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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Heart for Obama, Head for McCain










By T.P.Sreenivasan(Former Ambassador of India to the United Nations)

Asked recently as to how I would vote in November if I were an American citizen, I said, “I shall vote for Obama with my heart, but vote for McCain with my head.” The reason is simple. Obama promises change, he is charismatic; the world will be different with a black President in the White House. McCain has solid experience, he is predictable, he is likely to bring stability and he will be better for India. At the moment, it appears that the Americans will vote with the heart rather than the head because the economic turmoil has made change imperative. If a majority of the Americans put the race issue behind them, we may well have a black man with “Hussein” as his second name as the President of an “antiIslamic” state.

Outside the United States, Obama has made a greater impact. “Obama has stirred an excitement around the globe, unmatched by any American politician in living memory’, says ‘the Guardian’. If November 4 were a global ballot, Obama would win it handsomely. It goes on to say that if the free world could choose its leader, it would be Barack Obama.Obama may not be the best American President from the Indian point of view because he is bound to depart from the Bush policies, which have proved beneficial to IndoUS relations. Democrats have romantic linkages with India and names like Kennedy and Clinton evoke goodwill. But looking back at history, one can see that Republican Presidents like Eisenhower, Regan and Bush have done more for India than the Democrats. In the case of Bush, he cut the Gordian knot of nonproliferation, which had defied solution even after the best efforts of Clinton. In a clash between “relationists” and “nonproliferationists”, the latter had the upper hand during the Clinton Administration. In the end, he decided to set aside the nuclear issue and promote relations in other areas. India had accepted three of the four benchmarks put forward by Clinton (cessation of tests, fissile material cut off and export control), but he insisted on the fourth (strategic restraint) and broke off the dialogue. Bush found a way to move forward after acknowledging our minimum deterrent and entering into civilian nuclear trade. Bush ended thirtyfour years of technology denial through the nuclear deal and opened up new vistas.

Obama voted for the deal in the Senate and said that he would not seek any change in the arrangements if he became President, but his nuclear policy spelt out in a document recently militates against some of the positions resulting from the deal. First and foremost, he maintains that the NPT regime should be strengthened and should be made universal, while the key to the nuclear deal is the provision that the Indian nuclear assets would be left untouched. More immediately, he wants the US Senate to ratify the CTBT and bring it into force. The truth of the matter is that the CTBT can come into force only if India also signs it. After the elaborate debate on testing and its real and imaginary consequences, India will find it difficult to sign the CTBT, even though the Vajpayee Government had expressed readiness to sign it. Obama will lose credibility if, as President, he does not pursue his own nuclear agenda. It should not be forgotten that Obama had moved killer amendments to the Hyde Act. He also has strong reservations on allowing India to reprocess spent fuel.

McCain, on the other hand, is in the Bush mould, and sees India as a balancing factor in Asia against Chinese power and influence. He will implement the deal in good faith and strengthen the strategic partnership with India. The conditions imposed by the US Congress will be largely ignored by him. Obama, on the other hand, is likely to tilt towards China.Obama has the image of the underdog, which will appeal to the developing world. But as President, he will focus more on the well being of the US citizens than on the developing world. His views on outsourcing are strongly against the developing countries, which have benefited from outsourcing. By denying tax concessions to companies which outsource their business, he will dampen the expanding outsourcing activities. He will also tighten the screws in the Doha round of negotiations on account of his concern for the farmers. McCain will focus on wealth generation and leave these areas alone to the magic of the market.

Obama has no great link with India, though a good number of young Indian Americans are dazzled by him and he has been playing along with their sentiments by mourning the death of Field Marshal Manekshaw, greeting the Indian Prime Minister and interrupting his campaign to vote for the deal in the Senate. He also carries a small image of Hanuman in his wallet. He knows Pakistan, but not India and the developing countries he knows well are Kenya and Indonesia. He tends to develop his theories on his knowledge of these countries and he may well see India as a powerful country. This may bring in distortions in the American world view. Obama’s determination to end the Iraq war will be a positive point, but he is equally determined to catch Osama Bin Laden, even if it means going deep into Pakistan territory. If Pakistan helps in this effort for tactical reasons, he is likely to reward Pakistan by arms shipments and infusion of capital. The Bush policy of giving primary importance to India and to treat Pakistan as a failing state may get altered in the bargain.Obama’s readiness to talk to all leaders may bring in its own complications. There is genuine fear that he may be carried away by idealism and get the US into trouble. Talking to Iran and North Korea may be seen by the allies of the US as rewarding terrorism. The Bush view of the world will be sustained by McCain, giving a sense of stability in foreign policy.

The presence of Joe Biden on the Obama ticket is a matter of satisfaction for India as he is a known friend of India and he has considerable experience in foreign policy. Sarah Palin on the McCain ticket is a handicap for the Republicans. But in American elections, the determining factor is the image of the Presidential candidate. While Obama has an edge over his Republican rival at this point, the election results are still uncertain.

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