Why India shouldn’t give up on Obama
The deep scepticism within the Indian strategic leadership about Barack Obama’s interest or ability to further the Indo-US relationship is no secret. Many upenly say that it would be best for India if he was a one-term Oval Office resident. I am still not convinced that Obama will leave much of a mark on Indian relations but after the recent visit of Manmohan Singh visit I believe it won.t be because of a desire to do so.
First let’s talk about intentions. Obamaites have repeatedly told Indian officials that ultimately a Democratic administration is more “comfortable” with a country like India then with a one-party China or a crazy like Pakistan They have also insisted that the one foreign policy initiative of the Bushmen they support is the India push.
If you read the statements and speeches Obama made during Singh’s visit it is striking how there are references repeatedly to the two countries being partners destined to work together. Read, in comparison, the US-China joint statement which gives up trying to find any common values and, business-like, talks about responsibilites and duties. There’s no warmth. While both Indian and US sources assure me there’s quite a bit between Singh and Obama. (Can’t be basketball or economic theory. Just two ex-professors?)
Second let’s talk about ability, in other words to convert intentions into tangibles. This is far less clear. The economic crisis is rightly foremost in Obama’s mind. Note how he kept saying ties with India would help create jobs in the US. He was talking to a 10 plus percentage jobless figure there.
And the crisis, he clearly believes, requires a global fiscal balance to be regained. And this means bringing China into the game. So he kowtows a bit to the Middle Kingdom – but that may be just a touch of realism given the circumstances.
I will say his priorities are crudely 1. Economy 2. Economy and China 3. Afpak. After that there is Iran, North Korea and the state of California. India isn’t a problem state so he doesn’t have to burn the midnight oil trying to think of solutions.
There is another problem, I believe, which is the lack of any big picture foreign policy thinker in the administration. This is why when the US-China joint statement mentioned India and Pakistan there was no one on the US side to say join the dots and say, “We can’t say that, the Indians will flip.” The China desk wouldn’t know these niceties about South Asia.
So watch the economy and watch if Obama starts to look beyond the troublespots. I think it will take another year.