.
Others might just shrug shoulders and say ‘same old, same old.’ These fears, more than the issue of a President elect who lost the popular vote, appear to be the fuel for the Dump Trump protests that have mushroomed all over the USA. We didn’t see the Obama administration being ‘progressive’ about the pipeline crossing sacred burial grounds and the Missouri, the main water source of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. Would Hillary do better? Is she ‘more progressive’ than Obama? These are not questions that we hear from the Dump Trump campaign.
It must be noted, however, that although the anti-Trump protests are putting ‘Arab Spring’ to shame, but the self-righteous Western media are given them the proverbial cold shoulder, just like the human rights squads that were so gung-ho about Middle Eastern dictators not too long ago.
Apart from the real felt fears of the aforementioned groups within the USA, the truth is that it is meaningless to think of Republicans and Democrats as Right and Left respectively. They are so in relation to one another, but on the broad political spectrum both parties are far right, if you want to be serious about this.
Even Bernie is not really ‘left’, but looks so in relation to Hillary and certainly in relation to Trump. Sure, Obama ‘The Progressive’ didn’t have the cushions in Congress and Senate that Trump has, but he didn’t exactly make the world ‘safer’ did he? The truth of the matter is whether one is Right or Left (relatively speaking), there are always operational limits imposed by the system, be they in domestic or foreign policy, be it climate change or war (declared or undeclared). In short the interests of the corporate class will be served while the interests of special groups such as the Jews will determine policy in the Middle East.
US policy is not about resolution, but containment, or ‘management’ which is the more fashionable word. Even domestic policy will be informed by the larger need to ensure that things do not get out of hand — neither the KKK or the anarchists in the Dump Trump efforts are likely to do as they please, subject of course to the caveat that the KKK types will probably get a pat on the back with the friendly ‘now enough’ while the anarchists, if there are any, will be roughed up.
One might say that there could be a (dangerous) shift when it comes to environmental issues since Trump has selected a well known climate-change skeptic to head his US EPA transition team, Myron Ebell. On the other hand, despite Obama’s rhetoric, the US conceded nothing voluntarily by way of multilateral efforts in this sphere. The track-record, compared to other countries, is embarrassing. With Trump, the one positive is that there’s less likelihood of spin, foot-dragging and (again) subterfuge — again not something that’s worthy of popping the champagne.
From this end, i.e. Sri Lanka, we had M.L. Shivajilingam of the Tamil National Alliance organizing an event to smash coconuts and light candles to bless Clinton ahead of the election. Everyone knows that Clinton categorically stated that she did not want the LTTE defeated. It’s hard to put any spin on that. Why should any Sri Lankan who abhors terrorism be unhappy about a Clinton defeat under these circumstances, one can ask. Again, it’s about friends and enemies, not in an absolute sense but at least in terms of specific contexts. However, to think that a Trump Presidency would see a policy regime on Sri Lanka that is more informed, more acknowledging of contexts, fair etc., etc., is to be optimistic. That’s not how Washington has worked. To be thrilled about the result on account of justified antipathy to Clinton is certainly uncalled for.
Kautilya was correct, but only so in a specific context determined by time and space. Our enemies are not always our enemies and our friends are not our friends forever. Our current enemies may in time and in different contexts become their friends. Where would that leave us? Ask Clinton if she’s changed her stand on Sri Lanka (vis-a-vis the LTTE) and she will cautiously skip around it but essentially end up standing against Sri Lanka. Ask Trump and he might not know where Sri Lanka is, but if pushed, he might find himself rubbing shoulders with Hillary.
So the USA had an election. So Donald Trump was elected or selected if you want to have it that way. I feel for all those who feel less belonged than ever before in that country. I am not sad that Clinton lost and I am indeed glad that I didn’t have to hold my nose and vote for either of these two. I don’t think there’s reason to celebrate Trump’s triumph or Clinton’s defeat. I could say ‘cheers’ for less spin on US foreign policy, but then again, going by history, I doubt I would be cheering for too long. The truth is that the US still holds the trumps in certain global card games. They’ve got one with a name in the White House. Doesn’t make too much of a difference.
Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer. Blog:
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