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Obama’s Second Term and India’s Role as an Enabler

January 28, 2013

President Barack Obama took the oath for office of the president for a second time amid lots of jubilation and fanfare. As he walked down the Pennsylvania Avenue with his wife Michelle, he must have been looking ahead at the challenges that face him. It is the domestic issues that are uppermost in his mind. The economy is recovering but not quiet there, and that is his biggest concern. The one issue closest to his heart – medical insurance for all Americans,  or Obamacare as this has been coined, is still to take shape as envisioned. A bloated deficit does not help at all. A higher tax for the super-rich (those earning more than $500,000 per- annum) has not gone down well at all,irrespective of what Warren Buffet says.

One reason why Obama decided to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan was the fact that the nation had got tired of incessantly being at war. The state of the US economy did not allow him the luxury of such huge expenditure. Yet, the US must keep its role of the leader of the world and that is abundantly clear to the 44th president of the United States. He also realizes that a rising China needs to be contained. The corner stone of his foreign policy is therefore the much touted Look-East policy. Afghanistan is going nowhere. US may have decided on a non-combat role for the US troops but that does not mean that there shall be a complete withdrawal – US cannot give that space to another nation and Afghanistan cannot remain in a vacuum is clear to everyone. Obama has other more pressing priorities and that means that his ‘Look East’ policy is what he wants to focus his attention on. He also knows that for any nation to have a credible foreign policy the issues at home must be set right.  That is why for him the economy and American footprint on the global stage are intertwined. He therefore does not want to waste time on a Mali or even a Libya some time ago. Even Syria has been entrusted more to American allies in Europe than direct American intervention. In fact Obama’s reticence to enter Syria is one reason why the crisis there is like a festering wound. The Russians know Obama’s priorities and are therefore supporting the Assad regime. The nation has turned to rubble with more than a 100,000 dead. It is a tragedy.

In Obama’s Look East policy India is the fulcrum. Americans would like to deny India’s pivotal role but the truth of the matter is that India does become intrinsically important. That is why the US signed the Indo-US Civilian Nuclear deal. Two democracies of the world would naturally come together – right? Wrong. India has not come up to expectations. Simple issues like the nuclear liability bill are still not passed by the  Indian parliament. The reforms process is slow and while one would have expected India to welcome investments the truth of the matter is that files are piling up and projects are being delayed like never before. India is just not moving. A classic example is that of the South Korean steel giant Posco who want to invest $2.5b in a steel plant in Orissa and are being denied on some flimsy environmental issues. The local population wants the plant to come up but activists are stalling the mega project. The government remains a mute spectator.  The kind of brouhaha over FDI in retail shows how India is less than keen on real reforms. Now the retail giants are dragging their feet and putting on hold their plans for India. India may soon be reduced to junk status by the rating agencies. The BRIC dream as far as India is concerned is over. India has not passed muster and that is a cause for concern for the West. They had lots of expectations from India and looked at India as their extension in the region but India refuses to budge. The reforms process has been slow and decisions are just not being taken.

India will have to set things right at home if it wants to play a real role in international affairs. But for that we must set our own house in order and win the trust of the West. India needs to be strong economically and the top leadership needs to learn to take decisions that are right for the nation. India has a credibility in international fora that few nations have. We have excellent relations with Russia, Iran and in the Middle East. Our relations with Israel have also developed over the years and there is some sense of trust between the two nations. The West needs India and its traditional wisdom in dealing with tenuous world affairs. If we were to set things right on the domestic front and amalgamate the Indian economy with the world economy as we ought to, then there is a role for India in the world affairs that will be a welcome development for the global community.

We could be the bridge between Russia and the US. Contentious issues between the two are not intractable and a nation like ours could play a role between Putin’s Russia and Obama’s America. The Yukos and Khordovsky affair cannot be a permanent bone of contention between the two. The missile defense shield in Poland makes the Russians edgy. India could help through negotiations. The Syrian crisis has been one huge disaster. Assad will listen to us. If the West and the Assad regime could meet in Delhi and thrash things out over a period of time a lot of needless violence could be avoided.

We have excellent relations with Tehran. The Iranian question needs to be addressed. Obama will have to look at Iran long and hard. Iran cannot be allowed to proliferate. Yet Iranians have a right to peaceful use of nuclear energy. India could again play the role of enabler in a possible solution to the intractable problem. The US does not want to get sucked into the Iranian pit. Israel has legitimate security concerns. The last thing that the international community wants to see is a unilateral strike by Israel on Iran. We need to work with our western friends and allies to ensure Iran does not test a nuclear device. Proliferation in the Middle East is neither in Israel’s interest nor in ours. Iranian leadership needs to be made to understand and we as their friends can play a role in this vital effort of the world community.

I would love to add the Israel-Palestinian issue also as one where we could help. Suffice to say that we have a much bigger role to play on the international arena. But then we must first set our house in order. We must realize our potential. I see India as one nation that should not be bracketed in the BRICS, rather there are just two nations that will be critical for the West in its global plans – India and China. Russia will remain important from the energy point of view. But the world politics should be dominated by how India and China position themselves in the global community. Both will be the drivers of the world economy. Europe will have relevance not a a cohesive whole that they attempt with the EU but as a disparage collection of nations that have a role individually and as a comity of nations in a randomly cohesive voice. The ‘country of EU’ as David Cameroon disparagingly said should have a more realistic resonance and not  utopian unrealistic aspirations.

Europe is trying to get its act together. Obama’s America has domestic issues as its top priority. India must choose the same path. Get the domestic issues sorted out – make the obvious right choices and then we can play a more proactive role in world affairs. The world community wants to hear what India has to say. But then first learn to do the right things, the way they ought to be done. The truth of the matter is that the people of India understand this and the coming 2014 elections will be a test of who can deliver on these tangibles. People of India cannot wait any longer. There is still time for the present administrations to pull up its socks and get down to work. It is no rocket science nor is it terribly dangerous. What is sure political harakiri is not to do what is right knowing where we are and where we want to go. Obama administration would like nothing better than to see India moving towards the path of reforms and real progress away from the jingoistic ‘welfareism’. There is a role for India to play on the world stage. India could be the voice of reason. India could be the arbiter, the enabler to peace and global prosperity. There is a lot at stake, if only we were to understand the import of our strategic position.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul Clausen permalink
    January 29, 2013 10:43 am

    Excellent article! Good and comprehensive analysis of the current international affairs. Here’s hoping that India lives up to the expectations and plays the role that it is capable of playing!

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