Friday, January 23, 2009

A leftist take on Barack Obama and foreign policy vis-a-vis India and the world.

One of the much asked questions to this "political analyst" is, "So, is new US president Barack Obama going to be good for India"? I suppose it is not a question worth answering for a leftist who would find that such a question is redundant or at best s/he should ask back, "Which India are you asking about"?

Anything else would be a statist response. But assuming that a leftist is asked to provide a statist response, the leftist has to weigh as to what indeed would be a response from a statist perspective; in other words from an "international relations" perspective that takes states for given - as irreducible units in interaction among each other in the system of states. That is precisely the kind of fare that the average strategic affairs analyst gives you - indeed, he is among a slew of beings who are a dime-a-dozen in New Delhi in mandarin circles, in thinktanks and who get some good chunks of real estate in newspapers and in the electronic media (especially since the Great Nuclear Deal Debate). But lets not digress.

Most Indian strategic affairs analysts, taking a contrarian position to heck..the world, actually felt that the maverick, the Straight Talk Express and the "Bomb ..bomb..bomb.. Iran" guy, John McCain was "good/better for India" (check.. here and here for examples) than The One, as many have started terming Barack Obama these days for his celebrity status throughout his presidential campaign as also after his election whence he has been enjoying nearly 80% approval ratings in the USA.

The primary reasons for the strategic analysts love for Republicans, in particular George Bush (as so pathetically articulated by Manmohan Singh who told Bush that he was "loved by Indians") however flows from the worldview that these folks have and share in common with the hard realist imperial Republicans, in particular the neoconservatives. The Neocons in their quest for a Great American century, believed (and still believe) in a Kenneth Waltzian hard power argument, and an arrangement of the world which is not quite an arrangement, but a derangement that requires the superpower to bring sense to it (for IR buffs, one only has to check out the Stag Hunt analogy by Waltz that makes this point). The American exceptionalist argument that drives the neocons is simple, "Power flows from the barrel of a F-16" (sorry Mao!).

It is this belief that drove the Republicans of the 1980s to fund and support the jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan and to take up sides with the Islamic fundamentalists in Pakistan. It is this belief in power that condoned the AQ Khan profileration network, supported the apartheid regime in South Africa, killed Allende in the 1970s in Chile, and did whatever they did all across the world. End'eth the cold war, neoconservatism is born, an enhanced version of the hard realism of the Cold War era.

The neoconservative project in the 2000s identified (and correctly according to the paradigm) that China, with its growing clout as the manufacturing base of the world, was re-emerging as a hard power and it was necessary to contain its rise. Hard power could not be used as Chinese and American interests were intertwined through the complex, intricate set up of economic relationships between the countries over the years. Enter the new logic of stopping the Chinese dragon on its tracks - containment through "balancing". How to go about it? Engage the services of the other "growing tiger" in the continent - India. Ergo - the Indo US Nuclear Deal.

The Indian strategic community understands the motivations of the Hard Right in America and their goals for sustained hegemony in the world. They see a "correlation of interests" between a domineering United States and an India finding its place through pitching its elites' interests on to the forefront as its national interest. That explains the love affair between the most neocon of all regimes- the Bush regime and the strategic community and its minions in government in India all along.

Why does the Indian strategic community refuse to accord the same love to the Democrats (and by extension- Obama) now? One has to delve into the Weltanschaung of the Democrats (in Marxist terms - liberal imperialism) vis-a-vis the world. The Democrats in contrast to the Republicans are not quite neoconservative (although it is not as black and white as I would want it to be - different Democratic administrations take a mixture of the hard right and the liberal imperialist positions). Thus, the emphasis of the Clinton administration on south Asia was focused on greater engagement with China and consequently with Pakistan, resulting in the whole "hyphenation" argument that drove US foreign policy in the subcontinent. The aggressive posturing on the Kashmir issue by the Clinton administration was never appreciated by the strategic community in India and they expect more of the same in an Obama administration.

The Obama administration in contrast to the Bush's or the hypothetical McCain's, would want a greater engagement with China, in particular to address the US' own financial economic plight as it stands. That would mean that the aggressive moves to use India as a balancer against China, an approach used by the Bush regime would not quite follow. But again, there would be a liberal internationalist zeal in the American foreign policy toward India- perhaps accommodating the rising Indian elites in the global economic clout clique - the G8 or other forums. There would be a return to the hyphenation thing; Pakistan is still important for the theatre of operations in Afghanistan and for the US' withdrawal from this affair (in contrast to a Republican intensification of conflict in Iraq and Afghanistan). This explains the strategic community's angst against Obama and fear about his moves vis-a-vis India. I am not sure if Manmohan Singh would have an interest in expressing India's love for Barack Obama.

Lets get back to the original question. What would a leftist's answer be to the question? The leftist's interest would be divorced from the elite interest. For the leftist, "national" interest would automatically mean an anti-imperialist interest, in solidarity with the struggles against imperialism all across the world. What does Obama offer on that account - atleast from his statements and positions that have been on record so far? The Obama administration offers putative engagement with "adversaries", and other forces- say states across the world. This engagement on offer, is welcome (as dialogue is anytime welcome over armed conflict), but not more can be said about this so called engagement without fleshing out the details of the same. If the engagement on offer recognises the validity of the concerns about American exceptionalism, American unilateralism or indeed American imperialism, then it would definitely be real change from the neoconservative past. Say if the US administration under Obama revokes the oppressive blockade against Cuba or decides to forgo the continuing veto of condemnation or halt of Israeli crimes in Palestine - that would be welcome.

Vis-a-vis India, American engagement can be welcome, if the partnership is bound by equal terms of trade and investment and respect for economic sovereignty. Or indeed, if the American initiative on various issues such as terrorism is bound to multilateralism and a genuine intent to forgo the use of instrumentality in fighting terrorism, then it could be welcome. The best way to address terrorism is of course politically, i.e. to reduce the stake of radical tendencies, which take root in areas of disenchantment (I am not assuming that they dont' have any agency whatever though) - which in turn is a result of the nefarious influence of imperialism and its allies in those areas.

This leftist feels that considering the state of affairs that America is - a plutocracy, mind you and a nation that is still ruled by the biggest of the big bourgeoisie and a bourgeois paradise in some senses; such expectations of Obama are going to be belied. An Obama administration would continue the emphasis of using globalisation as a tool for using the terms of trade in the favour of the American big bourgeoisie (with its byproduct of benefits to sections of the Indian elite indeed). It would re-focus on addressing conflict through a liberal internationalist framework, but which would still be driven by a rhetoric that favours the status quo - vis-a-vis Cuba, Iraq, Palestine or indeed in Latin America. The structure and nature of Obama's cabinet - a hangover of the Clinton administration is indicative of this. It is left to Obama to prove me wrong.

The silver lining however, is that the Obama administration, in raising its hopes of "change" and its emphasis of knocking the wax house of neoconservatism, will enthuse those who believe in it genuinely. There would be greater avenues for those in the left to question the motives and the actions of rulers as in America, as elsewhere in the world. The emphasis on internationalism would provide greater relevance to the multilateral institutions such as the United Nations. By suitable groupings, the Non Aligned Movement for e.g. or the get-together of the nations from the third world countries, American and indeed imperialist exceptionalism can be handled hurdles if not completely thwarted.

In that sense, an Obama administration (over a Bush administration) is indeed better for "India".


Rajendran said...

At the outset, I must acknowledge the solid logical flow of the article. The "statist" and the "leftist" positions were very well articulated. Excellent analysis. There is a lot of hulabaloo about the colour of the president. It is indeed a racial victory but my fear is that the charade of racial victory may mask any other flaws of the new government. I am eagerly awaiting to see Obama's stand on Cuba. That to me, would be an indication of a non-imperial regime. I am also waiting to see if there is a change of stance towards Israel in the days to come. At best, it is not worse than a Rebulican in power but let's wait and see if it is indeed better.


The Intellectual Redneck said...

Obama is a "miserable failure"
I must admit that this is sweet revenge. A few years ago tech savvy internet users with Bush derangement syndrome linked President Bushes bio with the Google search term "miserable failure." Now the label has been transferred to President Barack Obama.