Friday, November 07, 2008

The American Elections and the Perceptions of the Developing World, Part II: India's Jitters, Pakistan's Prize

The American media, like its Western European cousins, would like to have us all believe that the entire world outside of Europe and the United States is not only ecstatic over the election of Mr. Obama to the American presidency, bit will now, like the proverbial lion and lamb, abandon their traditional and current agendas, even their aggressive ones, and play nice with the new American President whose skin color embraces the world. But while the developing world is happy enough (or at least some of it) to be rid of what to many seemed like the self delusional and arrogant crew that passed for the last part of the Bush administration (whatever the merits of its theoretical positions), voices from those parts of the world are already suggesting that they might not be happy either with the incoming administration.

I have already suggested the way in which the grand old adversary, Fidel Castro, both supported and denigrated then candidate Obama. See Larry Catá Backer, Fidel Castro on the American Elections: Obama's Partiality and the Perceptions of the Developing World, Law at the End of the Day, Nov. 4, 2008. Now the Indians have begun to express their misgivings--in a much more gracious way. For all the graciousness, what clearly emerged is a renewed sense that the inexperience of the incoming administration, and its reaching back to (what to the Indians might appear to be) the dinosaurs that peopled the last democratic administration will either turn the clock back unacceptably or (as usual for American foreign policy in certain epochs) do great harm while convincing itself that it is doing great good. Indrani Bagchi, What India wants from the new president, The Times of India, Nov. 6, 2008.

The article is interesting for a number of reasons. The first is the nostalgia for the Bush Administration. That might come as a surprise to Americans, whose media has fed them the idea--now thoroughly digested--that besides Israel (and perhaps Britain) all other nations hated and despised the outgoing administration.
Over the past eight years, as George Bush wielded his scythe, in a strange sort of way, he helped to change the way the world looked at India. In many ways, the way India herself looked at India. India has gotten used to being on top of the US president's mindspace, whether as an exceptional democracy, a rising power or as the beneficiary of a unique nuclear agreement which pulled India out of a technology hole. India successfully "de-hyphenated" from Pakistan giving itself a lot of international legroom.
Id. But the good times may end under the Obama administration, and that has some in India worried. "Obama, for that matter, the Democrat establishment, are eight years behind the curve on US-India relations, which are on a completely different trajectory now." Id.

Second, there is a fear that the Obama administration will tilt toward China, a traditional adversary and a current economic competitor, of India. "US specialist on South Asia, Ashley Tellis, one of the main architects of the nuclear deal did a quick preview of Obama's India policy. "Obama says he will sustain the relationship with India. His administration will likely be dominated by people who view the relationship with China as the most important US relationship in Asia, and by individuals who have difficulty accepting either the legitimacy or the reality of India's nuclear weapons."" Id. The tilt thus might both limit India's "legroom" but also threaten the broad application of the nuclear deal just reached with the Bush Administration. But more importantly, it will reduce the Indian's to a position of second fiddle even in South Asia. "India has very uncomfortable memories of Bill Clinton in Beijing in June 1998, virtually appointing Beijing the "daroga" for South Asia. Democrats have always viewed the US-China relationship as "special" and generally have a more welcoming view of China." To the extent that the incoming administration also treats India like the poor relation, it will have repercussions, especially now that the India of 2008 is not quite the same as the India of a decade or so ago.

Third, there is also a fear that the incoming administration will tilt toward Pakistan as well--China's main partner in South Asia and another much more potentially dangerous adversary of India. The Indians are afraid that the incoming administration will show a
commitment to removing the sources of terror from Pakistan-Afghanistan may have the unfortunate effect of reviving yet another form of "hyphenation", this time on terrorism, which will be far more dangerous, certainly so far as India is concerned. While on the one hand he says he wants to appoint former US president Bill Clinton as his special envoy on Kashmir, in another recent interview, Obama said, "We should probably try to facilitate a better understanding between Pakistan and India and try to resolve the Kashmir crisis so that they can stay focused not on India but on the situation with those militants." This is clearly a considered position. . .
Id. The result,one that produces alarm in certain circles in India, is that there will be a reversion to the old semi-adversarial relationship with the United States--a traditional but fruitless pattern for both states. But then patterns die hard and old administrators with new power might be more interested in personal vindication that pursuing successful policy if that success might somehow also bring credit to a prior administrator. Hardly a way to run a large hegemonic power, but politics is personal. "This is not music to Indian ears. It shows only one thing — that there will be a long period of painful diplomatic exchanges before the Obama administration can be made to realise that the "Kashmir problem" is just an alibi for Pakistan as it seeks to secure its objectives in Afghanistan and have its way vis-a-vis India." Id.

Fourth, the move to cozying up to Pakistan, always a sensitive matter for India (but one important for Pakistan) produces fear of a bamboozling of the naive Americans. This is an old canard--the idea that especially idealistic American administrations, from Kennedy in Vietnam to the second George Bush in Iraq, arrogantly unaware of the extent of their naivete because of the false assessment of the value of their internally derived understanding of the word and their fidelity to their theoretic stances--but one that is hard to disprove. A certain segment of the Indian media and intellectual elite is ready to believe this typical American problem has reappeared in the form of the incoming president. "In his article in Foreign Affairs, Obama showed a dangerous misreading of the issue." Id. In this case, the bamboozling, from the Indian perspective, takes a particular form:
As the US gets more involved in disentangling Pakistan and Afghanistan from terrorism, Taliban and al-Qaida, it will be tempting, for Democrats to push a "Kashmir solution" as a carrot for Pakistan to undertake tough policies on its northwestern border. Already Pakistan army chief Ashfaque Kiyani has reportedly told US generals that he cannot concentrate whole-heartedly on two borders at once. This argument has clearly been made after Pakistan detected "fertile ground" in the Obama camp. India has faced this argument before and successfully defeated it thus — that Pakistan-sponsored terrorism in Afghanistan is of a piece with the violence in Kashmir. Bowing to the Pakistani argument would be tantamount encouraging Pakistan believe that terrorism as a foreign policy tool actually works. Which, of course would be disastrous to Obama's real objective of cleaning out the Taliban.
Id. While it makes sense to pursue a strong relationship with Pakistan, that relationship is both in turmoil and mired in the American adventures in Central Asia. The Indians remind the incoming administration that Pakistan cannot be dealt with in a vacuum--in the same way that Indian relations may not ignore Pakistan. But both relationships may not be made dependent on the other--the sort of humiliating and limiting "hyphenation" that the article dismisses, and rightly so, as ridiculously wrongheaded. Pakistan is important to the Americans, but so is India--and each for somewhat different reasons.

Fifth, "On nuclear issues, despite the nuclear deal, India is likely to find the going tough with the Obama crowd. Some of the best known critics like Strobe Talbot and Robert Einhorn are likely to find prominent jobs in the U.S. nuclear establishment--and their dislike of the Indian nuclear deal as well as India's nuclear weapons in general is not going to lessen." Id. But more importantly, there is a sense in India that the democrats will attempt to distance themselves from any Bush administration project that may reflect positively, including this deal.
Remember, despite the much touted bi-partisan support for the nuclear agreement in the US Congress, all naysayers were Democrats. Obama himself is the author of one of the biggest "killer" amendments of the Hyde Act, the Obama amendment to deny lifetime supplies of nuclear fuel to Indian reactors, and needed strong political push by Bush and Manmohan to reverse it in the 123 agreement. Obama eventually voted for the deal but there's a sour note. Therefore, getting licenses from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission wont be easy, as non-proliferation wallahs use the famed American bureaucracy to roll back the effects of the nuclear deal.

Sixth, there is the issue of trade. This one would not pit India against Pakistan for the affection of the Obama administration, but rather pit India, China and Pakistan against the reactionary element that colored some of the rhetoric of the campaigning of the incoming President. This anti-globalization stance of the incoming president causes concern in three respects. The first touches on outsourcing. This is an issue that the Indians would rather leave to the market--not an idea with much favor among many of the supporters of the incoming adminitstration. It is ironic that formerly socialist India would provide a forum for market based solutions against the increasing apparent willingness of the free market Americans to control that market through state intervention. "The 2008 election campaign has been relatively free of "outsourcing" as an issue, but it is clear that on principle Obama would oppose outsourcing of jobs to countries like India. But here, the battle is best left to the private sector." Id. There is a sense that the incoming administration could go either way in the issue, depending on the way the winds of political expediency blow: "In fact, post financial crisis, his views are likely to soften further, as analysts suggest that outsourcing may become more necessary, to cut costs and improve productivity. But then again, he may find greater traction for his views in a weak labour market in the US. " Id. The second, "Obama has raised the banner for "fair" trade rather than "free" trade, which has already raised eyebrows here among people who look forward to tough trade talks ahead, particularly in the unfinished Doha round." Id. And the third touches on the sensitive issue of immigration. Thus, the Indians might worry about "what would it mean for more professional and tech visas for Indian professionals to the US? Indian and US companies have been clamouring for more H1-B visas, but its likely that a naturally protectionist Democrat administration with their core constituency being labour unions would find it difficult to increase those numbers from present 65,000." Id. Of course, here the Indian concern will only be magnified by those of immigrant communities within the United States itself--many of whom voted for the victor on the basis of an expectation that he would do right by them on immigration, though he was also critically supported by those who hoped he would go the other way (though in a more humane and less ostentatiously punitive way than the Bush Administration).

The incoming president has already noted the many difficulties that await him. It is likely that issues of foreign policy--not the political issues that form the bread and butter of foreign policy--but those grounded in what had been an emerging international regime of trade and movements of capital, might add substantially to the list of those difficulties. The developing world is hopeful but wary. The old issues have not disappeared in the gushing over the historic events in the United States. It will be interesting to see whether the incoming administration continues its predecessor's push toward a private market based globalized economic and legal order, or will move back toward an inter governmental and regulatory approach to those regimes. The response to Indian concerns may serve as a useful measure of that approach.

Of course, one reaction from one media source from one developing state does not make for a firm basis for understanding what is coming. On the other hand, it is worth noting that such voices, raised early and tentatively now point to a possibility that is not without the realm of the possible.

No comments: