President Bush and India – His Vision, His Accomplishments and His Legacy

Today, the reality of India as a major economy is accepted and India’s potential as a global economic power is being understood. Even critics of India, like the liberal Australian Prime Minister, have remarked that this realization was a key reason for the approval of the India exception by the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group.

The world looked at India very differently in 2000, when George W. Bush became the 43rd President of the USA. Not many people realize that, even at that time, one of the main goals of President Bush and his Brain Trust was to build a strategic relationship with India.

This goal was not based on any particular admiration for Indian culture or on any prior affinity or warm feelings. It was a necessary part of their vision of the 21st century world and the desire to build a long term strategic framework for that vision.

We can see various members of the intellectual establishment, some friends of our included, smirking at the very thought of President Bush having a rational, long-term vision and at our term Bush Brain Trust. After all, the intellectuals have caricatured President Bush as a reckless cowboy of average intelligence at best and a dim witted inheritor at worst.

As an aside, this reminds us of the treatment meted out to Terry Bradshaw, the first quarterback to win 4 superbowls . This great Steeler quarterback was always thought of as a physically gifted quarterback without brains. In a celebrated quote, Dallas linebacker Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson said Bradshaw was so dumb that he could not spell “cat” even if you gave him a “c” and “a”. Terry Bradshaw was simply phenomenal in the 1979 superbowl and he shredded that complex Dallas Defense with his smart reads and accurate passes. After the game, Bradshaw asked “How smart do you have to be?” He went to say that a quarterback needs to read defenses and not do nuclear physics.

As fans of Bradshaw, we ask how smart do you have to be read a world map? (see our annotated map below).

Need for a Strategic Partnership with India

It seems that from the very beginning, the Bush Brain Trust was trying to establish a strategic framework for the 21st century.  They realized that the last 50 years were an accident of history, a period in which the USA was the world’s greatest single power, the one indispensable nation as Madeleine Albright put it. 

The Bush team saw the 21st century as a world with multiple centers of power, both economic and military. In such a world, the US would need partners with congruent interests, goals and methods.

The Soviet Union had collapsed in the 1980s and was not a major factor in the world. This reduced the need to build up China as the strategic counterweight to the Soviet Union. Besides, the US-China relationship was always tactical but never strategic.

America has always been the pre-dominant Pacific power. Remember, it was Japan who attacked America in WWII, not Germany. After WWII, the United States pacified Japan, built a presence in South Korea & Philippines, signed a treaty with Taiwan  and established a cultural, economic and military hegemony in the Pacific. China is also a Pacific power. China has already become an economic competitor to the USA in Asia. As Chinese power and influence grows, China will become a strategic and a military competitor as well. The two major competitors in an arena do not become strategic allies or partners. 

The USA is also an Atlantic power and will always remain so. With England and Western Europe as cultural and strategic allies, the Atlantic region needs no change.

This leaves the Indian Ocean, a region that covers South Asia, Africa, the Middle East and the gateway to the Far East through the Malacca straits.

Historically, USA has not been an Indian Ocean power.  It’s role there today is out of sheer necessity and as England’s successor.

The Bush Brain Trust saw the need to create a long term partnership with a major Indian Ocean country, a partnership that would be consistent with America’s interests, its approach, its methods and one that would allow America to reduce its effort in the Indian Ocean in the future without compromising any of its interests or aims.

Look at the map below and ask yourself which large country would be the ideal partner?

The Bush Brain Trust came to the same conclusion that England did 300 years ago.

If you doubt us, read what Viceroy Curzon said in October 1808 to the Philosophical Institute of Edinburgh: “It was the remark of De Tocqueville that the conquest and Government of India were really the achievements that had given Britain her place in the World…Consider what would happen were we to lose India…We would lose its unfailing markets…almost the only formidable element in our fighting strength; our influence in Asia would quickly disappear…Remember, too, India is no longer a piece, even a King, or queen on the Asiatic chessboard. It is a royal piece on the chessboard of international politics”.

You have to congratulate the Bush Brain Trust. Eight years ago, in 2000, they came to this conclusion when no other intellectual entity in America thought in such a far-reaching manner.

USA and India – Congruent Interests

Countries have only common interests, not friendships. The USA and India share the same common interests globally.  

  • Both are trading countries and require free, open commercial sea lanes. Indian Navy already partners with the US Navy to patrol the Indian Ocean to ensure free traffic from the Persian Gulf to the Straits of Malacca, the gateway to Far Eastern Asia, China and Japan.

  • Both USA and India share the same interests in the Middle East – growth of pragmatic, commerce-oriented, preferably democratic regimes that will make the Middle East, the rich and prosperous trading center it once was.

  • Remember, the English built the Suez Canal to create a shorter sea lane to India from Europe. Today, both India and America have a vital stake in ensuring it remains free and open.

  • Both USA and India desire prosperous, secular regimes in South East Asia from Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam.

  • Both USA and India share the same goal in Pakistan and Afghanistan – Transformation of underdeveloped Islamic societies steeped in terrorism to more secular, more modern societies with minority rights and preferably democratic institutions.

It is hard to imagine two other large countries with such a congruence of interests. This is the foundation of the USA-India strategic relationship envisaged by the Bush Brain Trust in 2000.

USA & India – Common Political Approaches & Methods

Clichés like “USA and India are the world’s two largest democracies” are over-used and such over-use seems to diminish the innate truth that created the cliché in the first place.

America and India have very similar political systems. The division of Federal rights vs. State rights is a central feature of both systems. So is the use of political and legislative arena like the US Congress and the Indian Parliament.  This makes it very easy for American diplomats to operate in New Delhi. As one seasoned American diplomat remarked “if you know how to work in Washington DC, you know how to work in Delhi”.

This is a reason why American diplomats were not unduly perturbed with the BJP’s (India’s other national opposition  party)  public opposition to the Indo-US Nuclear Deal. They knew, that BJP wanted the deal as much as the Congress did and if the BJP came to power in the next election, the BJP would follow the same foreign policies that the Congress does today.

USA & India – Common Economic Approaches

Both American and Indian societies have contempt for their Government’s handling of their economies. The infrastructure in both societies is crumbling, the governments are getting more dysfunctional and the political parties in opposition seem just as incompetent as the party currently in power.

The two economies are driven primarily by profit-seeking corporations that decry any Government intrusion and yet, run to their governments for financial intervention when they get in trouble. Despite such a sorry state of affairs, the economies function well and provide opportunities to aggressive, hard-working employees and entrepreneurs.

In fact, the two societies are so similar that Indians and Americans can go to each other’s countries and start working seamlessly from the next day. The editor of this blog was a young man of 20 when he landed in the American Midwest with $75 in his pocket (his first journey outside Mumbai) and started graduate school the very next day without any cultural or assimilation issues. Today, this is equally true of Americans who go to India to work or for internships in Infosys or Tata Consultancy Services.

Pakistan & Afghanistan – The immediate crisis for USA and India

The Pakistan-Afghanistan sector has been historically a problem in Indo-US relations. For decades, America has tried to continue the policies of England with disastrous consequences to Pakistan, America, the entire region and the world.

The summer of 2008 has finally changed this policy. When President Bush signed the order allowing American Troops to conduct military raids into Pakistan without Pakistan’s approval, he signaled that the endgame in Afghanistan has begun. See our August 9 article “Afghanistan-Pakistan – Will the Sins of England be visited Upon America?”–will-the-sins-of-england-be-visited-on-america.aspx

Today, America and India share exactly the same interests in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The breakup of the Pakistan’s coalition of Sindh-based Asif Zardari (the husband of Benazir Bhutto) and Panjab-based Nawab Sharif shows that Sindh and Panjab cannot co-exist in a democratic set up. In the north, the Pashtun Taliban are waging an armed conflict against the Panjabi Army and the Panjabi Government. If unchecked, the Pashtun Taliban will overrun both Afghanistan and Panjab while the Sindhi Zardari and Panjabi Sharif keep feuding. (see our August 9 article “Why are they called “Stans” and why is Pak-i-Stan unique?”)

The USA has already signaled that it is uneasy about Zardari being in control of Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. America is increasingly coming to the conclusion that it might have to intervene militarily in Pakistan to seize its nuclear arsenal as well as to get rid of the Taliban & Al Qaeda sponsors in the Pakistani Army and Pakistani Intelligence Service.

As in Iraq, the military adventure is easy but the administrative, political requirements are mind-boggling. Iraq was trivial compared to Pakistan. The USA cannot go it alone in Pakistan and it cannot afford to not intervene in Pakistan.

The consequences of Pakistan’s disintegration could be disastrous for India. After all, US Forces could pack up and go back to America while India is next door and will have to live with Pakistan’s aftermath.

Any feasible solution for Pakistan requires the close and synchronous participation of both America and India. America would have to provide the weight of world leadership and global action as well as the fear factor for the Pakistani Army. India will have to provide the depth of its society, its vast administrative apparatus and its Security forces in an administrative & peacekeeping capacity.

Benefits of the Strategic Partnership to America and India

The benefits to America are more long-term in nature. The benefits to American Business could be immediate. The USA-India strategic relationship has the potential for being the single most critical alliance for the 21st Century.

The benefits to India are both immediate and long-term. The approval of the USA-India Civilian Nuclear Agreement by the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) is one example. The USA will push for India becoming a member of the NSG as soon as practicable.

The USA-India partnership ends India’s isolation and gives India a major voice in world affairs. This would have happened any way with the current trajectory of India’s economic growth. But, its relationship with America will hasten the process. This partnership also makes it possible for India to upgrade its technological base quickly and substantially.

The USA-India relationship will make it easier for Japan and Western Europe to build economic alliances with India, sometimes at the expense of American Economic interests. After all, Europe and Japan have made it a practice to live free under the US Strategic Protection and, under that umbrella, compete vigorously against US commercial interests.

Let us give you a concrete example President Bush’s impact on money flows into India. Japan has always been cool towards India. Japan is a consensus driven, organized society whereas India is a verbally strident, conflict embracing society. Most foreign visitors to India describe “utter chaos” as their first impression of India. Japanese visitors in particular are bewildered in India and the Japanese retail investors stayed out of India until 2006.

President Bush visited India in March 2006 and proclaimed India as a strategic partner of America. The Japanese retail investors usually follow American lead.  President Bush’s declaration made them interested in India. After President Bush’s visit, in the remaining 9 months of 2006, Japanese Retail Investors poured $8.3 billion into Indian equity funds, an amount larger than the total 2006 net foreign buying of $7.8 billion.

Indian Society and Presidents Kennedy, Clinton and Bush

As the editor of this blog was growing up, the memories of President Kennedy were cheris
hed in India. Many Indian cities named bridges and roads in his name.

President Clinton became wildly popular when he visited India during the last year of his presidency.  India, like America, likes oratory with a liberal touch. Both Presidents Kennedy and Clinton were great orators and good humanists. No wonder, they became popular in Indian society and were embraced by the Indian Media.

President Clinton did begin the U-turn in American policy towards India. But, in reality, he did not do very much for India. In fact, in 1998, he complained that Indian democracy was becoming a hindrance to American Policy and expressed his preference for the malleability of Pakistan as a US ally. However, in the classic Clinton practice, he used his popularity in India to become the Honorary Chairman of the American India Foundation.

President Bush is liked for his policies towards India. But, the intellectual, English speaking, liberal Indian media has never embraced Mr. Bush. They have lampooned Mr. Bush just like the media in America and Western Europe.

This is in marked contrast to the Indian diplomats and Indian Corporate executives who regard President George Bush as the best friend India has ever had in America.  The Indian people, in their innate understanding, also have a very favorable opinion of President Bush.

Having grown up near Kennedy Bridge in Mumbai, we suggest that every major Indian city rename one of its  infrastructural icons with the name George W. Bush.  His influence and achievements will be remembered by India for many decades. His legacy will be a strong, mutually beneficial Indo-US partnership that will a positive influence for the entire world.

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