Arindam Chaudhuri
[October, 2010]

Praising American presidents has not been quite my forte! However, I celebrated Obama’s Presidential victory wholeheartedly (read my editorial in The Sunday Indian, issue dated November 9, 2008) because I almost believed that he held a promise that American presidents in the past have rarely held! He really could have been the change the world was waiting for. Recession had shown its ugly face once more in the greedy capitalist world and Bush had left a near criminal legacy behind. There was no better a time for Obama to prove his worth. But forget bringing the world out of recession, Obama has not even been able to do anything to bring the USA out of recession! Of course, if we were to believe the Nobel Committee and its choice for the Nobel Prize in Economics this year, then there is nothing wrong with the capitalist system and nothing much to be done at all but match the existing unemployment with the existing jobs vacant in various companies! Ludicrous... just like their Peace Prize to Obama was!

Obama’s campaign was all about “Yes, we can!” The truth is he hasn’t accomplished much of what he had promised – especially during his election campaign. Among his other failures, he has failed to keep one of his key promises – on closure of the Guantanamo Bay prison, and also on providing relief for illegal immigrants. Even after a year, Gitmo is still active; and no concrete steps have been crafted for illegal migrants. What is now a global joke is that his promises of closing Gitmo and solving other human rights issues were part of the parcel that won him the coveted Nobel Peace Prize!

It was Obama who initiated talks on global warming and announced his plans to organize a series of climate talks. Back in 2008, Obama had projected himself as a “citizen of the world”. But then, this same Obama, the perceived harbinger of optimism, now blames developing nations for global warming! This reminds me of President George W Bush who, during his tenure, discarded the Kyoto Protocol on similar grounds. In similar manner, during a State-of-the-Union speech on January 27, 2010, Obama promised something that is quite the opposite of what he had stood for in his campaign days. Instead of talking about green jobs and climate change policy, he discussed his plans on nuclear power, oil, gas, coal and bio-fuels! That’s change indeed!

Nobel laureate Obama’s biggest global failure has perhaps been regarding the Iraq and Afghan issue, where he had committed during a formal announcement of a new Iraq strategy at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, on February 27, 2009, that “under the new plan, the US will remove all combat troops (from Iraq) by August 31, 2010.” Systematically delaying the troops’ withdrawal has been akin to breaking the promise. Similarly, Obama still is to remove his troops from Afghanistan – where there is blatant genocide being carried out under the garb of a peace process – and is finding all possible excuses to stay back. One wonders if the Nobel Peace Prize winner is actually unable to shift out of Afghanistan due to the $1 trillion worth mineral wealth in the land! The mother of all disasters in terms of doing the opposite of peace though is that, on October 25, 2010, the Obama administration ‘waived’ off sections of a law meant to prevent the recruitment of child soldiers in Africa, thus making iteasier for countries in the dark continent to make use of underage troops. In a memorandum to Hilary Clinton, he wrote, “I hereby determine that it is in the national interest of the United States to waive the application to Chad, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sudan, and Yemen of the prohibition in section 404(a) of the [Child Service Prevention Act]". And for records, recruiting underage soldiers is a human rights abuse in most of the nations. Even Noam Chomsky stated in an interview last month that President Obama “is involved in war crimes right now. For example, targeted assassinations are war crimes. That's escalated quite sharply under Obama. If you look at WikiLeaks, there are a lot of examples of attacks on civilians.” Yet, Obama retains the coveted tag of the winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace!

A couple of months back, PolitiFact found that Obama has kept around 91 of his promises out of 500! But then, this is not a peculiar phenomenon with Obama. Breaking promises is a trend with American presidents, and Obama is no different! Take for instance Woodrow Wilson who promised to keep the US out of World War I and ended up pushing the US into the same war. Then came Herbert Hoover in 1928, who, in his presidency speech, pledged to end poverty and promised “a chicken in every pot and two cars in every garage” – but eventually gift ed the US ‘The Great Depression.’ On similar lines, Franklin D. Roosevelt graciously failed to fulfill his 1932 pledge to maintain balanced budgets and to keep the US out of World War II as he bombed Japan and his government’s spending increased from 8.0% of GNP to 10.2%. The national debt, in turn, doubled from 16% to 33.6%. Richard Nixon promised resolutely in 1968 to ‘quickly’ resolve the Vietnam War, but he didn’t! George H.W. Bush Senior promised in 1988, “Read my lips: No new taxes!” and then went on and increased taxes. And as far as his son George Bush is concerned, the least said the better!

Let me now come to Obama’s much hyped visit to India… If numbers speak volumes, then Obama’s recent approval ratings in India, just a few weeks before he lands in the country, should be enough to gauge his popularity and acceptability in India. The approval rating of Obama has dropped by 13 per cent – from 31 per cent in 2008 to 18 per cent in 2010 – as per the latest Gallup Poll. Surprisingly, or perhaps not so surprisingly, the approval rating of Obama has improved in Pakistan where the rating has almost doubled from 10 per cent in 2008 to 18 percent in 2010, all thanks to the $7.5 billion Kerry-Lugar-Berman bill and massive flood relief work. Obama’s current approval rating in India is one of the lowest in the 18 Asian countries, for all predictable reasons. Even the Washington-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in a new report said that “most of what the US government can do for India lies in the broader global arena, and most of what India needs at home, it must do for itself.” The report further argued that “expectations for a partnership between the two countries in the near term are unrealistically high and overlook how their interests, policies, and diplomatic style will oft en diverge.” President Barack Obama recently made his stand very clear in India’s outsourcing business and announced that tax breaks should go to companies that create jobs in the US and not overseas. Furthering his anti-India stance, Obama in August this year signed into law a legislation to secure the US-Mexico border by massively hiking work visa fees, ignoring concerns over a “discriminatory” provision that will largely hit Indian IT firms.

But then, his stance against outsourcing to India is not good enough reason for why he is of no use to India. One need not look far though for the reasons. In spite of Wikileaks and other documents proving Pakistan’s perception about India, Obama contrarily is confident that Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal would remain secure and had said, “Primarily, initially, because the Pakistani army, I think, recognizes the hazards of those weapons falling into the wrong hands.” Obama’s pro-Pak and anti-India ideologies are clear from the way he has approved multi-billion dollar aid packages to Pakistan, in spite of the fact (which was actually revealed by Western media!) that a large pie of this money is redirected for funding terror plots against India. In 2009, Obama outrageously supported Pakistan and made statements regarding America’s huge strategic and national security interests in making sure that Pakistan is stable. If audacity has to re-defi ne itself, it should take a lesson or two from the US-Pak relationship. Even after a series of Wikileaks and other anti-Pak documents coming to the fore, America, as recently as on October 22, 2010 has announced a whopping $2.29 billion military aid to Pakistan to bolster its army's anti-terror capabilities, ignoring India's concerns about how Pakistan continues to divert a huge portion of such assistance for anti-India plans. To top this, Hillary Clinton applauded Pakistan’s role in fighting terror and said that she feels that there is “no stronger partner when it comes to counter terrorism than Islamabad”... And all this when just a few weeks are left for Obama to visit India.

If Obama’s Pakistan inclination is not good enough to explain that he is a man of double speak like all past American presidents – and perhaps his job is to blame for that – then let’s talk about China. Obama’s view seems to have tilted away clearly from democratic India and towards the dictatorial China; and all this because of obvious reasons. Recently, as on September 20, 2010, US President Barack Obama said that China's rapid economic development is in the interest of the US economy. He further commented, “It's good for us that China has done well.” No doubt that this statement is more to please China and fortifies the US-China trade ties. With more than 1.3 billion people and an economy that is predicted to surpass the American economy in a few years to come, China has become the US' fastest-growing major overseas market. As per the US International Trade Commission, US exports to China was worth $69.6 billion while imports was a whopping $296.4 billion in 2009 alone. Th us, a total trade volume of $366 billion is quite signifi cant. China’s indispensability for US has grown to an extent that, in order to appease and please Beijing, Obama transformed his Strategic Economic Dialogue into the Strategic and Economic Dialogue, thus silently taking off human rights issues from the bilateral agenda – which may have soured the budding affair. This is evident from the last Asia visit of Obama, where he appointed China as the official ‘monitor’ of Asia and asked the country to look into the Kashmir issue, knowing very well that China is supporting Pakistan in their anti-India plans and that China itself has still not returned back Indian territory it occupied decades back. In November 2009, while visiting Japan, Obama said the US was seeking “pragmatic cooperation with the emerging giant of China, noting Beijing's partnership in jump-starting global economic recovery, its support for stability in Afghanistan and Pakistan and its commitment to the de-nuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.” Obama further said, “The rise of a strong, prosperous China can be the source of strength for the community of nations.”

All I can conclude is that going by the precedence, India has no reasons to feel optimistic about his visit. And Indian policy makers have no reason to formulate policies in order to appease Obama during his visit just out of excitement. Already, organisations like WalMart have started to lobby for a 100% FDI in the Indian retail sector. And I am sure the likes of WalMart would try to push through their agendas during this visit of Obama. It is significant that the Indian policy makers see through this and take correct decisions which are more oriented towards the nation’s future than an American future in India.

I reiterate again that it is not that I have anything against Obama personally – and I admire his leadership qualities that made him win in a land that is known for its racial discriminations! But given all that is past, I know for sure that Obama’s visit would not benefit India in any way, just like his becoming the President of America has not benefitted Iraq, Afghanistan, Cuba, Africa and even his own homeland the United States of America!
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