Two Days—Two Speeches
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
One of the interesting and significant foreign policy results to emerge from the President’s Afghanistan speech at Fort Myers, Virginia on Monday night was an indication of a change in U.S. policy towards India. Since gaining its independence in 1947, the U.S. and India have had a very rocky and curious relationship. Much of this was fueled by India’s efforts to adopt a neutralist policy during the Cold War and especially as the U.S. viewed India’s relationship with the Soviet Union. During this period, Pakistan developed a much closer relationship with the U.S. leaving India in a very outside. More recently this relationship has been changing.
In his address, Trump strongly attacked Pakistan’s failings in the fight against Islamic terrorism, underscored the new stronger ties between the U.S. and India, and called for India to engage as well in the battle against Islamic terrorism. How this will play out in the increasingly tense and hostile relationship between India and Pakistan themselves, as well as the extent to which the U.S. will support India, remains to be seen. What is clear is that India appears pleased with the shift articulated by the President as well as its view of the extent to which Pakistan appears to be miffed by it. Trump’s explicit denigration of the Pakistanis sets up a potentially angry response from Islamabad. It also probably encourages Islamist terrorist groups to believe that will continue to find safe havens in Pakistan; thus seriously complicating U.S. efforts to neutralize radical Islamists. As the speech was set a prepared text, it must be assumed that the U.S. military team was in step with this shift in regional policy as well.
Trump’s political address on Tuesday night raised many issues but some may not be quite as clear as his attack on the role of the free press and the transparent, incomplete quoting of his own previous commentaries on the events in Charlottesville. Television needs to cease covering campaign and strictly political events as if they are hard news from the President. (Wherever the President travels there is always White House press coverage should political events suddenly shift to a substantive, non-pep rally mode.) As they did during the 2016 campaign, the cable networks, especially, still feel they must cover the Trump political mega-rallies. It is here that Trump maximizes his pitch to gin up his troops—those in the audience as well as his listeners at home. Paid political addresses need to be paid for by the campaign and the networks are complicit in getting the President’s political messages delivered as if he were addressing a joint session of Congress or the soldiers at Ft. Myers.
More specifically, the President’s conduct and that of the audience approached much of the behavior which was witnessed at Nazi rallies in the 1930’s–without the sieg heils. The bigger the hyperbole, the less true the allegations, the more controversial the suggestions, the more aggressive the attacks, and the louder the voices the more the audience responded. The speech was interminable, repetitive, and followed a drum beat. It was scary.
It also is becoming readily apparent that more and more people are seriously beginning to question the President’s stability. Trump’s behavior especially since his vacation began, has witnessed more and more Republican leaders– except for Speaker Ryan—appear to be trying to avoid jumping in support for Trump. The President may not believe his abysmal numbers; but the Party totally understands the implications of terrible polls. Last night’s address only nailed this condition further.