(Editor’s Note: This article was written before the Biden presidency began. It is reproduced in the light of US bombing of Syria and Somalia.)
Living with Biden presidency
Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam
Uploaded on February 27, 2021
The end of the bull-in-the-china-shop presidency of Donald Trump and the ushering in of the more level-headed Joe Biden as the new US President has raised hopes of a smoother sail in America’s domestic and foreign affairs. Pinning too much hope on the change would be unrealistic for the rest of the world, because hardly ever there has been a significant departure in US foreign policy with the induction of a new president.
Also, there is too much of hope being attached to vice-president Kamla Haris’s mother’s Indian origin. The fact remains that Haris is not a Jamaican because her father has a Jamaican origin, or an Indian because her mother was from India. She is as unambiguously American as Joe Biden, or George Bush. She will work for American interest, not for India’s.
In foreign policy Biden would sound less bellicose than Trump, but would not necessarily be more kind to the world. It is also worthwhile to remember that even before being sworn in, he described Russia’s Vladmir Putin as someone who has “no soul” and China’s XI Jiping as “a thug.” This shows use of belligerent language was not limited to Trump alone.
Biden believes that the United States is a nation of immigrants (a reality reflected in his choice of a woman vice-president whose parents came to America from two different countries), and thus he should be more liberal about the visa regime and immigration issues. This should be good for India’s tech professionals aspiring to go to the US and work there. Before that Biden will ensure whether it will affect the job prospects of American citizens.
In tune with this, Biden has scrapped Trump’s zero tolerance rule against illegal immigration, particularly of Mexicans. By doing this he has distanced himself from Trump’s brutal stance on the issue. Trump had gone to the extent of snatching children from their illegal immigrant parents, a policy that attracted worldwide condemnation. Trump’s wife Melania publicly criticised the policy.
In India, some have taken a sigh of relief to see America stepping back from an “uncivil war” (to use Biden’s words in his inaugural), but many Indians seem to have a fascination for Trump’s brutal white supremacist ways. Such preference for Trump was evident in Indian presence among the mob storming the Capitol on January 6. These Indians were carrying a huge Indian national flag. The storming of Red Fort by a small group of farmers in Delhi on January 26 indicates dangerous undercurrents in India as well.
At the moment of writing this piece one finds some liberal and pro-democracy sections in India (a small minority now) celebrating the “return” of democratic values in America. Needless to say such celebrations are unrealistic. A society that has seen a great civil war, and is always ready to erupt into a lethal civil war-like condition at any moment, can’t be trusted to keep its fanatical racial supremacists, gun lovers, conspiracy theorists and sundry hooligans under control. Trying to control them too strictly can lead to a violent eruption that would not be easily tamed. The police and intelligence services in America are cognizant of this fact and are on alert.
Closing the loop of action against Trump’s hooliganism would require tact and patience. Action against him would have to be limited to avoid a backlash from his support base in the population and among law makers. A bipartisan approach, as adopted by Biden, is a safety net.
Among the major moves that would have positive impact on the world is Biden’s willingness to join the Paris Accord from which America had arbitrarily withdrawn. This step would have a substantially beneficial impact on climate-change mitigation efforts.
Biden’s readiness to extend the IBM Treaty with Russia would help to maintain nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missile security stable.
Coming back to our own national security interest, the US has formed a four-country military umbrella group containing United States, Australia, India and Japan. With this still emerging group America wants to contain China even at a time its long-term allies Japan, South Korea and Australia are seeking greater integration with the expanding Chinese economy. The Quad, as the four-country loose alliance is called, is fine for India to be with.
However, we have to be wary of the US proposal for India taking over military responsibilities in Afghanistan after US troops leave. President Bush Jr. President Obama, President Trump and the American strategic affairs expert Fareed Zakaria have been prompting prompt India to “take responsibility” to become a great power. This responsibility is not worth taking.
It is worthwhile to remember that when Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi sent Indian army to Sri Lanka as Indian Peace Keeping Forces (IPKF) to tame Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE), as many as 21,000 Indian troops were killed by LTTE, a figure comparable to Indian military casualties in China war of 1962. As if that was not enough, LTTE terrorists killed Rajiv Gandhi in Thiruvananthapuram. We have to keep it in mind before listening to the US about walking into their military boots. Afghanistan today is not safer than Sri Lanka then.
One of the greatest war heroes of the 20th century and an all-time great military general, Bernard Montgomery, said, “There are only two principles of war: never attack Russia and never attack China.” He could have added “Never send troops into Afghanistan.” This is the conclusion British troops in Afghanistan would have drawn during the Raj days. Russian invasion of Afghanistan and American military intervention have ended up the same way. There is no reason why India should do it. However, getting actively involved in Afghan diplomacy and being part of final negotiations would be worth the effort.