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Opinion
The world after Obama’s re-election
By Praful Bidwai
Mr Barack Obama’s re-election as the President of the United States is a welcome development—if only because a Mitt Romney victory would have been much worse, contrary to the views of some pro-US analysts and even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. They wrongly believe that US Republicans are basically more “pro-India” than the Democrats because they are more indulgent or tolerant towards India’s nuclear weapons, reject the reality of climate change (and thus put no pressure for climate action on India), and don’t strongly oppose the outsourcing of jobs abroad.

A Romney win would have further widened class, race and ethnic rifts in America’s highly unequal society, strengthened a Rightward tilt in the domestic economy and international financial institutions, and made for a more jingoist foreign policy and security strategy, with terrible consequences for the entire world.

What’s bad for the world cannot be good for India. Besides, an India which seeks a larger global role cannot afford to be indifferent to the domestic consequences of a conservative victory and see everything through a narrow national prism.

Mr Obama’s victory owes itself only partly to “positives” like his energetic, well-planned campaign, and “negatives” such as Mr Romney’s crass “one percent” elitism, his repulsive remarks running down the 47 percent of Americans who don't pay federal income taxes, and his inability to attract non-White ethnic minorities and women.

Underlying the result is a much deeper factor: a change in America’s demography, with a relative decline in the White population, and an increase in the populations of Blacks, Spanish-speakers from Latin America and Asian-Americans. In the first decade of this century, these groups accounted for an absolute majority of all births. The number of both Asian-Americans and Hispanics rose by 43 percent, and of Blacks by 12 percent, but the White population grew by under 6 percent.

The changed landscape favours a new social coalition of non-White minorities, over 70 percent of whom voted for Mr Obama. This, combined with the political emergence of women, and pro- Democrat sentiment among a majority of university-educated people from all races, explains why the Republican “electoral lock” on the Presidency could be broken again. Also important was an aggressive thrust by the Democrats in the South, which they had abandoned to the Republicans.

Hopefully, all this sets a new social-political trend which will outlast Mr Obama’s second term, and potentially make for a less pro-rich, pro-corporate domestic policy and a less militarist foreign policy. This trend is of course to be welcomed. But it won’t translate into major shifts in the immediate future. Mr Obama is likely to continue with the broad thrust of his earlier policies, especially his foreign policy, with minor changes and nuances.

The biggest change will be a further shift in the pivot of policy towards Asia, in line with the shift in global power away from the North Atlantic towards the Asia-Pacific. At the beginning of his first term, Mr Obama wooed China, and tried to coax Pakistan into a more cooperative relationship, while keeping India out of the core of his security architecture. However, he soon raised India’s profile within his priorities. He visited India, hosted Dr Singh as the first foreign leader at the White House, and advocated a permanent seat for India on the UN Security Council.

Mr Obama has since tried to rope in India, along with Japan and smaller Asian countries, to form a hedge against China, and encouraged India to play a major role in Afghanistan where a drawdown of US forces is under way. India has been cautious and doesn’t want to be seen joining a “China containment” strategy. But India hasn’t really thought through its position.

New Delhi is under pressure to “cooperate” with the US to reduce tensions in the South China Sea, keep vital Asian sealanes peaceful and calm, and isolate Iran as much as possible so it gives up her nuclear programme although she has the right to pursue peaceful nuclear activities.

India must resist such pressure while maintaining her foreign policy independence and strategic autonomy. India must not underestimate its leverage vis-a-vis the US. For instance, even as it pursues the imposition of heavy sanctions against Iran, Washington has had to accept that India will continue to import oil from Iran, albeit in reduced quantities. India can and should adopt positions that don’t tail the West on issues such as Palestine, Syria and Venezuela.

India can translate both its strategic weight and the tremendous goodwill it enjoys in Afghanistan to see that the US does not withdraw precipitously from there to leave behind a vacuum in which violent jehadi forces flourish. This means India should help build and train the Afghanistan National Army and police autonomously of the Western powers, without getting into rivalry with Pakistan.

India is critically poised to repair its frayed relations with Pakistan and reach a historic rapprochement. Dr Singh ought to visit Pakistan very soon to bring about a real breakthrough. That’s a high priority. Nothing, including short-term gains that might accrue through glitches in Washington’s relations with Islamabad, should be allowed to interfere with this agenda.

On the international canvas, India can play an important mediatory or facilitating role in resolving the crisis over Iran’s nuclear activities. Iran is probably still many months, if not a year or more, away from producing enough enriched uranium for a single nuclear bomb. According to US intelligence agencies, Iran hasn’t yet decided whether to acquire nuclear bombs.

India must take a firm stand against a military strike against Iran’s nuclear installations, which will be dangerously counterproductive. The futility or limited utility and extremely high risks of such an attack have become apparent even to hard-nosed hawks in the US and Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s plans for an attack have been strongly opposed by many of own his cabinet colleagues, and also by Israel’s security establishment, including serving army chief Benny Gantz, former Shin Bet (security agency) chief Yuval Diskin, and former intelligence (Mossad) head Meir Dagan, who called it “the stupidest idea” he had ever heard.

Similarly, more than 30 former top US foreign policy-makers, experts and military officers (including three national security advisers and two Central Command heads) have warned against a military attack. (http://www.wilsoncenter.org/sites/default/files/IranReport_091112_FINAL.pdf). They argue that an Israeli attack would delay Iran’s nuclear programme at best by two years. A much bigger U.S. “military action involving aerial strikes, cyber-attacks, covert operations, and special operations forces would destroy or severely damage many of Iran’s physical facilities and stockpiles,” but “complete destruction of Iran’s nuclear programme is unlikely; and Iran would still retain the scientific capacity and the experience to start its nuclear programme again …”

A strike on Iran would produce a conflagration in the Middle East. Iran has 2,200 kilometre-range missiles which can reach US bases and Israel. An attack on Iran will create resentment greater than the American-engineered overthrow of elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh in 1953. Worse, it would guarantee that Iran rapidly becomes a nuclear weapons-state.

India would find Mr Obama receptive to a diplomatic approach. After all, he refused to cave in to Mr Netanyahu’s strident demands for an attack, risking the hostility of the Zionist lobby in the US. India should push Mr Obama to translate the call he made in his acceptance speech for moving “beyond this time of war” into a major diplomatic initiative, including bilateral talks with Iran for the first time since 1979, which the White House says are “under consideration”.

Iranian leaders are likely to respond to a non-coercive diplomatic initiative, and have indicated their willingness to mend relations with the US. Former Iranian ambassador to the UN Sadeq Kharrazi recently praised Mr Obama for “reducing tensions between Islam and the West” and trying to “move closer to Iran”.

India should propose a compromise along the lines Turkey and Brazil worked out in 2010: transferring Iran’s low-enriched uranium for further enrichment overseas, but capping domestic enrichment to non-weapons-grade levels. This was then rejected by the US, but has a better chance of being accepted now. India can thus regain the leverage it lost vis-à-vis Tehran by repeatedly voting against Iran since 2005 at the International Atomic Energy Agency under Washington’s coercive pressure.

This will help India rebuild its relations with Iran, a nation with which it has traditionally had friendly ties, and is a crucial ally in and a gateway to Afghanistan. India can then re-launch the Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline project, which was abandoned under Washington’s pressure in favour of the US-India nuclear deal.

Many bilateral issues also need attention. India must reject the US demand for diluting the nuclear liability Act to exempt suppliers. The US is trying to pry open India’s defence production sector through joint ventures. There’s no justification for this. It’s one thing to have normal relations with a “problem power” like the US; it’s quite another to get close to it.

Postscript: Unlike the US, India must strongly and unequivocally condemn Israel’s attack on Gaza.

(The author can be contacted at: bidwai@bol.net.in)


News Updated at : Sunday, November 18, 2012
 
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