October 24, 2012
By Margherita Stancati
Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
President Barack Obama greets Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney at the third and final presidential debate in Florida, October 22.
In the third and final debate between U.S. President Barack Obama and Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, India wasn't mentioned, not even once.
By comparison, this is how often the following countries were mentioned:
Iran: 47 times
Israel: 34 times
China: 32 times
Syria: 28 times
Pakistan: 25 times
Afghanistan: 21 times
Why was India left out?
The bottom line, says Sadanand Dhume, a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based think tank, is that "India is much less central to U.S. foreign policy than many pundits in New Delhi would like to believe."
"India is a large and inward-looking country and in many ways it sees itself as the centre of Asia whereas in reality as this debate shows it is not quite the case," explains Mr. Dhume, who also contributes opinion pieces to The Wall Street Journal.
There are several reasons why India – for all the talk of its "strategic partnership" with the U.S. – is not a major foreign policy concern for the two candidates. And the reasons are not necessarily bad.
Relations between the two countries are good and stable and there is a bipartisan consensus that they should stay that way. So there is no real sense of urgency to address the U.S.-India relationship and, as a result, less of a reason to bring it up in a debate.
After all, most of Washington's closest allies – like the whole of Europe – were either not mentioned or mentioned in passing.
The countries that topped the mentions list "are overwhelmingly trouble spots," says Mr. Dhume, "In some ways India should be happy not to be on that list."
The focus areas of the debate were: how to handle the ongoing crisis in Syria; how tough the U.S. should be on Iran as it pursues nuclear ambitions; and how to address the relationship with China and its trade policy.
There are some areas of discord in U.S.-India ties – including tensions over U.S. visa rules, and over India's nuclear liability laws – but relations are overall warm and these issues are less pressing than the foreign policy concerns mentioned above. So it's understandable that they would get more airtime.
Still, it's somewhat surprising that India was left out entirely of the 90-minute discussion. There were a few debate topics under which India could've come up but didn't: the war in Afghanistan and Pakistan; and the rise of China and tomorrow's world.
The U.S. has been encouraging India to take a bigger role in Afghanistan, including by training local security forces, as the U.S. prepares to withdraw most of its troops by the end of 2014. The U.S.'s encouragement of India to take a more active role comes as U.S. ties with Pakistan – India's neighbor and historical rival – are at a low point. Pakistan, which sees Afghanistan as falling under its sphere of influence, has resisted attempts by New Delhi to set closer ties with Kabul.
Despite lengthy discussions on the future of Afghanistan and Pakistan's role in this, neither Mr. Obama nor Mr. Romney mentioned India – perhaps an indication that New Delhi's influence in Kabul remains limited.
Surprisingly, India wasn't even mentioned when Mr. Obama addressed the issue of jobs being shipped abroad. While outsourcing jobs to India has come up earlier in the campaign, in this debate it was only addressed with reference to China, which both candidates claimed didn't play by trade rules.
"China is much more economically significant and many more jobs have been lost to China than to India," says Mr. Dhume.
There is also little evidence to suggest that there will be major changes in India-U.S. relations after the upcoming presidential elections.
After all, India wasn't mentioned once in debates between Mr. Obama and then Republican candidate John McCain four years ago. And since then, the U.S. and India have made efforts to forge deeper ties. Just look at the string of official trips, including of Mr. Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Readers, what do you think of the current state of U.S.-India ties?
Follow India Real Time and Margherita on Twitter @indiarealtime and @margheritamvs.
Posted by Naxal Watch at 10:02 PM