President Obama had a long meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the recent G-20 Summit in London. It was clear from his comments after the meeting that President Obama was very impressed with Prime Minister Singh.
He praised Dr. Singh for his leadership and attributed “much of the growth and the rise of India” to the wisdom of Prime Minister Singh. At the end, he said “I just wanted to express my admiration for Prime Minister Singh..I am grateful for the time I have had with him in London. I hope by the time this summit is over, I can call him a friend”. (Watch this clip at http://www.cnbc.com/id/15840232?video=1080822263&play=1.).
It was nice to hear President Obama express his feelings so clearly. We feel reasonably certain that his words were not standard diplomatic protocol but that he meant what he said.
President Bush was also a admirer of Prime Minister Singh and respected him deeply. In fact, after the Republican convention last year, he asked Governor Sarah Palin to meet with Dr. Singh to learn about the art of governing. The strategic partnership with India was one of the major achievements of President Bush. In the words of Nicolas Burns, the right hand man of Condoleeza Rice, ““Within 20 years, the rise of the new U.S.-India partnership will be considered among the most important developments in U.S. foreign policy in our time.”.
(President Bush listening intently to Prime Minister Singh in September 2006)
In contrast to the Bush Administration, the Obama Administration has paid little attention to the Indo-US relationship so far. President Obama’s comments about India contained the usual tributes to Indian democracy but showed little insight. His team seemed even more unaware of what India represents to the USA.
Because of the pressures of the economic crisis, the Obama Administration has focused on China, to the point of calling for a ‘G-2’ relationship with China. This was the subject of an article, “How a ‘G-2’ would Hurt” in the Washington Post by Dennis Wilder, the senior director for East Asian affairs at the National Security Council from August 2004 to January 2009. Mr Wilder concludes “China’s neighbors would interpret a U.S.-Chinese G-2 as the most important strategic realignment since the end of the Cold War, and it would jeopardize our relationships with those countries.” (see http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/04/01/AR2009040103039.html )
Mr. Wilder quotes the career Indian diplomat M.K. Bhadrakumar as lamenting “the U.S.-India relationship is entering a phase of lull” in his detailed article “India frets over Obama’s Chinamania” in Asia Times (see http://www.atimes.com/atimes/South_Asia/KC14Df01.html.
We also encourage readers to read the views of Xenia Dormandy, a former director for South Asia with the National Security Council, in her article “India: America’s indispensable ally “ in the Christian Science Monitor on March 11, 2009. We found this to be a very thoughtful article and we are glad we read it. We include below a few excerpts from this article (see http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/0311/p09s01-coop.html ).
- “At a time when so much of the broader Middle East and South Asia is in disarray, it may be tempting to put India – an ally and friend of the United States – on the back burner. But it is precisely because India is a friend and ally, and because of the severity of regional and global problems, that the US needs to nurture this relationship. If President Obama is to achieve many of his ambitious foreign-policy objectives, he will need to forge an even stronger relationship with India – and that will take work.”
- “Meanwhile, at the National Security Council (NSC), word has it that portfolios are in flux, and geographic responsibilities may shift to reflect the US Combatant Commands. If this holds true, AfPak would be lumped together with Middle East affairs – and India would fall into a Pacific/East Asian category. Why does this matter? Because if the State Department, Pentagon, and NSC all come to see AfPak as the central issue in South Asia – while moving India into another realm entirely – then Washington will have severed a crucial regional link, one it desperately needs.”
- “It’s not an exaggeration to say that, for many of the most vexing problems Washington faces, India has become the indispensable nation. Obama’s team would be wise not to forget it.”
Against this backdrop of the Bush Administration’s intense focus on India, the Indian Government has found President Obama’s lack of interest in India to be puzzling and disturbing.
In this context, the evident admiration of President Obama for Prime Minister Singh may be welcome to the Indian Establishment. We ourselves believe that Obama Administration’s Afghanistan Policy could easily morph into a disaster without the friendly counsel of a veteran, knowledgeable leader like Dr. Singh.
During his one hour press conference at the G-20, President Obama chose a female non-American reporter. She turned out to be a reporter for the Times of India. President Obama’s exchange with her was positive, jovial and fun to watch (see the clip below).
President Obama used this opportunity to again express his admiration for Prime Minister Singh and said “He is a marvel for all the world”. We hope that this meeting between these two leaders proves to be a restarting point for the strategic USA-India partnership.
(Begin at minute 02:30 of this 10:36 minute clip)
We admire the charm and poise with which the young Times of India reporter handled this exchange with the Superstar President of America.
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