As I write this, President Obama is on a tour of Asia. And exactly where is he going? China and Japan, not India. This one fact speaks volumes about the mind-share India occupies in the American establishment.
It is easy to dismiss this as standard Democratic Party policy. Yes, despite the illusions many Indians harbor, Democratic administrations have been nastier towards India in general, the sterling counter-example of Nixon-Kissinger sending the 7th Fleet to the Bay of Bengal in 1971 notwithstanding.
Liberals in the West, despite protestations to the contrary, are fascinated by totalitarians and fascists. They are impressed by the Vietnamese who defeated them, and the Chinese who fought them to a standstill in Korea. Obama is the only U.S. president in recent years to have refused to meet His Highness the Dalai Lama, as appeasing China is high on his agenda. Victor Davis Hanson of the Hoover Institution wrote in the Wall Street Journal that Obama may be following in Jimmy Carter’s footsteps: he of the MEOW (moral equivalent of war) who groveled to Middle-Easterners, bringing upon himself the Iran hostage crisis that destroyed his presidency.
Obama is going down this path with his Af-Pak policy, which consists primarily of outsourcing the Afghan problem to Pakistan’s ISI, to be followed by the United States declaring victory and leaving. He is ignoring the instructive example of Neville Chamberlain appeasing Hitler. Meanwhile the ISI cannot believe its good luck: Obama is showering billions on them on top of the $11 billion that Bush has already given them, with nothing to show for it.
It is not that the Republicans are great for India, either. Bush’s main intent was to seduce India, with flattery and perhaps a few transfers to numbered Swiss bank accounts, to buy nuclear technology from the United States, with the fringe-benefit of the acquiescence of India to nuclear apartheid. (And it was easy to make this happen). To grant him his due, Bush was not enamored of the Sino-Mohammedan axis, and did wish to contain the rampant Chinese, using India as an ally.
Fundamentally the United States does not respect India as an ally. India is only a source of raw materials and a market. And India does not deserve respect, either. A wimpish (yet moralizing) India—which cannot deter even a failed state like Pakistan—is merely a bystander, an extra, in the big scheme of things. A nation that has no long-term strategic intent, and whose leaders are venal and easily purchased, is a banana republic. Unlike China, which intends to rule the world, India, which imagines itself as an also-ran, is destined to remain so. Welcome to realpolitik; democracy be damned.
Rajeev Srinivasan wrote this opinion from Ahmedabad, India.
Yes, the two will continue to have common interests
Rather than narrowly focusing on the travel itinerary of Air Force One, let’s take a more integrated look at President Obama, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, and at the societies they lead.
Like Manmohan Singh, Barack Obama has a pragmatic foreign policy based on a broad, forward-looking, inclusive outlook. Neither is a xenophobe; both men look beyond their borders to see where the free trade of ideas, products, and services can best enhance the interests of their countries while diminishing the forces of provincialism (terrorism is provincialism in extremis). Also, neither is a technophobe; indeed, where Singh has asked Nandan Nilekani, the co-chairman of Infosys, to join his cabinet, Obama has an Indian American Federal Chief Technology Officer (Aneesh Chopra) and a Federal Chief Information Officer (Vivek Kundra) in his administration. And by the time you read this, Michelle and Barack Obama will have had Gursharan and Manmohan Singh over to their “house” for a Thanksgiving dinner; to be sure, when President Obama calls this a “family dinner,” he is stretching the sense of family into the realm of symbolism. But symbols matter.
International relations, like personal relations, are based on commonality and difference. A helpful symbol here is the Venn Diagram of overlapping circles. Draw India as one democratic, entrepreneurial, and diverse circle of over one billion people, most of whom reside outside of cities in agrarian settings based on a subsistence economy and an ancient caste system of traditional social relationships; the American circle is similarly diverse, entrepreneurial, and democratic, but its 300 million people mostly populate metropolitan areas designed around a class-based, industrial and post-industrial modern world.
We can focus on the sweet-spot core of shared interests or we can shine a harsh light on the periphery of differences. If we elect to emphasize the core, it begins to grow. Suddenly, the technological economic drivers of the 21st century begin to take on increased importance, as facilitating the creation of both commercial and cultural goods contributes to what Joseph Nye calls soft power. In a soft-ware world, Indian and American soft power has profound mutualism: Silicon Valley and Cyberabad, Bollywood and Hollywood, and of course the over-used, yet true, confluence of the oldest democracy and the most populous democracy.
Realpolitik in our multi-polar world is the realistic balancing of multiple stakeholders, with a practical focus on one’s own national interests. Indeed India and America both have their own self-interests. Should it be any other way? Enlightened self-interest consistently considers the self-interest of others, mitigates the difference, and promotes commonality.
Dr. Rajesh C. Oza is a change management consultant.