OBAMA'S INDIA VISIT NOV 24, 2010 By Siddhartha S.Bhadrakumar

NOV 24, 2010
By Siddhartha S.Bhadrakumar
Much has been made up of Obama?s India visit. Much has also been made of India?s supposed rise. Both assumptions are fallacious according to my opinion. That Obama is now a lame duck President and possibly a one-term President seems to state the obvious. The visit is unlikely to have shored up Obama nor will it change the realities which define India. India is keeping its options open by engaging other great powers,despite the U.S. sponsorship for India's claim to a permanent seat at the U.N. Security Council.

American power certainly does not seem to be on the ascendant worldwide. It is plagued by serious structural economic problems in my view. In terms of raw military power the United States remains a superpower. However for how much longer that will be remains an arguable point when the economic sinews of that power seem to be under strain. Let us not forget that the Soviet Union was an outstanding military power but the erosion and ultimate collapse of its economy signaled the end for Soviet power. We could arguably apply this model for the United States; though there would be some who argue that American capitalism has cycles and has had an even more serious downturns earlier which did not affect its power projection capabilities. The jury is still out on this point. History may be the best judge.

We should at the same time not exaggerate the strength of America?s competitors. China for one has serious internal issues to grapple with. The nature of its archaic political structure and the imperfect cohesion of its ethnic groups as well as the questionability of its export driven economic model may signal that China is a bubble waiting to burst.

India too does not paint an appetizing picture. The Indian elite may believe their country is a great power destined to be a superpower but the realities in its rural hinterland speak of a story of poverty, deprivation and exploitation. Eighty percent of India lacks proper sanitation. The India that is progressive is largely in its urban areas and not all sections are equally benefitting from India?s economic growth though large sections arguably maybe getting lifted out of poverty.

The Obama visit to my mind therefore signals the engagement of American corporate interests to their Indian counterparts and signifies only the fruition of the process of crony capitalism that India is pursuing in the name of development. According to the latest count $10 billion have been signed in trade deals. Corporate interests on both sides stand to make big bucks. That itself is a justification for the Indo-U.S. bonhomie for many.

On the political front a country, India, seeking constant sponsorship for its status as a great power cannot in actuality be one. This is evinced by the requirement of US support for permanent membership in the Security Council. Two things need to be raised about this. Firstly how relevant is the U.N. today? Perhaps a body such as the G-20 has more content. The overarching point I would like to note is that no country ever rose to greatness by the sponsorship of another. Secondly the United States allies are either only satellites or client states. Is India one? India prides itself as being too big to be manipulated; how reconcilable is this with the US agenda? Also what is the durability of a "partnership" where the partners seem to have such different perceptions of what partnership means? There is also great merit in the argument of some that the United States does not believe in partnerships but merely in the creation of client states. There is much merit in this argument in my opinion. We need look no further than the examples of corrupt dictatorships in Latin America and Pakistan. More specifically India's avowed agenda of indigenisation of defence production capability is unlikely to square with American corporate interests, whose primary interest is the selling of big ticket weapon systems.If these defence deals do not materialise for whatever reasons, the nascent Indo-US bonhomie may quickly sour. As it is the Indian armed forces have now famously become known not as the defence forces but as the Times of India newspaper recently noted the 'offence forces', for their involvement in scams. What sort of a relationship can be forged with such an entity is a moot question.But then Washington is no stranger to being in league with the unsavoury.

We also need to look at the consistency of US policy and the likelihood of changes in it adversely impacting the Indo-US camaraderie. For example till recently there was much talk of China and America establishing a condominum in Asia and China was called upon to play a greater role in South Asia. Now American policy has veered towards outright hostility and containment of China. India should not be drawn into the U.S. agenda of containing China which is an unfeasible course of action considering China's size and comparative wealth.Let us also not forget that in the 1962 Sino-Indian conflict American support could not prevent a resounding Indian defeat.India should not make the mistake of Georgia of believing it has total U.S. backing and taking on a much larger power.The consequences of doing so might be disastrous for India.

Going back in history, India should not forget the fickleness of U.S. policy towards Iran. Iran in the 1970s was the subject of U.S.sponsorship to a degree similar to that of India today. However the relationship quickly soured with the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran to the extent that the U.S. sponsored Iranian armed forces quickly found themselves crippled in the ensuing war with Iraq. The change in U.S. policy had led it to cut off weapons systems maintenance support to Iran.That Iran was eventually able to contain Saddam Hussein's aggression and denied him an outright victory is a tribute more to the resilience of the Iranian people.

We must also question the durability of this relationship on other grounds. The situation in South Asia is tangled and Pakistan remains crucial for American strategic interests. It is a given that America needs Pakistan for the stabilization of Afghanistan and for being a bridgehead towards Central Asia. This is but a fulfillment of the original British colonial agenda in South Asia whereby Pakistan was created as a Western satellite to sponsor Western interests in South Asia; a role Pakistan performed admirably well in the Cold War epoch and one which it arguably continues to perform currently. We can gauge the depth of that relationship by the US President refusing to condemn Pakistan as a state sponsor of terrorism on his India visit. Sooner or later as Selig Harrison has aptly put it, the United States will realise it cannot simultaneously foster a partnership with both India and Pakistan.

In reality India is what can be called an 'apprentice power' whose internal processes are subject to external manipulation. The Maharashtra chief minister was removed within 11 minutes of Obama's departure, over the ruckus he had threatened to create over the visit by not attending a banquet for Obama. He finally attended but that did not save his chief ministerial position. The Adarsh scam came as a convenient tool to get rid of him. Maharashtra for the uninitiated is India's biggest state.

The Cold War has long ended, Pakistan is a virtually bankrupt state and with its economic difficulties America may not have the will nor the means to stay engaged in South Asia or Asia over the long term. American power is also on the wane in Asia. Can the corporate American agenda overcome America's inexorable political decline?The Obama visit has not thrown light on these questions yet. The visit seems destined therefore to be one of those episodic events that arouse emotions and sentiments for a time but then gradually fade into oblivion as of no great momentum in the inexorable onward march of history.