Is Obama going to own the Indian relationship
I don’t know, but I’ve been told that Barack Obama that the India relationship is one of the few foreign policy issues that he thinks his Oval Office predecessor got right.
I don’t know, but I’ve been told that Hillary Clinton is determined to do something big about the Indo-US relationship so that it doesn’t go down as a Bush legacy but a Clinton (Mr and Mrs) one as well.
I don’t know, but I’ve been told that Obama puts Manmohan Singh on a pedestal as one world leader who doesn’t clown around, talks sparingly but when he does makes the most sense, and is about as close to saintly as a politician can get.
Or, as one senior State Department official told me a few months back, “Why does everyone in Delhi think Obama doesn’t care for India? He loves you people!” Indian officials say that this supposed affection hasn’t really been visible in any obvious manner.
Admittedly, there are plenty of symbolic actions. Singh was the guest of Obama’s first formal state dinner, the so-called Salahi summit. Obama is going to break protocol at the present Indo-US strategic dialogue and come over to Foggy Bottom to attend the foreign minister-level reception – he didn’t show up at the China, Pakistan or Afghanistan dialogues that were held earlier. (Admittedly, the China one was in Beijing and thus a little bit difficult for him.)
And there is a recognition that much of the forward movement in the relationship, which is much mired in small, complex but necessary issues regarding technology access and harmonizing bureaucratic ways and means, has been left to unimaginative mid-level mandarins on both sides.
Some of this is genuine negativism. Nonproliferation types in the US who can’t get over the nuclear deal. And Indian mandarins who can’t get over the Cold War. Much of this is normal cover my back bureaucratic thinking.
Some of this was a lack of attention at the political level. Obama was focussed on his economic crisis and a logical belief that China was the country that he had to talk about this. He was also focussed on his Afghan war and believed that this was 90 per cent about Pakistan. India wasn’t part of the problem nor part of the solution. We don’t have anything to contribute to the BP oil spill either.
Those in the Obama administration who put China or Pakistan at the center of their worldview are now in the descent. Their policy prescriptions haven’t worked the way they wanted: Beijing has been arrogant, Islamabad deceitful. The US president seems to be slowly finding time and confidence to look at longer-term policy issues like the India relationship. It took Bush about two years to get a grip on India.
And there have been plenty of administrative hang-ups. The respective ambassadors in Delhi and Washington will not, to put it mildly, be leaving any marks in the history books. Singh has been struggling to find his legislative footing in the UPA II government. So the civil nuclear liability bill and other legislative or administrative paperwork that needs to be done with the US has been caught up in pointless military tangles. And our Do Nothing defence ministry has combined with Make It Difficult US officialdom to paralyze the defence relationship.
The point is that it’s all mice and no men right now. Which is why, with senior US officials saying that Obama is beginning to apply the political pressure from top, the present dialogue may be harbinger of better things to come. Might help if they could plug that damn hole off Louisiana. The US president would have a much freer agenda.