Is it OK for Singapore to be allied with the US?

August 12, 2017

Q: How do you see the Singapore and US alliance?

A: I think that is a very rhetorical question so whatever answer I choose to give has to be equally broad and rhetorical as well. Maybe you should try to structure your questions specifically?

Q: How do you see the Singapore and US alliance under the Trump administration. Is it likely to work for or against the interest of Singapore?

A: We still don’t know. Or rather I should say I don’t know. The advent the age of Trump can only be described as transformational. Not only for the US, but for the reliable allies of the US as well.

There has been many thoughtful speculations concerning what Trump really wants to do when it comes to US foreign policy. Some say he wants the US to take less global equity as the world’s policeman. Others say he just wants to do more with less aboard and focus mainly fixing perennial problems such as unemployment and healthcare on the home front. Then there are more serious assertations that he means to cast aside the entire post–Cold War order. To others, he seems to be annulling everything that America has been working to try to achieve since 1945. But no matter how these commentators may see Trump – they can all agree without too much trouble. No one really knows for sure what the outlook of US foreign policy is any longer.

It is this aspect of uncertainty that is most unsettling to the US and Singapore alliance.

Q: Why do you choose to see it as unsettling?

A: Look here you don’t need a PhD in foreign relations to understand that if you rub shoulders with psychos….then it’s only a matter of time before you will also end up losing moral authority along with international credibility.

Trump the man. The president stands for many things that are paradoxically quite unamerican. Trump came to power on a populist ticket. He offered the voters a downscaled version from the burdens of global leadership to something that focused on domestic problems. He even rewrote the book on foreign policy by forwarding a theory on realpolitik, where he posits – the real problem with US foreign policy was not merely its costly foreign commitment. It was the result of something far more sinister and malevolent: the villainy of friends and foes, and the lack of moral fiber of US leaders. The intellectual hubris of the US chattering classes – the bane of “political correctness” that made it impossible to use the right words to call a spade a spade. Allies and trading partners that hoodwinked the US no end. Waves of foreigners that were robbing decent Americans from jobs. Environmental laws, regulations and treaties that hobbled US industrial might etc etc etc.

To put it all in the right scale and perspective. It would be hard pressed to think of an American political figure who has ever put forward such a bleak dystopian view of the world.

But Trump’s real failing in my opinion was not only did he not offer anything in a way of a coherent prescriptive cure for many of the things he saw wrong with the US and the world. Instead, he glossed over many of his inadequacies with kick-ass rhetoric that seem to go down very well with the US voters.

But let’s be perfectly honest you can’t input jingoism or feel good kick ass rhetoric into statecraft or the complications of balance of power in international politics.

Those are very real challenges that demand real well thought out solutions.

In trying to translate his election run rhetoric into reality ironically Trump has unified people who disagree about many elements of U.S. foreign policy and who recognize the many shortcomings of the so-called liberal international order against him. Scholars, the thinking classes, environmentalist feel outraged by Trump.

In summary if you’re going to rub shoulders with Trump, you’re going to go down with him. Because from the looks of it – he’s definitely going to go right down like timber.

Q: What do you think Singapore should do in the light of this uncertainty.

A: I think the perception needs to be managed in such a way where Singapore is still a reliable ally of the US. But at the same time, she should not be so close to the US as to come across as a second fiddle or a poodle.

Q: Some people have said it is simplistic to think China will not continue to invest in neighbouring countries had Singapore not taken such an aggressive stance on the South China seas against China’s. What is your take?

A: I don’t agree with their assessment. I highly recommend them to read broadly. At one level of understanding it is certainly true to say China is investing in neighbouring countries especially in infrastructure projects such as ports and railways to streamline its supply chain for energy. That no one can argue against. But you must understand a large part of that motivation to build alternative energy routes has to do with the fear that they are not able to trust Singapore entirely. I don’t for one moment believe it all boils down to the geographical realities that the strait of malacca can be easily blockaded militarily. As much as the fears and anxieties generated by how closely Singapore is allied to the US.

I could very well be wrong. And if I am wrong. I do hope someone can correct me with facts and something resembling an intelligent rebuttal. That is not much to ask.

But my feel is if Singapore had been less antagonistic to China on the SCS. There exist many ways for Singapore to assist China in fulfilling its energy needs via the current port facilities.

What you need to understand is there will always exist certain constraints in land based modes of transportation such as roads and rail. At one level you can say they are very vulnerable to choke points. Secondly, to transport the same tonnage as a modern container vessel, it would take a railway carriage that stretches 70 kilometres. So while you can say rail is more efficient. It is not logistically effective nor is it as reliable as sea routes.

I mean there is a very good reason why the British empire did not see the wisdom of investing in roads like the Romans and instead steadily leveraged on their superiority of their navy and mercantile fleet as means of exercising command and control over their empire.

So I think this preoccupation with rail and roads as a means of supplanting sea routes is slightly misleading as it doesn’t really talk about actual tonnage or for that matter even factor in risk along with conflict management.

Q: Where do you see the US proceeding when it comes specifically to foreign policy from this point?

A: In the early days when Trump came to power. I was not overtly concerned. After all I had ever reason to believe even someone who didn’t have the political lineage such as Trump would eventually yield to the sheer weight of reason and intellectualism. And this was inpart due to the impressive selection of what I can only describe as very thoughtful cabinet secretaries, Generals and advisors. James Mattis as the Pentagon head, ex Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson to be secretary of state, McMaster as national-security adviser.

These are not farmers like me who don’t even know how many alphabets there are. Is it 24 or 26. I am just kidding.

They are all very serious people who have a consistent history of managing affairs at a very high level.

But as the Trump administration dragged on – I could not seem to make out the voices of good sense carrying the day. Neither did anything approaching a coherent foreign strategy emerge either. All I seem to be able to make out is senseless twitter nanobites and that has to be disturbing.

Q: What do you think was the one single thing the US did under the newly minted Trump administration that marked out it out as unreliable and a liability to many of their traditional allies.

A: Without a doubt it has to be the shocking US pull out from the Paris agreement. I cannot for the life of me think of a clearer illustration that demonstrates how irresponsible and unhinged from reality the current administration is from reality. This is a very dramatic departure from the Obama position — where the world’s largest economy and second-largest emitter — played a key role in shaping the 2015 climate deal. Trump’s decision to withdraw has not only alienated him from many hard working scientist and intellectuals who are serious about the climate. But it has also put the US in a very untenable position with many other G20 countries. Specifically Germany that seems to have taken the lead on reversing climate degradation. If you look closely at the recent G20 proceedings. Even the Saudi’s who are all but blasé about climate change much preferred to be allied with the rest of the G20 ethos on saving people and planet. They had the cow sense to distance themselves from the incomprehensible US position.

Q: You seem to believe very strongly in the environmental cause. But if I am not mistaken Mr Trump is under the impression many of the climate issues are actually hobbling US economic growth.

A: Well Mr Trump and his climate advisors are dead wrong. First of all climate change is very real. You people at the homefront back in 23 degrees Celsius perpetual air con state Singapore don’t know how real it is. To you the climate will always be an abstraction. But I am a farmer. I make my living off the land. So I am in the trenches. And I can assure you with FAO statistics that it is getting harder and harder these days to farm commercially because of climate change.

You know recently I spent a lot of my own private money to clear land without resorting to open burning. Now I didn’t do it primarily to save people and planet. I did it as thru the years I have been conducting my own privately funded research in sustainable farming methods and I can prove in the long run my methods will not only nutrify the land, but it will also mitigate against diseases that arises from monoculture but my primary motivation was because I believe it is possible to farm responsibly and sustainably without having to poison the air and still make a very decent profit.

I think when we think about services and products in general. It would be foolhardy for any corporation these days to manufacture stuff that is not environmentally friendly. If you look at everything in the last ten years in the market. Everything from jet planes to automobiles. It’s been driven primary by the green revolution.

If the US wants to go the other way and do that other thing. They certainly can. Only they will end up walking alone. And trust me only a fool would walk with an outlier.

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