January 26, 2014

Uncle Sam does not really care about you

  This is very well written and realistic. No Indian Government in its right senses would put all its eggs in the American basket. Given America's sudden and new found affection for Iran, one shudders to think of what would have happened if we blindly followed the American lead on Iran earlier. With the Americans packing up to leave Afghanistan Iran becomes a crucial partner for India for even access to Afghanistan. We seek "strategic autonomy" and not old school "nonalignment".

        The American fuss on fighter aircraft was unjustified. We need fighter aircraft that can operate over hot desert terrain and in high altitude over the Himalayas. The F 16s and F 18s could not match either Rafale or the Eurofighter to meet these requirements. But all this does not mean that we should not get realistic on a host of issues including raising FDI Caps in defence industry and learning from Japan, South Korea and even Singapore on how to build high-tech industry and infrastructure.

      Lastly Obama, unlike Bush, never really had any intrinsic interest in India. All he looked for was a purely transactional relationship. Many partners of the US ranging from Japan to Saudi Arabia and even Israel also feel similarly about Obama.

G Parthasarathy

Uncle Sam does not really care about you

Friday, 24 January 2014 | Gautam Mukherjee |


Much as Americana is the prevalent influence here, the US’s strategic vision with regard to this country reflects an altogether colder reality: Indians are not included in the American scheme of things in a deeper sense

The rise of Narendra Modi and the prospect of a BJP-led NDA Government at the Centre in a few months is being viewed with trepidation, not only by extremist and inimical elements in Pakistan, but with little warmth by the US as well. A more assertive India, when it is already much too independent for America’s liking, is not seen to be particularly welcome.

President Barack Obama, approaching the end of his second and final term in office, in 2016, has lost interest in the strategic relationship that his predecessor George W Bush initiated. The disappointment began when India decided not to buy its mega order of 126 fighter jets from the US, and settled on the advanced but largely untried in combat Rafale jets from France. Mr Obama thought his PR blitzkrieg during his visit to India had all but sewn up the order, one of the biggest single purchases of military hardware in the world in recent times.

After being miffed by the Indian action, he has more or less distanced his Administration from India, and downgraded his expectations from the relationship. In addition, present Secretary of State John Kerry is perceived to be more or less pro-Pakistan when compared to his predecessor Hillary Clinton.
India has effectively been strategically downgraded for the moment, and China’s constant provocations on our borders are also a reflection of the distance that is developing in the India-US bilateral relationship.

Meanwhile, much as Americana is the prevalent influence, and the economic and cultural yardstick here, the American strategic vision with regard to  India reflects an altogether colder reality. Americana reigns in large parts of the world, in an economically bonded and beholden EU, in much of the English-speaking world, and specifically among the young. America represents the good life; in freedom, dignity and plenitude; always tending towards isolationism yet drawn into assuming its responsibilities as the world’s sole super power, oracle, and general arbiter. Despite this, it seems, of late, alas, America is no longer interested in being inclusive.

Hollywood movies, Apple smart phones, American popular music and so on may be on the mind and at the finger-tips of most affluent people around the globe. And its ambassadors, McDonalds, KFC, the neighbourhood air-conditioned mall, Starbucks, designer jeans, the wonder weaponry, the massive economic might even in its decline, are indeed hugely aspirational in the emerging economies.

But, alongside this easy palatability, our embrace of Americana, our desire to emulate, is not felt or believed to be reciprocal. We, in India, must realise that we are neither viewed with such eager warmth, nor included in the American scheme of things in any deeper sense. And the lack of movement on all fronts in the bilateral relationship underlines this.

Our outgoing Prime Minister, Mr Manmohan Singh, did try very hard. He wanted to change the India-US relationship from one of decades of ‘benign neglect’ on the part of the US, to a ‘strategic partnership’ full of vibrancy and movement. But, this was not to be. India is, for the moment, not to guard the Indian Ocean around its neighbourhood for the US. It is not going to be developed into any kind of counter-balance to China. Our exasperating non-alignment does not suit America’s John Wayne type sensibilities.

We are, therefore, assessed to be decent enough but not seen as a reliable ally. We do not have enough to offer the US if we routinely fail/refuse to lay out a red carpet against every item of bilateral advantage. Even Mr Singh could not dare go that far, much to the chagrin of the Americans.

The Americans probably expected huge reparations in exchange for their leaning our way in the civil nuclear deal. The nuclear pariah status did end thanks to US backing, but nothing substantial by way of implementation has followed in the wake of that breakthrough. Nor have we become an obvious American satellite as was anticipated, even demanded, by the US.

India keeps asking for bilateral reciprocity, as if we do not understand that we must know our place. And reciprocity cannot be demanded by the weaker from the stronger. And if the size of the Indian market is considered to be our ultimate leverage and lure; the Americans think they can access it anyway without conceding very much in return. And so we find ourselves searching our own faces in the mirror and wondering why we find ourselves in political limbo.

That inclusive and inspiring, and vastly generous American dream of the founding fathers of nearly 250 years ago, ended long so. It was set aside along with Ellis Island as a point of entry. When it was open, ships carrying impoverished Irishmen, Italians, English, Welsh and Scots, East Europeans, Jews, Germans, Poles, Lithuanians, Lebanese, all coming from the ‘old world to the new’, across the Atlantic and other seas, to New York. And under the blazing gaze of the Statue of Liberty. Today Ellis Island basks in its silent emptiness, no more than a tourist attraction, and that kind of open-handedness and welcome ended well over a century ago.

That American dream changed with technology upgradation, and time. When ships gave way to planes, time itself quickened, and America grew rich. And the socio-economic barriers started going up. America’s rulers have been steadily less forthcoming as the 20th century advanced, and tightened immigration even more in the 21st. Most of the Indian diaspora in the US trace their migration to the 1960s and 1970s when professionals from the sub-continent were in demand. Today’s IT men, if they are not US citizens or Green Card holders, are only tolerated on short-term visas, but are preferably engaged to work offshore, or in India itself.

The American Black may well marvel at an African-American in the White House, but there is little that is necessarily pro-black about Mr Obama in the conduct of his governance or policies. Perhaps this is because Mr Obama is both White and Black at the same time.

The point is however, no matter how it was all intended, huge inequalities do thrive in America. The top couple of percent of the population own 98 per cent of the wealth and resources. The lot of the wage-earning or unemployed underprivileged in the US has not been getting appreciably better since the Second World War!
And since the recent Wall Street crash of 2008, more suddenly impoverished people are much worse off. And despite some signs of revival now, the US economy will stay under pressure for at least the rest of this decade.

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