It’s easy to figure out why President Obama has little use for Israel and England. Israel is the bete noir of most contemporary left-liberals and England was the colonial overlord of Kenya.
But what has Obama got against India? I’ll speculate about this question in a moment, but first let’s look at the relationship itself.
Jim Hoagland, the Washington Post’s veteran foreign policy writer, describes it this way:
Indians detect an air of ambivalence blowing their way from Washington. . . .Romanced by the Bush administration to balance China’s inexorable rise in military and economic power, India finds itself out of sync with the Obama administration on some key issues. There is no open conflict. But neither is there the air of excitement and innovation about the U.S. relationship that I found on my last trip here 18 months ago.
Since then, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has explicitly rejected balance-of-power politics as a relic of the past. Yet India, Japan and other Asian states fear that without a supportive U.S. hand on the scales, they will be swamped by China’s growing military capabilities and its increasingly aggressive, and effective, diplomacy. . . .
Obama’s emphasis on setting an initial date for withdrawal from Afghanistan in his Dec. 1 policy speech, even as he sent additional U.S. troops, stirred doubt here about U.S. strategic patience. So have the frequent U.S. military visits to and overblown praise for Pakistan’s army leadership, despite credible evidence of high-level Pakistani involvement in cross-border terrorism directed at India.
Consequently, according to Hoagland, India is now “hedging its bets”:
India has recently moved troops away from the Pakistan frontier while increasing deployments into border areas that China is claiming in pugnacious and offensive rhetoric. In a break with its past opposition to foreign bases in the region, India has secured military transit and stationing rights at an airbase in Tajikistan. And Singh’s government lavishly welcomed Japan’s new prime minister, Yukio Hatoyama, on a recent three-day visit that included publicity about plans for joint military maneuvers in the Indian Ocean.
These are clear signs of Indian hedging: seeking allies for worst-case scenarios while accommodating China on economic matters. The Obama administration’s failure to reaffirm clearly that India’s rise is in U.S. strategic interests has contributed to this hedging. That is a mistake the president should quickly correct, in the interests of his own vision of a new world order centered on the Pacific and Indian oceans.
Why the Obama administration ambivalence? A number of possibilities come to mind. One is reflexive distrust of any nation that is close to the U.S. (don’t they understand how flawed we are?). Another is reflexive dislike of any policy President Bush developed, especially a signature Bush policy.
Related to this possibility, and perhaps closer to the mark, is Obama’s self-image as a great strategic thinker. Any hack American president can form a strategic alliance with a pro-American powerhouse as a means of obtaining a regional balance of power in relation to a not so pro-American emerging super-power. But, as Hoagland implies, Obama sees himself a charismatic visionary who is above traditional balance of power politics, that “relic of the past.” Stated differently, Obama has shown little stomach for alliances that might vex our adversaries and potential adversaries.
There are, to be sure, less damning explanations. Obama likely sees a need to stay on Pakistan’s good sde for purposes of the war on terror. But I’m pretty sure that the roots of Obama’s ambivalence towards India go deeper than Pakistan, whose dispute with India has cooled considerably in recent years.
JOHN adds: A strategic alliance with India is such a no-brainer that, considering this and other data, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that a hallmark of Obama’s foreign policy is perversity.