By now, most readers know the story of what US did to Devyani Khobragade, the Indian deputy counsel in NY, and the outrage that has gripped Indian society. This story has been told again and again in various ways from various angles by various reporters, editors & analysts from major American & Indian newspaper & “think”-tanks. We will not rehash the story or its details.
The basic question remains unanswered:
- “Why did the US take such extreme action against Ms. Khobragade and why did Indian society react with such fury?”
Others have described the visible symptoms. In this article, we will discuss the real macro underneath the story, the macro that may help answer the basic question above.
1. The Empire & its current focus
About an year ago, Robert Kaplan of Stratfor wrote an insightful piece titled America’s Imperial Class. Kaplan defines today’s America as an Empire:
- “The United States is an imperial power and has been for more than a century….America’s empire is without colonies, suitable for a post-modern information age in which capital is not necessarily tied up in permanent territorial holdings. … Of course, American officials, of whatever administration, always claim that they are acting in such a fashion for the sake of human rights and humanity, but that is similar to what the officials of previous empires usually said.”
Every empire has its own Imperial Class. Kaplan describes America’s Imperial Class thus:
- ” … imperial class is a large group of people who have a deeply evolved sense of imperial mission, and whose professional interests are connected to that mission succeeding. … class of global cosmopolitans, whose American branch is defined by harboring imperialist tendencies masked as humanitarianism. … As for the media, it now constitutes a power center all its own that includes both liberal internationalists and neoconservatives, both of whom have in the past supported using the American military to impose American values.”
The Bush Administration’s war against Iraq represented the neoconservative side of America’s imperial class. The Obama Administration and Secretary Kerry in particular represents the liberal internationalist side. The reckless & stupid plan to bomb Syria was driven by Kerry’s humanitarian passion, a passion that often borders on the colonial British “White Man’s Burden”.
No country inflames America’s liberal internationalists like India with what they term as its “retrogade“ Hindu culture. Indian society so provokes this liberal imperial class that they seek massive intervention to change India into the society they want. Their passion is real and intense. This is why American media attacked Indian society with unrestrained fury after the brutal Delhi-rape-murder in December 2012, an attack that virtually was a Gang-Rape of Indian Culture by US media.
The American liberal imperial class has called Ms. Khobragade’s situation a case of human trafficking. Frankly, this is an appalling overreach. Nothing about Khobragade’s nanny deserves this description. But that doesn’t matter just as the reality of WMD in Iraq simply did not matter. The liberal imperial class merely needed a convenient excuse to launch an intervention. And that’s what the two US agencies did.
The US State Department has been reportedly concerned about domestic help imported by foreign diplomats into America. India actually may be a lesser problem in this regard than Arab countries, African countries, or even other Asian countries like NonPakistan. The US State Dept has been itching to make an example of someone to deliver a message that can be heard by all. And the strength of the message is dependent on the level of brute vicious force employed against the chosen example, force that can drive fear into others.
2. Why India?
We don’t know and nobody would without access to the emails between the US State Dept & the US Justice Dept. But we can surmise.
A clue comes from the case filed in Manhattan by US Attorney Preet Bharara against Russian Diplomats for cheating on health care. According to an article on ABC News dated December 5, 2013, Russian deputy foreign minister Rybakov denied the charges and said “We have many complaints about U.S. diplomats in Moscow, but we aren’t taking them into the public domain”. The message from Russia was clear.
And Preet Bharara seems to have received the message. As ABC News wrote:
- Bharara said it was a case “we would be prosecuting and making
arrests in, but for immunity.” Still, he added, participation in crimes
by diplomats generally leads to expulsion from a country. … The case is unlikely to go to trial because the defendants have immunity, Bharara acknowledged.
Mr. Bharara is a very smart man. He and his colleagues in the State Dept. know Russia would immediately respond in kind as Russia has always done. So Russia is out as an example. China, forget about it. And no Muslim country was going to be touched. Would American State Dept even remotely consider stripping a Muslim woman naked and cavity searching her? We don’t think so.
Then the case of Sangita Richard, the nanny of Ms.Khobragade fell into their lap. It seemed a perfect case to make an example. So the US State & Justice Depts. “evacuated” her family from India. And two days later, they arrested Ms. Khobragade.
Look, this made perfect sense from the American liberal interventionist imperial standpoint. It was the perfect set up for a humanitarian intervention against a offending country in a mission to uphold American values. And the target was India and more importantly Indian elitist tendencies that America’s liberal imperial class despises (while practicing those themselves). And India seemed a perfect target because India has a proven track record of non-retaliation:
- In April 2013, China sent troops into Indian territory and set up tents. China knew India would not retaliate and India didn’t. They spent weeks agonizing about why China did that & whether any Indian action would “damage” the relationship with China.
- A few months ago, NonPakistan army beheaded Indian soldiers in a skirmish on the border. India did not retaliate in kind and one Indian opinionator tweeted “that shows India’s moral greatness”.
- Iran seized an Indian oil tanker and held it for weeks. India patiently “took it up” with Iran and weeks later celebrated the release of its tanker as a victory.
So you can excuse American agencies for thinking that Indian reaction would be limited to mere words or at the most a “strong demarche”, a favorite term of Indian foreign policy establishment.
3. Empire’s don’t permit equality
The Indian media has been full of “what will America say if India were to” type arguments. They think the world is a debating society. Indian government and society labors under the myth that all nations are equal and should be treated equally. India, with its history of 700 years of continuous foreign rule in Delhi, should know better.
Empires don’t believe in equality with lesser states. Empires don’t tolerate lesser states treating them the way they treat lesser states. Neither the British nor the Mughal-TurkoAfghan empires ever tolerated any equality with Indians. Why do Indians think today’s global empire would? This is why Marie Harf, deputy spokeswoman for US State Department, summarily dismissed any comparison to a Saudi case where US granted retroactive immunity for serious crimes by Saudi diplomats. She simply said “each case is different”.
India doesn’t understand that equality is to be earned by fighting for it & winning, not by whining. Many countries around the world have earned America’s respect. America is a masculine country, pure and simple. Even America’s liberal women appreciate masculine fighting behavior and express contempt for non-fighting countries by questioning their cojones as ex-diplomat Anne Marie Slaughter publicly wrote about Turkey. A CNN woman anchor always uses the “eunuch” term to express her feelings of contempt.
In contrast, India is a soft malleable forgiving society to the point of being effeminate. This is how the British thinkers described India 200 years ago. America’s thinkers feel the same today. This is why even NonPakistan is respected by the US State department, condemned yes, hated perhaps but respected. India is not. Ms. Khobragade is paying the price for it.
4. Where did US go Wrong?
The US State dept is reportedly stunned by the outrage in India. They tried to dismiss their action as an isolated case. They have launched a PR counterattack to defame practices of Indian society and defend their action as humanitarian. This is what the American liberal imperial class textbook teaches. The reality is they have no clue why Indians are so outraged and angry.
The most basic rule in insulting or putting down a society is to keep it subtle. The idea is to teach the rulers a necessary lesson. The absolute no-no is to do something that is instantly and viscerally understood by ordinary people of that society. The classic colonial example is the “cow & pork fat” cartridge that the British East India Company introduced in its captive Indian army in 1857. Licking this cartridge was against both Hindu & Muslim red lines. The result was the 1857 war that led to the East Indian company being shut down by Britain’s Victoria.
The modern parallel is the treatment of Devyani Khobragade. Stripping an Indian woman naked and cavity searching her is something the poorest and most illiterate Indian understands. It was as if every Indian’s sister or daughter had been stripped naked and cavity searched by a colonial white regime. And she was India’s diplomat to the USA, the symbol of India. Stripping her naked and cavity searching her is like stripping Mother India naked and cavity searching Her.
It doesn’t matter what US procedures call for and what exactly was done. Just like it did not matter whether the British cartridges of 1857 were actually smeared with cow & pork fat or not. What counts is what people understand viscerally.
We think this US action against Ms. Khobragade was catastrophic in its stupidity, arrogance and its long term impact on US-India relationship. We don’t mean what an obedient Indian government might do. We mean America’s relationship with the Indian people.
And America should understand this better than other countries. To this day, Americans remember with deep anger what the Iranians did to the American embassy in Tehran over 30 years ago in 1979. We have no doubt this Khobragade treatment would remain alive and fester for decades.
Empires survive by being smart enough to not make catastrophic mistakes. The American liberal interventionist imperial class made one by stripping Ms. Khobragade naked and cavity searching her. This operation to make an example of India has ended up by making an example of America instead.
5. The Bottom Line
A country’s diplomat is the embodiment of the country itself. Mistreating a foreign diplomat has been a major no-no through out history:
- Just before the commencement of war for Sri Lanka, Shree Ram sent his envoy Angad to ask Emperor Raavan for peace. Ravaan was so incensed that he ordered Angad to be put to death, He was dissuaded by his minister brother who reminded him that diplomats of other nations are untouchable in civilized warfare. Emperor Raavan and his entire clan were killed in the ensuing war. The sensible minister brother was made the king of Lanka.
- In 1218, Genghis Khan sent an envoy of three to the Sultan of Khwarizm (today’s northern Afghanistan & eastern Iran).
The Sultan killed one and mutilated the faces of others. The fury of
Genghis Khan led him to raid the kingdom, destroy cities and massacre
thousands of people.
- In 1979, Iranian protestors ransacked and occupied the American embassy in Tehran. American embassy personnel were detailed as hostages. The ordeal lasted months and ended only on the night of the inauguration of President Reagan. The Mullahs knew Reagan would act and they didn’t want that. To this day, the wound of that event remains alive and deep in American psyche.
Diplomats of a lesser nation are only touched when an Empire wants to send a message of utter coercive contempt to bring the lesser state to its knees. It is an arrogant expression of unanswerable power.
The Indian Government and its Foreign Service get it. They have said they wouldn’t stand for it. Their feelings and actions are described well by Indian columnist Ashok Malik in his article Maid in Manhattan: a Migration Project.
Is this the end of “human values” intervention against India by America’s liberal imperial class? As Kaplan says in his America’s Imperial Class article:
- “… this imperial
class will not go away, even as the electronic media brings increasing
pressure to bear on the White House, the urge to intervene … in
order set this or that situation to rights will go on, regardless of
America’s actual national interests”
- “… I foresee periodic humanitarian interventions tempered by only two things: the memory of such interventions having gone awry and the end to prosperity … “
So whether America’s liberal imperial class attacks India again depends on how, for how long & with what intensity India retaliates for the Khobragade attack. India should understand America only respects those who stand up to fight hard for their rights.
Frankly, the so-called US-India relationship will not survive without India becoming realistically hard nosed about what they want and what they will not tolerate. For even God only helps those who help themselves.
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