There is consensus that America is the only superpower, and that no one can prevent it from going its chosen way or hold it accountable. After 9/11 the voices of dissent and criticism were largely silenced in America and abroad. That has given the US President almost unlimited discretion and immunity from scrutiny. This book brings together views from around the world outlining possible scenarios during Bush’s second Presidency. One major issue, which deserves more space, is whether the role of civil society in US decision making can and will be restored, and how this could play out in the next two years, and after Bush. Another subject, which needs more attention, is the future of America’s relations with the Islamic world. These are certainly in the forefront of Bush’s foreign policy. Although it is impossible and unwise to club the Islamic world together and see it from any single viewpoint, a contributor from the Middle East would have helped make the survey more comprehensive. There is no contribution on international institutions, but that is understandable given the disinterest shown by Bush in them.
Since the Constitution was amended to limit a US president to two terms, there has been not only a discontinuity between Presidents, but also subtle changes of emphasis during a second term when the President is running not for re-election, but for his place in history. Bush undoubtedly sees himself as an imperial President who set out to overcome terrorism and put rogue states in their place. But the major dilemma he has created is stated in the book’s last sentence: “The options for foreign policy makers, to put it simplistically, are to marry their interests to that of the United States, wherever possible, or to hold their noses and wait it out till the next round of elections in the hope that a more benign administration will come to power.” That may however be too stark a choice. America may not change all that much after Bush, and the wiser choice may be to further one’s interests by making selective alliances where interests converge.
The American contributor Daniel Sneider argues that Bush won the 2004 election because the American electorate did not want a change in leadership during a war, and the majority were led to believe that in any case Bush was a more resolute leader. This implies no major change in US attitudes in the long term. The German contributor, Braml however believes that the Christian Right has consolidated its position and will continue to play an influential role in America even after Bush has gone. Dobson from Britain also cites this as a concern that is echoed by Kirton from Canada. Republican candidates for the Presidency appear to be taking this seriously. Post 9/11 a move to the right that was already evident in US politics received a major boost from a shocked people who had been convinced they were immune from external threat. In earlier times the resilience of American society has turned back such drifts towards intolerance as in the time of McCarthy and Nixon. Today there are stronger murmurs of dissent such as the article criticizing the Israeli lobby enabling that country’s interests to override America’s, and criticism of the Iraqi war no longer being seen as disloyalty to the soldiers in the battlefield. It is however unlikely that the traditional internationalists who formed the bipartisan consensus for US foreign policy since World War II will ever be restored to the driving seat. The majority of the US public still appears paranoid over threats from Islamic fundamentalism and nuclear proliferation from every quarter that are often based on concocted facts and hype put out by interested parties which includes the media think tanks and even the government at times. The coalition between the neo-cons, the Christian right, and the Israeli lobby seems set to continue for quite a while. The disenchantment with Bush which growing fast may not affect this trend materially as long as his failures are attributed to bad judgement rather than ideology.
So far the parlous state of the US economy, with enormous and growing deficits at home and abroad, has not been fully appreciated by the US voter. Should the economy be forced down into a hard landing it can be anticipated that there will a backlash against the Administration as well as against major economic partners. If one needs to insure against American disillusion it must be on economic as well as security grounds. Friends and allies must be as wary as opponents. History will now judge Bush by the eventual outcome in Iraq, which can only be said to be uncertain. Had he declared victory after Afghanistan as his father did after Kuwait he might have been more fortunate. The flowering of democracy in the Middle East, which was touted as a major plank in the 2004 campaign is also a lost cause. The present structure in the region relies on authoritarian regimes that are the staunchest of Bush’s allies and only verbally oppose Israel’s policy and actions. Hamas in Palestine or the present Iranian regime, which are more genuinely democratic in their mandate, are seen as rouge entities. Israeli security and survival can and should have priority, but it seems that in the post 9/11 period pre-emptive and exclusivist policies are all that Israel has to offer and they will prevail as the US underwrites them and the international community remains passive. The road map for a viable Palestinian state is as essential for genuine peace in the region as permanent security for Israel. The wave of terrorism that the entire world is battling has much of its origin in the ferment in the societies and politics of the Middle East. It has an Islamic face, but as events in India have demonstrated democracy can counter it. Given the importance of this region for the world’s energy security, its short term and long term stability are everyone’s concern. Added to this is the stand off between Iran and the US over the former’s nuclear programme. Iran’s hands are probably not clean. But then whose are? Almost certainly there was clandestine assistance from the West to Israel’s programme. The world urgently needs to find alternative energy sources, and nuclear power is again becoming attractive. Can a determined nation be prevented forever from acquiring dual use technology for enrichment even with the strictest of safeguards? The answer in the long term seems to be “no”. If so, would it not be better to go down the Russian route of allowing a small amount of domestic enrichment? Thereafter by increasing international involvement the Iranians could be held to their commitments and the number of nuclear weapon powers might be kept down. There is one doubt that is difficult to set aside. The real cap to proliferation lies in comprehensive nuclear disarmament. India’s own stability and prosperity is dependent on developments in this region. We cannot stand aside because we are “non-aligned” or blindly support US initiatives. It is necessary to develop our own linkages with the region as effectively as possible, so as to influence US policy constructively along with other key players. The only touchstone should be our interests. That is the only way to gain respect and influence in the long term. The Europeans are making themselves irrelevant in world affairs as they find themselves immersed in their domestic problems, divided in their attitudes to Bush, and in establishing a consensus on the future of the European Union. For a time the momentum and the depth of their economies will give them some voice. Maybe some day they will bounce back. For the present they have the choice to be allies or critics while Washington just takes them all for granted as all the European contributors agree. The Canadian contribution illustrates the almost pathetic state of the nearest neighbour and ally who now finds it relegated to irrelevance in the making of US policy even while its fate may well be decided by events flowing from that policy over which it has no control. Pro-American regimes are steadily being replaced in Latin America but most of them, as the Brazilian contributor points out, do not want to be at loggerheads with Washington. Nor can they afford to be with their economies so largely connected to America. Castro has managed to preserve his independence at considerable cost. And Chavez is scripting a new scenario with his oil wealth giving Venezuela greater freedom of action, and his largesse allied with economic policies no longer dictated from Washington enabling his neighbours to act with more independence. Latin America will gradually become a less dependent backyard. India needs to cultivate this region as assiduously as the Chinese. Russia is placed between Europe and Asia. While the leadership there is almost reconciled to the loss of super power status, it still reckons that it merits a special status. This is theoretically based on its Eurasian geography, and in reality to its special links with the new states that emerged from the break up of the Soviet Union. This has been effectively challenged by growing US influence in all these states and regime changes engineered in several by internal political processes. Russia has been able to claw back some of its position because of the dependence of these countries on her in the energy field, and by playing the game of domestic politics with greater finesse. Russia is also engaging more effectively with many of the old neighbours of the Soviet Union like China, India, Iran and Turkey. There is however common ground with the US on terrorism although the targets are different with opinions not quite coinciding on Chechnya and the Middle East and Iran. Russia remains anxious to collaborate with America in world affairs, but is dissatisfied with the unwillingness of the US to accept her inputs in decision-making. It is however in Asia that the major shift in US policy is being seen, as the continent becomes a major economic military and political powerhouse. China has become the second world power even if its reach is still regional, and it is seen by the US as a challenger in the years to come n all fields. There is disquiet over the Chinese stand on Taiwan and its possible emergence as a hegemon in the Asia Pacific theatre. Moreover China holds a key position in managing the problem of North Korea’s nuclear threat, and considerable leverage along with Russia on Iran. The bilateral economic exchanges are so enormous and so much in China’s favour that they too are seen as a growing threat. However these are so vital to the continued economic well being of both countries that it is likely that the needs of interdependence there will allow them to be managed somewhat autonomously. Rhetoric about democracy and human rights is mouthed by the US, but these seem to be symbolic. As the Chinese contributor concludes confrontation will find no winners and cooperation no losers, but as he acknowledges China will have to live with a combination of engagement and containment, and the Chinese appear to believe that with time and patience they will eventually reach their destiny as the world’s first power. The first chapter by Amit Gupta is the most interesting and not only for an Indian audience, as he outlines a major shift in American priorities towards India. Just as the Kissinger visit to Beijing in 1971 signalled a major change in the world’s power equations, the Manmohan Singh and Bush visits in 2005-6 do signal another shift in America’s priorities, which will affect the power calculus. He gives a clear and concise summary of the evolution of India’s worldview. He is quite right in claiming that present circumstances provide for an exciting new beginning in Indo-US relations, and that India must play its cards well to gain full advantage of the opportunities being offered to gain great power status. However, how far India needs to go in accommodating US interests is better done on a case by case basis and not “by forgoing traditional alliances and taking a more proactive role in extra regional security”. The negotiation of the nuclear deal during Bush’s visit indicates that readiness to stand up and safeguard the national interest allied with a genuine effort to find common ground is the only way to build that lasting Indo-US relationship that has eluded us since Independence. The world around us is changing and knee-jerk anti-Americanism makes no more sense than claiming a special relationship. Undoubtedly American interest in a strategic partnership is based on power equations in Asia, but those power equations have been forged by development at home in almost all of Asia and especially in India and China. Accepting India’s nuclear weapon power status is on a par with the “one China” proposition accepted by Nixon. The challenge before the Indian and American leaderships lies in strengthening the strategic partnership in all fields without surrender by India of her perceived interests. There is need too for the US to go further in actually supporting Indian interests in her immediate neighbourhood.
With Pakistan and South Asia the US needs to concede much more than it does in heeding India’s lead. It does have some need to rely on Pakistan in security matters, and hence to allow Musharaff and his Army a role for a time could be accepted by India. But the present US policy to permit a freeze on progress to democracy and support the jehadis in Afghanistan and Kashmir is to guarantee future instability in the region. This may be of little concern to Bush, but India and his successors must be more far sighted in their own interests. Similarly attempts to play a lone role in Bangladesh and Nepal will only increase intransigence in the first and instability in the second. India should be willing to undertake a lead role while she accepts advice where possible from the West who has useful leverage.
The Asian equation will have to be one that includes China, India and the US with an optimum of cooperation, an element of competition, but no confrontation as India and China have a vested interest in the development of an Asian system in which they work together. Thus we will be a player rather than a mere counter in any future “Great Game” in our continent.
A very constructive idea is that India should develop its soft power to become the school hospital and office of the region and later the world. We will also have to become a factory because there is no other way to become a great power and to provide employment to the majority of school leavers. Unfortunately this is an alien idea to the political elite who has refused to invest in primary education and see reservations in higher education as a vote bank. A putative great power cannot be built on shaky social foundations. Education, health and opportunity must be provided to every child as well as centres of excellence, which will attract the best students from the world. We have a lead in the many excellent institutions we have built, the abilities in English, and the proportion of youth in the population. This has to be nurtured and not squandered to get votes.
As is inevitable one has some disagreement with some of the conclusions arrived at in this book. Nevertheless it is a valuable contribution to understanding the totally different power pattern that is emerging in the world with one superpower which cannot however act unilaterally with impunity, and emerging great powers that have to take American attitudes into account and yet try to make the world a better place according to their own judgement. All the talented contributors have brought to bear national perspectives with unusual clarity and insight.
Eric Gonsalves is a former Ambassador and Secretary, External Affairs Ministry, Government of India.