New Delhi: If a topical script had to be written about cornering and sapping America, Russia and China have quite surpassed themselves in the task. Conceivably acting alone but enjoying the fruits together, they have put the United States in a spot from which extrication is difficult if not impossible.

By any yardstick, the Vladimir Putin regime’s attempts to undermine the US election process were masterful villainy. Putin might deny the bid but masses of evidence exist. This writer cannot say at this instance if the Russian strongman moderately failed or gloriously succeeded. If it is proved that Donald Trump colluded with him in election fixing to win the presidency, then we know that the bigger winners were Putin and Russia. How better to undermine a great democracy than by undermining the election process?

China worked independently on another track. This was to make North Korea nuclear-capable and capable of striking the United States. North Korea has never reconciled to the outcome of the stalemated Korean War. Seeing Vietnam united under communist rule would surely gall North Korea further. A fear of regime change, however, predominantly drives North Korea’s obsessive weaponization programme. It is beyond doubt that China encouraged this deterrent psyche and provided the wherewithal. Media reports say the transporter erector launchers used for the latest North Korean ICBM tests were Chinese. North Korea’s most sophisticated strategic missile not recently tested also apparently bears a close resemblance to a state-of-the-art Chinese submarine-launched ballistic missile.

It could still have been managed, the Russian subversion of the US presidential election and the Chinese-backed North Korean nuclear threat to America, taken together, if someone other than Donald Trump had been elected President. Trump, of course, is totally out of his depths faced with the twin threats. He does not even recognize one of them, the Russian election subversion, as a threat. This is understandable because he may have been allegedly involved in the subversion. But over and above that, confusion has confounded US reactions to the Russian and North Korean threats, in which Trump, as always, plays the central role of a slightly dim-witted king.

Days ago, the US Congress imposed severe bipartisan sanctions on Russia for election subversion. Much as he tried, Trump failed to block or even water down the sanctions. Now two contradictory narratives are emanating from the White House in respect of the sanctions. Mike Pence, the Vice President, says that Trump and the Congress have no differences on the sanctions and that the President would sign it into law soon. Rex Tillerson, the Secretary of State, also apparently speaking on behalf of the President, insinuates the opposite. He says the President desires negotiations with Russia because unending rivalries between two major nuclear powers is not healthy. The sanctions have nothing to do with geopolitical power. And, two, if the President felt so strongly about diplomacy, he should have campaigned more forcefully with the Congress at least to defer the sanctions. This is not the equivalent of good cop/ bad cop which presupposes a tactic. Trump is in a complete muddle about dealing with Russia. There is also the Russian sabre hanging on his head.

Similar confusion and chaos mark the US response to the North Korean threat which was amplified by its test of a second ICBM likely capable of reaching mainland USA. Rex Tillerson tried to calm North Korea’s fears of regime change by emphasizing on diplomacy and negotiations. On the other hand, an old friend of Trump, Lindsay Graham, spoke of the President’s determination to go to the extreme of war even if it cost a few thousand lives in the Korean Peninsula. Leave aside the tens of thousands of South Koreans and Japanese who will perish from North Korea’s retaliation to a US strike. More than a hundred and fifty thousand Americans in the region, civilians and military personnel together, will be put to grave risk by war. Again, this hardly seems a good cop/ bad cop routine. This is perhaps more reflective of presidential mood swings in the midst of a crisis. This should never get out but it has.

Russia and China have caught the United States in a pincer move. Luck has further favoured them by burdening the United States with the worst President in more than a century. A President who cannot discipline the squabbling and backstabbing staff of the White House can scarcely lead America in its role of the world’s policeman. Carrying his indiscretions to Twitter and deriving perverse pleasure from contradicting his own policies and cabinet colleagues, Donald Trump is no paragon of discipline and control himself to demand them of his staff. Western Europe has the means to take care of itself for a time without America’s steady friendship and sagely guiding hand. Asia, however, has a mighty problem at hand with US retrenchment from the region and Donald Trump’s increasing instability and waywardness. Japan, South Korea, the ASEAN states and India are advised maximum vigilance and proactive diplomacy. The dark powers are growing preponderant to the peril of free nations.