What to expect from Mr Obama (November 16, 2012)

News Analysis

Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam on what the second innings for Mr Barack Obama means for India, the Muslim world, and the world in general.

President Barack Obama’s second term is seen differently from different quarters. In India’s Muslim circles, there have been some who had great expectations from him – for wrong reasons, of course – in his first term. Naturally, expectations, propelled by a defective reading of his Cairo speech, were belied. Wistful thinking cannot be the substitute for hard, realistic, informed thinking.

Mr Obama will continue with his policy of constructive engagement with India handed down to him by Mr George W. Bush. This new policy, initiated towards the end of the second term of Mr Bill Clinton, is geared to co-opting India as a resource in the US Departments of State, Defence and Commerce, without much regard for India’s own basic needs.

In that particular perspective, India is a huge market for American goods and services, America’s probable military outpost in the region, its material resources hinged to America’s commercial interests. Besides, in the US scheme of things India is part of a network of countries like Japan, South Korea and Vietnam that could be deployed to counter the growing Chinese weight in the neighbourhood. Needless to say, most Indians don’t see themselves or their country in this light. They don’t think they are there to serve the American or European agenda.

Mr Obama will, nonetheless, carry on as if Indians do not have a will of their own. The repeated reminders to India from the US that “great power comes with great responsibility” would not cease coming any time soon. In simple terms, it means India has to stand in for American and European armies when they return home from Afghanistan and elsewhere with a bloodied nose. That, put simply, is an order to take America’s burden when America falters, without the advantages America gets.

America and its developed allies like Israel will continue to sell some of their technology and weapons to India at a high price even though much of it will be rendered obsolete for them by the time they are deployed, because by then they would have the next-generation technologies and weapons available to them. Even though India’s reading of the Nuclear Technology Agreement with America does not find anything in it that says America’s enemy is India’s enemy, the American reading says India has to meet commitments that forward America’s strategic interests. Hence, the pressure in the form of “great power comes with great responsibility” harangue.

A similar understanding of the Iran nuclear programme also makes it incumbent on India to oppose its uranium purification programme, which is completely legal in international law, including the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Despite that, Iran has been pushed to the wall, and India has voted against it with America more than once.

Under Mr Obama’s second term the American pressure against Iran will grow beyond multiple sanctions, which have deeply harmed Iran. The sanctions may grow in number and intensity till Iran is rendered helpless. Strikes on its nuclear installations also cannot be ruled out. Israel may also do it on its own, confirmed in its belief that Obama will have no option but to back Israel in whatever it does, as is clear from the record so far.

The Middle East’s problems have no chances of a solution. Things may get far worse before they start getting better. Instability in the region would not go away in a year or two, or four, for that matter.

Israel will continue to expand its settlements and keep nibbling away at Palestinian territory till Palestinians have very little left for themselves. Israel will not certainly return the Golan Heights to Syria, nor is Sheba Farms to be handed back. A progressive intervention, step by step, is likely in Syria in the future.

Among Indian Muslims there are quite a few who had great hopes from Mr Obama’s first term mainly because of his second name, Hussein. Now, for the good only, his first and last names are in currency. Thank God. There are some others who delude themselves by arguing that he will not have a third term (the law does not allow it), and hence he will not be under pressure to be unfair to the Muslim world. Already they have forgotten that George W. Bush’s second term was worse for Muslims than the first. We have no way of dealing with people who love forgetting uncomfortable truths.

The most important work that Mr Obama will be doing over the next four years will be managing America’s decline, which is irreversible. America has military presence in over a 100 countries. Such military overstretch cannot be maintained. Already deep cuts are being made in military spending. The cuts will continue over the entire term.

As a result, the world, and America, should breath easier. However, it may not turn out that way as the 10-year “anti terror” was started in 2001 against 60 countries has been extended to 40 years now. And you already know who live in these 60 countries.


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