Faced with growing domestic challenges from an assertive Republican Party, President Obama also faces a credibility deficit in his conduct of foreign and security policies. He is widely depicted domestically as being “weak” on issues of national security and foreign policy.
The insensitive handling of relations with India is a symbol of the malaise which afflicts his second term as President. In fairness, allegations of his being “weak” and “indecisive,” are somewhat uncharitable. He faces accusations that he should have resorted to military force in Syria and beefed up the NATO alliance after Russia’s actions in Crimea.
He is also accused of being “weak” and vacillating in the face of Chinese military pressures against allies like Japan, the Philippines and South Korea. But, at the same time, he cannot ignore public weariness at recent military misadventures and large losses of American lives in Iraq and Afghanistan.A meek America
In a larger perspective, the American establishment has yet to come to terms with the reality that unlike in the years immediately after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the world order is today more democratised and no longer unipolar.
American military involvement in Syria would have been counterproductive and resulted in a takeover of the country by Al Qaeda-linked Salafi extremists.
Obama acted wisely by listening to Russian advice on the subject, but then sought to undermine Russian influence in Ukraine, resorting to not so covert and clumsy means. He only found that while right wing Ukrainian mobs could forcibly take over the capital Kiev, they would inevitably provoke President Putin to retaliate in the Russian dominated Eastern Ukraine.
The reintegration of Crimea with the Russian Federation and the takeover of cities in Eastern Ukraine with large Russian populations, by armed Russian resistance inevitably followed. Moreover, Americans constantly threatening sanctions nowadays sound like the boy who cried “wolf” too often!
Similar bungling in dealing with China’s growing assertiveness has cost the Obama Administration dearly, both domestically and internationally. After objecting to China’s unilateral declaration of an Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ), in violation of international norms, the Obama Administration meekly asked all its Civilian Airlines to observe Chinese demands on the ADIZ. Shockingly, this came just after Japan and South Korea refused to fall in line with Chinese demands.
Moreover, while Tokyo has reacted strongly to Chinese transgressions of international law close to the disputed Senkaku Islands, which have been controlled by Japan since 1895, the US has spent time on counselling “restraint” on Japan and nitpicking on issues pertaining to the Yasukuni Shrine.
The US has stood by silently as the Chinese used force to militarily takeover the Mischief Reef, located well within Philippines Exclusive Zone and the Scarborough Shoal. As a military ally of the Philippines, the US merely looked on as the territorial integrity of an ally was repeatedly violated by China.
With Indonesia now joining other affected ASEAN countries to challenge China’s exaggerated claims on its maritime borders, American credibility, after its much touted “pivot” turned “rebalancing,” in the Asia Pacific, is being called into question. Relations with India have also entered into a tailspin in the second Obama Administration, after John Kerry took over as Secretary of State. In the days of Hillary Clinton the State Department engaged in a robust dialogue with India on the Asia-Pacific, led by its Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia Kurt Campbell. Under Kerry’s watch this dialogue has been virtually discontinued.South Asian dynamics
Differences between India and the US have also arisen over approach to developments in Bangladesh. India’s relations with Bangladesh have been excellent ever since the Awami League Government headed by Sheikh Hasina assumed office five years ago.
Bangladesh forced out members of Indian insurgent groups, which enjoyed the support of her rival Begum Khaleda Zia and her Islamist allies, in Bangladesh.
Differences with the US have widened, after the Americans, unlike Russia, China and virtually all Asian powers, ignored that fact that the boycott of the recent elections by Khaleda Zia and her Islamist allies like the Jamat e Islami was unconstitutional.
There have been similar differences over the approach to the ethnic issue in Sri Lanka where the US, which has contributed hardly a cent for welfare of Tamils, has chosen to act unilaterally in the UNHRC, ignoring the perspectives of India and virtually all its Asian neighbours.
Bilaterally, the atmosphere of India-US relations has soured after the Devyani Khobragade affair. While the US Ambassador and her colleagues cannot escape blame for not assessing India’s reaction to the arrest of an India diplomat, it would be wrong to presume that action was taken without the approval of the Secretary of State.
Worse still, just after the US Ambassador called on Narendra Modi, the State Department announced that there was no change in its position on the denial of a visa to the Prime Ministerial candidate. Moreover, one cannot but feel outraged when the leader of the Opposition Sonia Gandhi is summoned in a politically motivated case, by a US Court, when reportedly undergoing medical treatment in the US. This, after former ISI Chief Shuja Pasha was granted diplomatic immunity by Senator Kerry, when charged with involvement in the 26/11 terrorist attack.
The US is India’s most important and largest trading partner. Annual trade in goods and services is $120 billion. But, this relationship is now facing challenges from threats of sanctions on Indian exports in the crucial pharmaceutical sector, issues of solar energy, visas for IT professionals, taxation issues and Intellectual Property Rights.
India’s Ambassador in Washington S Jaishankar recently noted: “ If tax issues loom large in the business relationship, let us not forget that enhancing revenue is not a goal of the Indian Government alone.
The pharmaceutical field has emerged as another field of contention. Details apart, the underlying reality is, that affordable health care cannot be the prerogative of a few”.
The writer is a former High Commissioner to Pakistan
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