November 06, 2010

OBAMA MINUS THE HALO

B.RAMAN

President Bill Clinton and President George Bush had suffered electoral set-backs in the mid-term elections to the US Congress before they visited India. But, they came a few months after their electoral set-back. By the time they came, public opinion in India had forgotten their set-back, which did not have any impact on their visits.

2. President Barack Obama will be reaching India two days after the elections in which his party has lost control of the House of Representatives and managed to retain control of the Senate by only a narrow margin. This has become an important subject of discussion everywhere. As much time is spent in discussing his electoral set-back as in discussing his policies towards India. Would the set-back weaken him politically? Would it come in the way of substantial changes in Indo-US relations, which would be to the benefit of the two countries?

3. It must be remembered that the elections were fought largely on domestic issues. Foreign policy hardly figured during the election campaign. The election results represented a rejection of his domestic agenda.His powers to make and implement foreign policy will remain undiminished.That is the conventional wisdom. But one has to remember that the Congress controls the federal funds. A hostile Congress can make his foreign policy initiatives non-starters by denying funds for implementing them.

4. This is not a rosy picture for Obama, but the return of the Republicans to the Congress could still have some bright spots for India. India can hopefully expect the Republican members of the Congress to insist on a strict implementation by Pakistan of the conditionalities imposed under the Kerry-Lugar Act of 2009 laying down the conditions under which the economic aid of US $ 7.5 billion over a five-year period voted last year will be disbursed. It can also hopefully expect that the Republican-controlled House of Representatives will subject to intense scrutiny the President's proposal for a new allocation of US $ 2.29 billion towards military assistance for Pakistan. India should lose no time in briefing the elected Republican members about its serious objections to these allocations.

5. Obama's Af-Pak strategy relating to Afghanistan cannot hope to get easy approval from the House. Questions will be asked about his exit strategy and about the talk of a dialogue with the so-called good Taliban in the hope of bringing them into the political mainstream. The House of Representatives is likely at act as a speed-breaker on his so-called Afghan exit strategy. This ought to suit India.

6. Even in the case of China, Obama has been avoiding declaring it a currency manipulator and diluting the focus on human rights issues. The newly-elected House is likely to step up pressure for the declaratiion of China as a currency manipulator and highlight the violation of human rights in China. Concerns arising from China's newly-acquired cyber warfare capability are likely to be taken up with a greater vigour by the new House. These are issues which enjoy considerable public support in the US. Obama will no longer be able to push them under the carpet.

7. There are interesting opportunities for India as a result of the thinking of the Republicans on these issues.It should not fail to take advantage of these opportunities to have the foreign policy distortions of the Obama administration corrected in a manner that could be beneficial to India. (5-11-10)

( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. E-mail: seventyone2@gmail.com )

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