What Obama’s election means for India

After the blundering Bush, a cautious Obama suits India better


Brahma Chellaney

Strategic affairs expert

Economic Times, November 7, 2008


After a historic win, U.S. President-elect Barack Obama confronts problems of historic proportions. Given the unprecedented mess that occurred on his predecessor’s watch, Obama will find himself dealing with the baneful Bush legacy for years to come.


The challenges are made starker by the fact that Obama fashioned his triumph through the power of inspiration but without any executive experience. The team he assembles will reveal the kind of leadership and change the world can expect.


For India, an America that returns to playing a mainstream international role and renews its ability to inspire and lead is better than the rogue superpower that President George W. Bush helped create.


During the Bush presidency, India’s external security environment deteriorated. Thanks to misguided U.S. policies, an arc of contiguous volatility now lies to India’s west, stretching from Pakistan to Lebanon. The war on terror that Bush launched stands derailed, even as the level of terrorism emanating from the Pak-Afghan belt has escalated.


To India’s east, with Bush expanding the web of U.S.-led sanctions, Burma faces a looming humanitarian catastrophe. Even while waging war in Iraq and Afghanistan, Bush has longed to militarily take on Iran — a confrontation that would have a cascading effect on the Indian economy by disrupting oil imports.


Yet, underlining how power respects power, Bush mollycoddled the world’s largest and longest-surviving autocracy in China, to the extent that he ignored the brutal suppression of the Tibetan uprising and showed up at the Beijing Olympics. 


In place of the blustering and blundering Bush, Obama will be a welcome change. In keeping with his personality, change under Obama will be cautious, calibrated and incremental, but packaged to convey a clean break from the Bush era.


Indian interests demand a new U.S. approach on challenges ranging from the Pak-Afghan shambles to the climate crisis. But new U.S. policies alone cannot be enough. The multiple crises India confronts underscore the need for change there, too.


When Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh shortly meets his buddy Bush — whose proffered nuclear deal undermines the long-term viability of India’s nuclear deterrent — it will be the coming together of waning stars.


(c) Economic Times.

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