Poor reporting (Anand Giridharadas edition)

Where we use a Brad DeLong refrain

Vivek Kumar points out an article in the International Herald Tribune

A question hovers over the United States’ blooming friendship with India: How good a friend will India be should it emerge as a great power?

Will it be a Britain — a loyal ally, a partner against terrorism, a fellow evangelist for free markets and democracy? Or will it be France — sharing Washington’s bedrock values but ever willing to pursue its own interests at the expense of American ones?

Or will it be China — a competitive threat to the U.S. economy, using its influence to thwart American diplomatic pressure on nations like Sudan and Iran? [IHT]

The correct answer—if there can be one at all—is that India will be India. Sui generis, to use a term that Bibek Debroy used to describe India (in another context) today.

But the really inexcusable bit is this one:

Around the time that deal was struck, American officials often talked up India as the new Britain, a natural ally whose growing clout was an unmitigated good for the United States. But a year and a half later, India has shown a tendency to chart an unpredictable diplomatic course, whether by cozying up to the rulers of Myanmar, Sudan and Iran or by stalling on its promises to open its economy fully to American corporate giants like Wal-Mart, AIG and Citibank. [IHT]

The reporter’s failure to understand India’s diplomatic course does not automatically make it ‘unpredictable’. India’s ‘cozying up’ to those countries predates the India-US nuclear deal by a stretch. If Giridharadas wanted to be accurate he should have noted that India has continued to maintain its diplomatic course despite the deal with the United States. And it is bizarre that he should link economic reforms to foreign policy. The phrasing of that sentence suggests either that US firms were supposed to receive special entry which they did not, or that they were singled out. Another gem—towards the end of the article— citing the views of the ONGC chairman as representative of India’s foreign policy. Very poor journalism indeed.

As Brad DeLong would put it, why oh why can’t we have a better press corps?

7 thoughts on “Poor reporting (Anand Giridharadas edition)”

  1. The article clearly seems to be planted by the US defence industry lobby to generate some sales by linking it to improving better Indo-US relations.Nice try! next time they should try some subtlety rather than thoughtlessly copy their sales brouchure template ;).

  2. Accuracy and Indian press corps? That’s an oxymoron:)

    If buying stuff and walmarts making countries allies, shouldn’t China and US be one nation by now?

    Apollo, agree – lot news articles floating around this week. US defense industry wants at least some piece of billions of dollars MOD wants to spend. There is nothing wrong in buying US products if the deals are good – just the pressure tactics are pretty amazing.

  3. I just read this article yesterday. I am often quite bemused when reporters use such ambiguous statements.

    Statements like:

    […………..Will it be a Britain — a loyal ally,……….] \

    – Allies are not loyal; followers are. We’ve seen that time and again with Britain’s relationship with America. Britain is nothing but a stooge in American hands and Blair is called Bush’s poodle.

    […………India has shown a tendency to chart an unpredictable diplomatic course,………………]

    Of course India will. USA isn’t being benevolent when it grants India the nuclear deal. They look at the strategic benefits to them in the long term. Nitin, I have read in length about the American policy and most of their foreign policies involve opening up of markets for the huge corporations which bankroll the US government; demodumbs or repigs doesn’t matter, and I think that is the reason the author is choosing to link “economic reforms to foreign policy”.

    Of course India will follow its own course and consider her own benefits in pursuit of foreign policy. As Economist said during Bush’s India trip:

    [….The United States should not base its Asian strategy on that sort of balance-of-power diplomacy. Apart from anything else, India is far too canny, and cares too much about its own China relationship, to be drawn into such a game. Instead of encircling China, Mr Bush should concentrate on putting the American relationship with it on the right footing: deeper engagement, coupled with a determination to make China play by the rules…..]

    The above is a fact that Strobe Talbott found out first hand during his negotiations with Jaswant and others over the ’98 nuclear explosion as mentioned in his excellent book – Engaging India – Democracy, Diplomacy and the Bomb.

    IHT is owned by NY Times if my memory serves me right and they’ve been involved in some serious gaffes regarding India in the past as well.

  4. The real question (at least in mia mind) is “How does the US prove to India that they’re a trustworthy partner”? Its not only about India constantly demonstrating her bona fides, you see.
    Going easy on $$billions in aid and weaponry to ‘major non NATO ally’ Pakistan for starters would be nice …..

  5. I understand that India is a country that can’t throw money around as if it were rice at a wedding. The question then is how do we decide the opportunity cost of pissing off a super power.

    If our government wasn’t so inept and corrupt we could rely upon it to decide when it was wise to go with the cheaper jet fighter (more importantly one that transferred more technology) against one that helped us cozy up to the only super power in the world.

  6. Economic policy, which includes economic reform, are certainly linked to foreign policy considerations. That’s not surprising at all. The quality of journalism in India is quite poor — not enough fact checking, using old articles from other news outlets, and some shoddy writing. Interestingly, the U.S. is one of the few (perhaps only) country that offers yearly programs for Indian journalists to travel to the U.S., visit 5 cities, and meet with their colleagues from variuos parts of the media world.

    For the realists that are responding to your post it’s nothing new to say that India should follow her own self-interest, but that, to me, takes the responsibility out of the Indian citizens’ hands. Thus, no one speaks up about the cozying up to the Burmese junta over the past few years — military hardware is not being used only against Indian insurgents, it’s also being used to raze civilian villages and supress ethnic groups along the border — which is a departure from the previous Indian policy of “less engagement until democracy” with the country.

    As for IHT taking a planted story from the US DoD — I think anyone who knows and regularly reads the IHT would simply laugh at that idea.

  7. I think Arundhati Ghosh (in the IHT article linked in this post) has answered that question nicely, “India will never be an ally, but we’ll be a friend, which is different.”

    We have to understand, that we are both huge countries in totally different parts of the world – and the geopolitical realities that affect us both are different. We both share the same values, and will continue to do so. However we will have our own priorities on when we choose (out of necessity) to compromise on those values.

    All in all, who can argue that a true friend is better than a crony in the long term?

Comments are closed.