By Rais Hussin
By going to the United States next month, Prime Minister Najib Razak is playing an old and familiar trick.
Prior to the 2013 general election, for instance, Najib made a trip to Gaza. He stood on the rubble, squinted his eyes in the sun, promised to work closely with Hamas and, indeed, defend the whole of Palestine if need be. Yet, he ended up with zero deliverables.
The trip to the United States will have all the drama of Gaza and the same outcome too.
The Gaza trip, arranged by Nasharudin Mat Isa, the former deputy president of PAS, served to underscore Najib’s Islamic credentials. This was effectively PAS leveraging on its Muslim Brotherhood connections to make Umno look more kosher.
But Najib is a man in chains. He is not as free as he assumes. Nor is US President Donald Trump. Both have made numerous mistakes. Both leaders have stirred hornet nests. They are seeing dips in their popularity.
How can either one of them gain from any bump in the polls? Trump is a reviled political figure in the US, if not the world. Najib is losing his grip on Umno and the Malaysian government. A trip to the White House is a walk into a hall of mirrors, where Najib himself will see his own dysfunctions.
Regardless of the issues Najib seeks to discuss with Trump, none of them can gain any traction. The US is out of the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement. Malaysia wants in, but it is impossible for Najib to change Trump’s mind when Najib himself has parked Malaysia in China’s corner.
As for North Korea, Malaysia lacks the strategic depth and diplomatic pull in Asean to persuade Pyongyang to behave. The North Korean issue has in fact reached a point of no return. Kim Jong-un already possesses inter-continental ballistic missiles with nuclear capability. What can Najib talk about with Trump that the US hasn’t already figured out with China?
Will they discuss the threat of the Islamic State terror group? Malaysia claims to be against extremism. But one should remember that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have defined Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood as extremist too. Does this mean Malaysia will start criticizing Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood? If Najib does, Umno’s alliance with PAS will become even more brittle.
Seen in this context, the impending trip to the United States is badly advised. Najib will face a PR disaster in the US precisely because Trump is a walking disaster himself.
When he embraces Trump, he will be embracing a president who may well be impeached, just as he himself will be kicked out of power by Malaysians in the 14th general election.
Let’s not forget that the press will wait for him too. But there is a possibility that there will be no press statement at all.
Rais Hussin heads PPBM’s Policy and Strategy Bureau.
* The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.