Obama’s insensitivity to India’s interests

…must be appropriately addressed

“[Can] Mr Obama really allow US-India relations to backslide into the mutual neglect last seen during the Cold War?” Sumit Ganguly wrote in the Wall Street Journal three weeks ago, “We may be about to find out.” Dr Ganguly warned the Obama administration that insensitivity to India’s interests will allow other powers to “step into the breach”. He repeated the warning in Newsweek, adding that India is annoyed by Obama.

Today the WSJ reports:

President Barack Obama issued a secret directive in December to intensify American diplomacy aimed at easing tensions between India and Pakistan, asserting that without détente between the two rivals, the administration’s efforts to win Pakistani cooperation in Afghanistan would suffer.

The directive concluded that India must make resolving its tensions with Pakistan a priority for progress to be made on U.S. goals in the region, according to people familiar with its contents.[WSJ]

The most polite thing that can be said is that Mr Obama made a stupid mistake. He appears to have learnt nothing from the unfortunate situation Richard Holbrooke, his special representative to the Af-Pak region, finds himself in.

While Mr Obama’s decision might well have been due to the political resultant of the interests of the various arms of the US government, it is consistent with his approach of demonstrating insensitivity to the interests of existing and potential allies in order to appease adversaries. This will be costly. President Hamid Karzai is providing the first taste of the consequences of such an approach. More will follow. (See, for instance, Jennifer Rubin’s post at Commentary magazine’s blog)

Mr Obama has put Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in a political difficult position. The news of the White House “directive” making it into the public domain will, paradoxically, severely damage any prospect of New Delhi making things easier for the United States, even when such actions might be in India’s own interests. Who can say that Mr Obama doesn’t deserve to solely rely on partners such as the Pakistani army to help him win what is already called “Obama’s War”? Even Mr Karzai is returning favour by putting distance between himself and the United States.

So far, India’s signals of displeasure and annoyance have been quiet and behind the scenes. It is time to raise the temperature. Given that the UPA government in introducing some very important legislation in the current session of parliament, Dr Singh would do well to stay in New Delhi to see it through, leaving it to the foreign minister to attend the Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, on his behalf. And since the bilateral relationship is mature and everything, New Delhi could let it be known that there’s no real hurry for Mr Obama to visit India.

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20 Responses to Obama’s insensitivity to India’s interests

  1. Dara 5th April 2010 at 10:29 #

    The real paradox is that the further the US pushes India, the more ostrich like the official Indian response. I think the only time India put its foot down firmly was in relation to Holbrooke.

    Obama on the other hand seems oblivious of anything but seeking an ‘honourable’ exit from Afghanistan. He is willing to sleep with the devil in order to achieve his goals.

    India must up its vigilance and make concerted efforts to prevent or minimise the anticipated backlash of increased violence against its interests in both Afghanistan and within India itself.

  2. Jai_C 5th April 2010 at 11:36 #

    “..insensitivity to India’s interests will allow other powers to “step into the breach” …”

    which other power? Its almost TINA and that is a massive advantage.

    Thx,
    Jai

  3. Arvi 5th April 2010 at 20:33 #

    Mr Ganguly has written a nice article. And maybe some in the policy circles would notice!

    The snubs suggested above are also fine.

    But at the end of the day it boils down to a single question: What is India’s leverage vis-a-vis US? IOW to be more blunt apart from begging and pleading it’s case with the US what options does India have MAKE the US do what it WANTS the US to do?

    If the answer is “nothing much” why should US give a heck about India, it’s interests or concerns? The present lot in Foggy Bottom are “realist” crooks who only respect power. There is nothing “good” or “bad” for them. I am already starting to miss the neocons. Sure their ideology might have been at times “extreme” but atleast they HAD AN ideology.

  4. Nagarajan Sivakumar 5th April 2010 at 22:04 #

    And since the bilateral relationship is mature and everything, New Delhi could let it be known that there’s no real hurry for Mr Obama to visit India.
    Obama is in no hurry to visit India. I If he ever comes to the sub-continent he will stop at Islamabad first, and make sure he has the latest laundry list of complaints from his Pakistani allies and then ask New DElhi to take a look at it.

    This is exactly what happens to any country that accomodates to the interests of the Obama Admn- it is expected to bend even more .You have to remember that it was Obama who pressured Manmohan Singh to re-open talks with Pakistan inspite of 26/11. And now, we hear that US interests are ill served by India’s efforts in Afghanistan… and the next thing, you know India will have to come up with a “solution” to the Kashmir problem that pleases Pakistan.

    Frankly, a good part of this charade is also for domestic consumption – India can serve as the fall guy when the US finally exits AfPak with its tail tucked between its legs.

    Maybe Manmohan Singh will beg Pakistan for another round of talks to discuss “all possible issues” and bail Obama out. Who knows ??

  5. Nagarajan Sivakumar 5th April 2010 at 22:09 #

    OW to be more blunt apart from begging and pleading it’s case with the US what options does India have MAKE the US do what it WANTS the US to do?

    If the answer is “nothing much” why should US give a heck about India, it’s interests or concerns? The present lot in Foggy Bottom are “realist” crooks who only respect power. There is nothing “good” or “bad” for them.

    @Arvi,
    Thats what is called pragmatism – the Bush Admn (especially Bush himself) broke away from this in a rather bold and new direction. The Pentagon and the US State Department are known for the ” they may be bast*rds but they are OUR bast*rds” mantra – otherwise, how do you explain the enormous patience with which they have treated the Paki terrorists ?

    This is all going to get ugly pretty fast, pretty soon. MMS is going to end up with egg on his face.

  6. KXB 5th April 2010 at 23:05 #

    Yes, Obama is needlessly letting the U.S-India relationship be put on the backburner. But, India’s leadership has traditionally waited for the U.S. to take the lead. The closeness that developed during the Bush years was not due to some strategic thinking on the part of New Delhi, and there was certainly no great clamor for it in the U.S. It was largely due to the the personal efforts of Bush. If India expects every American president to put forth the same effort, it will be making a mistake.

  7. Nikhil 5th April 2010 at 23:24 #

    What price the US is willing to pay to India in return for accomodating unsavory American goals in the region? Is the Indian leadership capable of extracting that price from the Americans?

  8. libertarian 5th April 2010 at 23:39 #

    Comrade Obama is taking his appeasement to previously unplumbed depths. Law professors belong on universities – not in the White House. Only a matter of time before Netahyahu is forced to poke his finger in Obama’s eye.

    Krauthammer’s article on Obama’s UK-bungling is shocking.

  9. Raymond Turney 6th April 2010 at 02:24 #

    Hi,

    Strange as it sounds, I agree that PM Singh should stay home and deal with India’s domestic problems. It is what he was elected to do, after all.

    in general, India would be better off if it paid less attention to the US. India probably benefits from some US foreign investment, but beyond that the US just doesn’t have that much to offer India. So why not just ignore the US for a while, and let the Foreign Office handle it?

    Ray,

  10. Manish 6th April 2010 at 02:53 #

    I have always been holding Obama is high esteem, such directives from Obama will make him the most stupid US politician . What US has failed to appreciate that it is no longer unipolar world any more, secondly India is no longer dependant upon US for any reason , US no longer can arm twist India . India is sovereign country, a proud nation, largest democracy and an economic power house , any such move will definitely boom rang on US .

  11. Arvi 6th April 2010 at 06:15 #

    “in general, India would be better off if it paid less attention to the US.”

    Vice versa as well. As long as US understands that and doesn’t send nincompoops like Holebrook to India to “mediate” on things like Kashmir (who the heck is this guy? Was he born yesterday?).

  12. Arvi 6th April 2010 at 06:18 #

    @ KXB

    ” It was largely due to the the personal efforts of Bush.”

    This is not true. Don’t forget the neocon foreign policy establishment. Even now they are pretty strong in FP circles although definitely not as strong as when they were during Bush era.

  13. KXB 6th April 2010 at 07:06 #

    “Don’t forget the neocon foreign policy establishment.”

    Neocons are primarily interested in the Middle East, not South Asia. Keep in mind, it was neocons who immediately after 9/11 encouraged Bush to go after Iraq and Iran, rather than focus on Al Qaeda. Wolfowitz did not want to go into Afghanistan at all after 9/11, partly because he was dumb enough to think Iraq had a hand in it, and also because the neocon dream of reforming the Middle East through force could not happen if we focused solely on Afghanistan.

  14. Nirmal 6th April 2010 at 07:40 #

    By downsizing India, Obama administration is making a big mistake, however, not attending the Nuclear Powers Summit or withdrawing the invitation for the president to visit India will be a big mistake. By attending, Mr. Singh will have a first hand opportunity to let the President know how he feels about the whole thing. By inviting him to visit India, he gains leverage that he will not have otherwise, and this will also give him the opportunity to show case India.

    Indian americans can also show their displeasure at the next election, however, please keep in mind that the community is NOT an one issue community.
    NC

  15. Arvi 6th April 2010 at 08:51 #

    “Neocons are primarily interested in the Middle East, not South Asia.”

    Primarily maybe. But doesn’t mean they didn’t care about the rest of the world. For good or bad neocons are most strongly ideologically committed to freedom and democracy. For that reason despite warts and flaws India is viewed favorably by them. Oh and reg Iraq as Tom Friedman (who himself is bit of a neocon if u think abt it) says US hit em because they could. I think nobody, least of all smart cookies like Wolfie, believed Iraq had anything to do with 911. It was jus used to sell the war to the masses.

    If India were proactive it would “cultivate” the neocons and people like Krauthammer. But I have little hopes reg that because India is jus reactive mostly.

    In any case, as democracy takes root in Iraq, history would judge neocons and Bush far more kindly. Atleast they had the right intentions and ideas unlike the crooks that dominate Foggy Bottom these days.

  16. KXB 6th April 2010 at 10:02 #

    Arvi,

    While it would behoove India to push forward its viewpoints in the U.S., the neocons have proven to be a disaster, for the U.S. and Israel, their main countries of interest. In a sense, the fact that so many American corporations such as GE and IBM, often speak of the need to keep Indian interests in mind, is far better for U.S.-India relations than the neocons. GE & IBM can get the point across that the U.S. should not jeopardize a long-term relationship with India for the sake of questionable short term gains from a volatile Pakistan. They will not argue India’s security POV, but their own – the last thing they want is for India to take its grudges against Obama against their interests.

  17. Arvi 6th April 2010 at 15:37 #

    “While it would behoove India to push forward its viewpoints in the U.S., the neocons have proven to be a disaster, for the U.S. and Israel, their main countries of interest.”

    I will disagree on this. But the point is it doesn’t matter. What matter are India’s interests and the fact that in FP circles neocons still have clout.

    “GE & IBM can get the point across that the U.S. should not jeopardize a long-term relationship with India for the sake of questionable short term gains from a volatile Pakistan. ”

    They are not doing a gr8 job. Either they don’t care or they can’t do much. In any case this option doesn’t preclude the use of neocons.

    “They will not argue India’s security POV, but their own – the last thing they want is for India to take its grudges against Obama against their interests.”

    Let’s get one thing straight Nobody other than India herself will argue India’s “security POV”. But they are still much better than the current crooks because they have more “shared interests” with India.

  18. Dara 6th April 2010 at 19:29 #

    I think there is much that the US can be reminded of if it remains deaf to Indian Indian interests.

    While the nuclear deal is looked at in India as a favour from Bush, it must also be realised that the US did it equally for reasons of $$$$ that it will bring to the US nuclear industry. Similarly the Indian market is huge and thriving and the US would be stupid to jeopardise a golden goose.

    I don’t have figures to back up these statements but I can see every type of US business, including educational institutions, wanting to start off here. The Indian pie is quite tempting. There is nothing the US understands more than what lines it’s pockets. We are not totally without leverage as far as I can make out.

    I am sure there are other fields too. For example India is a major player in the arms market, Israel may outwardly be the mainstay of Indian defense procurement, but you can be sure there is something in it for Uncle Sam too, through the back door.

  19. Surya 9th April 2010 at 10:08 #

    The suggested Raymond Tourney route here is more or less a perfect path for India to take. Sadly, US is now working from a position of weakness rather than from its usual position of strength. Even Karzai has shrugged off recently, just as the evil Paks have been doing all along. The next step towards graduation in diplomacy for Karzai is to seek big bucks for turning in a small Taliban guy and repeat the same treatment as and when US gets restless and clueless. US has been used all along by Pak, eventhough its senators and others, receiving a hearty welcome for a few hours they spend each trip in Islamabad, are flattered and always misread the treatment as acceptance of their(US) superiority.The entire DC machinery has miserably failed to accomplish bare minimum goals the Obama admn set for itself. The AQ and Talib terrorists remained as belligerent and elusive as in 2001. A few hundred deats didnt seem to eliminate the terror machinery.

    India can not compromise its own longterm interests just so to please an ally in acute distress. The later has lost his way and groping in the dark for nothing. Remember the withdrawal announcement (of US forces next year) has made the interim look like a repeat episode of daytime TV.

  20. Major General/Dr Anil Lal(r) 13th April 2010 at 14:51 #

    International politics is about jockeying in national interest even if partners change.Obama has openly appeased China by saying that Asia belongs to China.Now he says that India has no role in Afghanistan.Obviously,India should break contact with serving US interest and become silent in declaratory statements but work on ground for Indian interest and should not get fooled by US that India is strategic partner with US. iNDA has to build leverages against US and others.Should not be very difficult as India has a large diaspora in US.Yet another area where India need not play tune to US FIDDLE, IS THE INDIAN OCEN REGION where they are seeking India’s assistance in cooperative policing.Meanwhile India should continue full hog in strengthening strategic foces and the transformed Armed Forces in the long run.

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