Nothing stealthy, nothing personal

Overstating the power of Washington’s lobbyists

As headlines go, this one at ForeignPolicy.com scrapes the bottom. India’s opposition to President Obama’s plans to include the Kashmir brief in the special envoy’s portfolio was neither secret nor directed specifically against Richard Holbrooke. So to describe India’s actions as a “secret war on Holbrooke” is factually incorrect, demonstrates poor judgement and reeks of the kind of sensationalism that you would find in the tabloid press.

From the moment Mr Obama revealed his plan to TIME magazine’s Joe Klein, a number of Indians—from this humble blogger to the most respected voice in India’s strategic establishment—have openly and publicly pointed out what a bad idea that would be (see a roundup on Pragmatic Euphony). It is reasonable to expect that the Indian government would have also communicated its position through official channels. So yes, India had serious objections to the proposal. But it was only secret to the extent that such things usually are. And since these objections date back to the time Bill Clinton was considered for the position, and before Mr Holbrooke’s candidature was announced, it is absurd to suggest it was directed against the latter’s person.

Beyond that headline, the title and contents of Laura Rosen’s post suggest that “stealth lobbying” was instrumental in ensuring that Mr Holbrooke’s official remit was limited to Afghanistan and Pakistan. Now, lobbying is part of how Washington DC works, and India, like other countries, plays that game. But even the best lobbyists cannot convince the US government to swim against the current. Sure, lobbyists, journalists and pundits have a vested interest in portraying K Street firms as the behind-the-scenes arbiters of foreign policy, but that view is way too cynical and insults the intelligence and commitment of the real policy-makers.

In this case, it should be bleeding obvious to anyone who reads the news that without India’s co-operation the United States will find it more tedious, more expensive and more time-consuming to secure its objectives in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Let’s give that much credit to the Obama team. And wish Mr Holbrooke success in his latest endeavour.