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Thursday, November 06, 2008

On the Perils of A New President

Barack Obama, largely an unknown person, will be the new president of US in January. After a rather successful and close relationship between India and US during the past eight years, or at least the last four years, of Bush presidency one wonders what is in store for the relationship in the next four to eight years.

Of the little experience that Obama has, his experience in international matters is even smaller. People largely know about him from his autobiographies - two of them. His article in Foreign Affairs about his apparent foreign policy, many months ago, was minimalistic with a passing mention of India. A friend of mine who lives in Chicago attended an early gathering of desi-Americans to size up Obama's contest for presidency and about his thoughts on Indo-US relationship. At the time Obama, following his NPA friends talking points, was not keen on 123 Nuclear Agreement. Later on he was mildly supportive of it, probably to keep desi-Americans happy and on his side, and because the agreement was inevitable.

But mostly during the past year or so, he was focused on the Land of the Pure. At one time, he wanted to attack LoP to get Osama bin Laden and his followers. At another time, he wanted to apply diplomatic pressure on LoP to go after al Qaeda settled in NWFP. At a different time, he wanted to buy LoP support to pursue al Qaeda. Reading about this, I predicted, multiple times during this period, that the Pakistanis will play the usual game of reciprocity with the new president Obama - deliver J&K for any action on their western front. But even before the Pakistani could play their game, Obama seem to be going along the same path. Some this talk could be because of his advisers - old Clinton hands, like Madeline Albright and Richard Holbrook, and some even older, like Zbigniew Brezinski (the Jimmy Carter's NSA hand), and some more recent, like Colin Powell. All these advisers look at Indo-US relationship through the lens of Bharat-Pakistan, i.e., hyphenation. Bush put a stop to the decades old hyphenation policy of US including Bill Clinton's hyper-hyphenation, which included China (with Clinton saying China had legitimate interests in the subcontinent at the height of nuclear testing days in 1998). See B. Raman's take on who in Obama's advisory team may be advising Obama how.

If one were a classic so-called Obamanics, one would ignore what Obama actually says and conclude whatever one wants from Obama-speak. So, despite recent Obama's policy pronouncements, it is possible Obama may continue with Bush lead of having close relationship with Bharat. But it's highly unlikely. For one thing, I suspect, Obama is an Islamo-phile. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being an Islamo-phile. But a nation or leader dealing with president Obama has to understand where he's coming from to deal with his policy positions.

Three things about Obama makes me think he is an Islamo-phile.

First, although I am told from people who read his autobiographies that Obama doesn't talk about his younger days - after his childhood apparently he suddenly appears in Chicago's black community, works his way up in the city's community and then raise fairly rapidly through state government and US Senate. But apparently he visited LoP in the 80s with his Pakistani friends. We know Obama, at the time, felt like an outsider. So it's less probably that he went to LoP to check on how Reagan and US government were doing to throw out Soviets from Afghanistan, but rather to see for himself how the mujahideens are organizing and fighting the Soviets. B. Raman writes of this trip:

It was at the invitation of one of his Pakistani friends that he visited Islamabad, Karachi and Hyderabad (Sind) in the 1980s. Nobody can hold that against him.

As an Indian, one will be but human if one felt troubled that he did not disclose this till he became the Presidential candidate. He disclosed this----as if in passing--- when it was alleged that he did not understand the Islamic world and its divisions. He mentioned his visit to Pakistan to show that he knew about the divisions in Islam, about the Shia-Sunni differences.

Why did he keep mum on his visit to Pakistan till this question was raised? Has he disclosed all the details regarding his Pakistan visit? Was it as innocuous as made out by him----to respond to the invitation of a Pakistani friend or was there something more to it?
I have never heard of Obama's trip to LoP until the post by Sri Raman. It is possible, as a young man, Obama wasn't sure if he was Muslim or a Christian. And it's fine for him to look for his religious roots and gain some understanding.

Secondly, recently we find out that Obama's mentor, other than local former terrorist bomber Bill Ayers, was Prof. Rashid Khalidi. Prof. Khalidi was a PLO spokesperson. Perfectly sane person but someone who dislikes Israel. Apparently Obama learned about Arab politics and about Islamic world from Prof. Khalidi and his wife over number of dinners at Khalidi's house. LA Times published a piece in April on a dinner party for Prof. Khalidi when he moved from Univ. of Chicago to Columbia Univ. Apparently Obama was full of praise for the professor while others were blasting Israel and Jews with Bill Ayers present at the table.
According to Wallsten the evening not surprisingly turned into a classic Jew-bash:

"During the dinner a young Palestinian American recited a poem accusing the Israeli government of terrorism in its treatment of Palestinians and sharply criticizing U.S. support of Israel. If Palestinians cannot secure their own land, she said, "then you will never see a day of peace."
LA Times has the video of the party bashing Jews, but won't release it - probably protecting the paper's favorite candidate.

And thirdly, Obama's dad was a Kenyan Muslim. Obama himself is a Christian, but it explains his youthful interest in Islam and Muslim lands. And I suspect his sympathy for whatever real and imagined afflictions Muslims feel that Islamic nations have.

With Obama's possible Islamo-phile attitude, the countries that will be most impacted by his policies will be the ones that have bloody borders with the lands of Islam - mainly Bharat and Israel, but also Afghanistan. Israel will have to deal with a not-so friendly US government along with already unfriendly Europeans. But American Jews and Israelis can take of care themselves. Backed by Obama's administration, Afghanistan will have to deal with possible reconciliation with Taliban (former mujahideens) enabling NATO and US troop withdrawal. Any revival of Afghanistan as a normal country will probably end with India losing out a strategic foothold while LoP gets its strategic depth back.

After Bush leaves the presidency, the bonhomie between India and US will probably come to an end - the drop-in visits by the president when a senior Bharatiya leader visits the White House on business; the consultation phone calls to the prime minister; and simple praise and defence of Bharat in international arena will, I suspect, be a thing of the past. The strategic room for Bharat on world stage may shrink quite a bit. One hopes MEA and Bharatiya foreign policy watchers are ready for the new reality and are prepared for it without being surprised at what changes the new US elections will bring. This will especially be true if BJP/NDA wins elections early next year - it should not expect to pick up US-Bharatiya relationship from where it left off five years ago.