As has been said before, the Liberal Ironist is dedicated in part to acknowledging those prudent acts of statesmanship that in a polarized political environment sometimes pass by insufficiently-acknowledged. I’m making this claim prematurely, as this partnership is really still in its exploratory phase, but even so: The President’s visit to India is significant. While the Liberal Ironist may be jumping the gun in this assessment, it isn’t for want of auspicious signs; Rich Lowry, writing in the usually-partisan National Review, applauded it–acerbically, but nonetheless sincerely and substantively.
The Economist, also a conservative publication (though a British one and thus less-subject to movement-Conservative enthusiasm) was actually less bullish on the significance of President Obama’s trip to India. I’m inclined to think this is partly because, lacking strong partisan suspicion towards the President, its contributors weren’t initially terrified that he would rashly and fruitlessly scale-back former President George W. Bush’s rather bold late-term diplomatic overtures to India. The Economist calmly notes that while there were practical matters to discuss…
“…the first two days (of the President’s India visit) delivered little for anyone to get excited about. A few business deals for American companies were brushed together into a package worth some $15 billion, announced in a speech in Mumbai—which supposedly will create 50,000 jobs in America. Disgruntled voters back home are unlikely to pay much heed.”
Lowry’s take on the India visit is more-sensitive, I think, to a real if subtle shift in the President’s approach to Asian geopolitics–from a meliorative stance towards China to actually throwing in with India. The President’s initial reserve towards several governments with which the United States had troubled relations during the W. Bush years–Russia and China most-notably–reflects not some pacifist naivete that partisan critics have absentmindedly lobbed but what may be a prudent approach for a new President to take towards foreign affairs. Lacking certainty upon entering office just how much icy relations between governments is a product of enduring strategic or internal interests of that government, and how much of it is simply a contingent result of a predecessor’s flawed policy choices, Obama made unassuming and conciliatory gestures towards many countries. Misinterpreted at some junctures as weak, these conciliatory measures (such as the President’s call to move the SDI missile defense southward from allies Poland and the Czech Republic) now seem to have been visible invitations to these potential competitors to set a new cooperative strategic agenda. As I’ve discussed previously, Russia appears to have answered this invitation, and will participate in an upcoming NATO strategic dialogue.
China for its part has foolishly pressed its border disputes with multiple neighbors, called for an international currency regime unpegged from the US Dollar, and even challenged Secretary of State Clinton during her Asian tour of China’s visibly-rattled neighbors. The fruits of China’s rising jingoism: The Secretary of State was warmly-received even in once-war-ravaged Vietnam, and President Obama has apparently gone all-in on a strategic relationship with India, going to far as to say that he looks forward to the day India becomes a Permanent Member of the UN Security Council and identifying Pakistan as the prime source of South Asia’s terrorism problem.
Several upcoming posts will deal with emerging geopolitical issues–including at least 1 on China’s rising belligerence in international affairs. The recent but promising improvement in relations with Russia suggests that President Obama has real acuity as a statesman. His show of solidarity with India builds on groundwork laid by George W. Bush when he established the nuclear accord with India. With mounting evidence that globalized trade has actually equipped a massive, authoritarian and resource-strapped China to pursue a myopically self-assertive foreign policy, a reaffirmation of commitment to our current allies and cultivation of new partners such as India and Russia, where possible, may prove essential to moderating China’s growing demands on international institutions and foreign governments.