Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Losing India?

Although the Obama Administration is just beginning to set its priorities in terms of foreign policy, some are worried that the signals being sent to India from the new team aren't the most encouraging.

Peter Pham (at National Interest online) worries that "the nascent strategic partnership [is] being given short shrift—if it is not being subordinated outright to short-term (and shortsighted) preoccupations."

Over at Shadow Government, Dan Twining raises the same concerns and then asks:
So who will have the India account in the Obama administration? Arguably, in the ancien regime, Bush himself was India's biggest booster, which in turn led Secretary Rice to devote considerable time and energy to building the relationship, with day-to-day management by Undersecretary of State Nick Burns and then his successor, Bill Burns. In the current line-up, the president does not appear to hold a particular brief for India. Though her presidential candidacy enjoyed strong support from the Indian-American community, Secretary Clinton seems focused on East Asia. At a traveling press conference this week, her press secretary reportedly dismissed one reporter's inquiries with the declaration, "No questions about India."

It's still early, of course. But the new U.S. - India relationship, while it has progressed a great deal, still remains unconsolidated. New Delhi cannot be taken for granted by Washington. It would be a pity if because of inattention or lack of focus, we have to cover some of the same ground again in the future.

Thoughts from everyone else? (One can see from the comments to Dan's piece a range of opinion, from "have patience, the Obama team will do this right" to "it's amateur hour".)

Even though President Obama needs to put things in order, India needs to do her part in refreshing ties with the new Administration.

Madhavi Bhasin
Nick, I think what you're neglecting is the momentum for the "strategic relationship" came from India, not the US. The nuclear stuff fitted nicely with some Bush talking points, but it was the Indians who were coming up with ideas.

It is less that HRC and Co. are neglecting India, but that for the past 10 years we've been playing ball in the Indians court, and outside of parsing our language on Pakistan/Kashmir/terrorism, we don't have any big ideas.
Somehow, I have the feeling we'll be asking "Who lost India?" It's just a function of too much world being tracked by too few people.

Perhaps one bit of discipline a new President can do is to have a quarterly meeting with all the desk officers (or at least the regional assistant sec'ys of state) and go over the situation in all the countries to make certain there isn't some nascent something or other that should be addressed quickly. Use a long weekend at Camp David for the purpose, perhaps.
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