Colin Powell’s botched handling of India policy

Erring Powell errs again

”America can have no closer partnerships in the world than those we forge with fellow democracies,” [Colin Powell] said [in July 2002].[NYT via HVK]

He was talking about Pakistan!

One of the most worrisome things that emerges from the thick intelligence file we have on Iraq’s biological weapons is the existence of mobile production facilities. [‘BBC’]

It turned out that it was the intelligence that was thick.

Colin Powell’s handling of relations with India has been marked by a singular lack of imagination and sensitivity. Earlier this year, the manner in which he announced the designation of Pakistan as a ‘major non-NATO ally’ almost sold the pro-American elements of India’s foreign policy downriver. Jaswant Singh (who did much to bring India and United States into a ‘strategic tango’) was not likely to forgive or forget that bungling, considering that it might even have contributed to the BJP’s subsequent electoral defeat.

So when Colin Powell claimed that it was due to his considerable skills in patching calls together that India and Pakistan began their current ‘thaw’, Jaswant Singh was livid.

“I don’t know whether the State Department of U.S.A., in addition to attempting to run U.S. foreign policy as best as it can, is also a telephone exchange and now is acting as a kind of elocution instructor to South Asia. [Washington Post]

Also while the US State Department kowtows to such regimes as China and Saudi Arabia and indulges such dictators as Gen Musharraf, for reasons of pragmatism of course, it finds it necessary to criticise India, for reasons of principle, for rolling out the red-carpet to Myanmar’s Than Shwe.

And while the United States can claim A Q Khan, the proliferator who went scot-free, has been ‘brought to justice‘, again for reasons of expediency, it finds it incumbent upon itself to impose sanctions on two Indian scientists who are, according to the United States itself, at worst bit-players compared to the big kahunas running the nuclear Wal-Mart.

The greatest irony of all this is that Powell’s botched diplomacy leaves the world’s most powerful democracy unable get its relations with world’s biggest on a consistently sure footing. The good news is that Powell is likely to lose his job whichever way the US elections go; the bad news is that some of his replacements-in-waiting are even worse.

6 thoughts on “Colin Powell’s botched handling of India policy”

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  2. Bah, Nitin.
    You know, maybe we tend to take ourselves a tad too seriously, eh?

    Aside from rhetorical /ideological grandstanding (about being fellow democracies etc), there’s nothing really India can offer the US in areas that matter – like military support in the WoT. Increased economic ties and trade is a 2-way street, we benefit too and hence it ain’t as if we’re doing them a favor by trading with them, yu know. But unlike a Britain which literally stuck its neck out by helping the US in the Iraq war, we will never stick our necks out for the US. So, what great friendship/ partnership are we talking about anyway?

    I don’t see India mattering terribly to the US for at least a generation (approx. 25 yrs more) by which time we’d have quadrupled our per capita (at the least) and emerged as one of the bigegst economic and military powers in the world.

    Until then, we’re better off lying low, building our capabilities and keeping our collective trap shut.


  3. Sudhir,

    Nothing I suggest is from an emotional ‘friendship/partnership’ angle. Far from it, it is in the US best interests to seek alliances with those countries which would be able to stick out their necks in the pursuit of common interests.

    And on the topic of lying low and keeping our traps shut, it was Thomas Jefferson who advised never to leave an insult unpunished, for it is the parent of many others. Once you lie down and become a carpet for people to tread on, you will wear yourself out, but never become something else.

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  5. Powell seems to take a perverse pleasure in kissing up to foreign dictatorships. The Saudi Ambassador to the US is an old racquetball partner of his, he’s always taken pride in his ability to work with a fellow “military man” like Musharraf, and just last week, he made some truly idiotic comments about Taiwan in the name of kowtowing to China – comments that the State Department has been busy backtracking from in the following days.

    Like you said, Nitin, Powell will be gone following this election regardless of who wins. If Bush wins, I suspect he might appoint a replacement who wants to continue existing policies towards Musharraf, but is also more keen on fostering defense ties with India. There are a lot of conservatives in the US who are still wary of China, and they see India and a remilitarized Japan as a big part of the solution to containing China’s rise. If Kerry wins, I think you’ll get someone who will take a harder line on Pakistan, but is less interested in growing the defense partnership, and more likely to obsess over the NPT and other nuclear proliferation matters.

    Regarding the whole major non-NATO ally flap, Powell clearly botched the diplomacy by not notifying India first, and perhaps he should’ve offered India the same status at the time. But as Tom Friedman noted, I think India also made too big a deal out of it. MNNA status is more symbolic than anything else at this point, and the US did offer it to India after they protested, but India refused.

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