In these last three years, Donald Trump has been bent on proving that global politics does not matter, that it is all right for states to flout the laws that govern behaviour. By ordering the murder of Iran's General Qassem Soleimani, he has demonstrated not just a poor comprehension of diplomacy and of the rules of conflict. He has also shown that with him in the White House, the world has truly turned into a theatre of the dangerously absurd.
Global politics is not about killing men of prominence who belong to other nations. Neither is it about tackling terrorism, such as the means deployed by Israel every time it goes for targeted assassinations of Arabs in the Middle East. In these past many decades, the Israelis have consistently wielded terror as a means of trying to beat back the terrorism of people it accuses of firing missiles into its territory. Notorious has been Tel Aviv's policy on undermining diplomacy.
And now that Trump has advanced that policy a whole lot further through a drone strike against a reputed military officer of a sovereign state, global politics has quite clearly taken yet another beating. The ramifications are unpredictable. It does not help that Trump now tells the world that his administration does not want a regime change in Tehran. That it can with impunity kill a prominent and powerful foreigner, without so much as making an effort at dialogue with the state to which the murdered man belongs, is impunity of an unforgivable kind. It could well be that the Americans have just opened a new window to a vicious new conflict overtaking the world.
In these putatively modern times, one would have expected diplomacy to be the basis of international relations. That does not seem to be happening. Observe Bolivia, recently gone into the hands of rabid right-wingers intent on dismantling the legacy of the ousted Evo Morales. The illegitimate regime in La Paz would like nothing better than to get its hands on a few officials of the Morales government who have sought asylum at the Mexican embassy. The embassy is under siege by Bolivian forces, which is a bad sign of the casual flouting of international law by the new people in power in Bolivia. And Bolivia is but one of the instances of diplomatic etiquette being thrown to the winds. Brazil's notoriously abrasive Jair Bolsonaro does not understand diplomatic norms. His public demonstration of pique at the recent election of a leftwing government in Argentina is a sign of the decline of the norms which for years has underpinned global politics.
Donald Trump is the inspiration behind such violations of the rules of diplomatic decency. His rude withdrawal from the 2015 Paris nuclear accord and his brusque action over Nafta, together with his uneducated understanding of the workings of Nato, have all stood internationally accepted behavioral ethics on their head. But, of course, his behaviour is part of the legacy that has come down from some of his predecessors in office. John F. Kennedy authorized the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in the early 1960s. Ronald Reagan oversaw the overthrow of the government of Grenada in the 1980s. George Bush Sr felt little compunction in bodily lifting Panama's Manuel Noriega and bringing him over to the United States for trial in the late 1980s. And, of course, the invasion of Iraq on the basis of lies by George Bush Jr and Britain's Tony Blair remains a scandal the world has not been able to shake off. Saddam Hussein's arrest and execution are blots on the supposedly urbane formulations of international diplomacy. Nato complicity in the murder of Muammar Gaddafi has considerably tarnished its image.
Diplomacy has no room for erratic behaviour on the part of governments, but when a band of revolutionary Iranians seized the American embassy in Tehran in late 1979, keeping American diplomats hostage for 444 days, they gravely flouted every rule of globally accepted behaviour. It remains a shame that Ayatollah Khomeini, rather than defusing the crisis by bringing it to a swift end, fanned it in the wrong belief that it was revolution at work. It was anything but. In more recent times, the move by the Ecuador embassy in London to bring an end to Julian Assange's asylum status and hand him over to the police was a bad sign that individuals seeking refuge from prospects of extradition or trial are safe no more in these times. The recent instances of arrests and disappearances of individuals of Chinese descent but holding foreign passports at the hands of the Beijing authorities have only pushed global diplomacy further down to levels that leave people everywhere worried.
American drone attacks in Pakistan have undermined diplomacy. The recent invasion of northern Syria by Turkish forces was a frontal assault on global diplomatic norms. The blissful indifference with which the Myanmar authorities have treated the issue of a million Rohingyas in refugee camps in Bangladesh is contemptible. Interference by the Russian government in American elections has shaken global behaviour as nothing else has.
We inhabit a dark age in a world where statesmen do not anymore define the present and shape the future, for statesmen do not exist anymore. It is the era of charlatans and philistines.