More than a half century after they dismissed his frequent musings on international affairs as preaching, the US and its European allies have taken on the mantle of Jawaharlal Nehru. Scarcely a week goes past without some country or the other getting detailed lessons in etiquette and morality from the US-EU combo. The missing element in such declamations is any regret for the horrible consequences of earlier actions of the alliance, such as in Afghanistan, where errors in tactics by NATO have led to a resurgence of the Taliban in a country which still broadly loathes these ruffians for the harm they did between 1996 and 2001, especially to women, minorities and non-Wahhabis, especially the Shias.
In Iraq as in other theatres, the war was conducted in a way designed to minimise allied casualties, no matter the cost of such tactics on the civilian population. It is another matter that the numerous international human rights tribunals so active against individuals from Asia and Africa are wholly silent on the masses of civilian dead and maimed caused by the actions of NATO member-states. Neither UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon nor his Human Rights commissioner Navi Pillay seem to have noticed any of this, focused as they are on responding to the cues tossed their way by Washington and Brussels.
When Barack Obama got sworn in as President of the US five years ago, the expectation was that he would end the fiction among US policymakers that their country is only the westernmost segment of Europe, and instead appreciate the reality of the US being a quadri-cultural entity, with its chemistry having components of not just Europe but Africa, South America and Asia as well. That this did not happen was because of the lock that the Clintons had over policy in the new administration, with almost all of Obama’s picks being from the Clinton stable, and therefore Europeanist and condescending to the others. Now that Hillary Clinton has bid goodbye, most likely to avoid getting tagged with what she believes will be the inevitable mistakes of the second Obama innings, and to focus on reclaiming the White House for “Billary”, there is a possibility that President Obama may finally emerge as his own man, shaking off the tutelage to the Clintons that hobbled so much of his policies earlier. Should he show the courage and conviction which brought him from a broken home to the highest position in the globe, President Obama may indeed enter the history books together with Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and George Washington, epochal US Presidents. Internationally, such a process would mandate a reset in relations between the US and the world’s other giant democracy, India.
Under Bill Clinton, India was seen as a child of a lesser god, to paraphrase Arundhati Roy. Obama’s Democratic predecessor badgered Narasimha Rao ceaselessly to force Delhi to make the concessions on Kashmir that were being demanded by the Pakistan Army. During 1994-95, Team Clinton worked hard to empower the collection of fundamentalist ruffians later known as the Taliban. Of course, subsequently the entire blame for that unhappy development was laid at the door of Islamabad and Kabul rather than Washington. And it was Clinton who de-regulated the US financial industry in a manner so reckless that the excesses of subsequent years became possible. By filling his team with Clinton-era holdovers, Barack Obama lost a chance to cleanse the US financial sector of those who almost succeeded in wrecking the global economy, all for a swollen bonus cheque. However, his latest picks for CIA, Defense and Treasury (though not for Secretary of State) indicate that President Obama has decided to be himself rather than a Clinton clone in his final years in office.
Now is the time for a bold move that could transform Indo-US relations. Huge amounts of surplus equipment need to be removed from Afghanistan. Much of this will end up in junkyards, as their transport across vast distances and their lack of utility within the homeland will lead to disuse. Should President Obama follow the example of President Roosevelt during 1941-43 and introduce a 21st century version of Lend Lease, handing over surplus US military equipment (including capital ships) to not merely India but other seafaring countries within the region such as Vietnam and the Philippines and even South Africa and Indonesia, it would indicate that Washington has finally decided to treat Asian countries as equal in heft to the European partners of the US, rather than as secondary allies.
Of course, in the case of the moving of material to India, such a course would be opposed by the muscular pro-Pakistan and pro-China lobbies in the US, despite the fact that such transfers would not be directed against any particular country. In India, those who are fattening themselves on hugely expensive arms purchases from abroad will squeal, as the new version of Lend Lease will not fatten their overseas bank accounts the way arms purchases would. However, even an offer on the lines suggested would transform perceptions of the US in countries which will be core to the success of any strategy designed to pivot to Asia and to the Indian Ocean Rim.