Sound and fury ought not to get mistaken for light, as was much of the theatrics that took place during the office (2017-21) of the 45th President of the US, Donald Trump. Focussing from the first day of his presidency to the single objective of winning re-election in 2020, Trump indulged in various pyrotechnics that overall left his country a diminished power. For this analyst, the moment of truth came with his abandonment of the Kurds in Syria to the non-existent mercies of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in October 2019, followed by his surrender to the Taliban less than six months later. By his support for modernisers in West Asia such as Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman in Saudi Arabia and Khalifa bin Zayed al Nahyan in the UAE, Trump had signalled a welcome change in the longstanding US policy of backing the Wahabbi International. This was shown to misread his intentions by the agreements entered into over Syria and Afghanistan. In both cases, Trump weakened credibility in the US as a global partner by abruptly abandoning Washington’s longstanding security and defence partners in the global war on terror. Both the Kurdish militia that had won back territory seized earlier by ISIS, as well as the Afghan Government and army, were thrown under the bus in deals that were shameless in their genuflection to forces bitterly hostile to these two allies. About the People’s Republic of China (PRC), while much has been said about the manner in which Trump has “stood up” to Beijing, the reality is that three years after the US-PRC Trade War was launched amidst a slew of tariffs on Chinese products, the surplus of the PRC in trade with the US has grown, as has its geopolitical influence as a consequence of such policy missteps by the White House as withdrawal from the JCPOA with Iran as well as scrapping the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and picking trade battles with friendly India as well as the EU. Beijing has stepped into the void caused by the collapse of the TPP with the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) and has inked a free trade agreement with the EU, both on terms very favourable to itself. There has been much sound and fury, but very little of the light of the actual effect of Trump’s policies towards China. It must be said that India was an exception, largely because of the initiative taken by Trump’s National Security Advisor O’Brien, Defence Secretary Esper and Secretary of State Pompeo. The three should be welcome visitors to India any time because of the manner in which they stood by India since the PLA made its latest round of intrusions into Indian territory in May 2020, in contrast to officials in Moscow, who sought cover for their tilt towards Beijing by seemingly acting non-aligned even during the most provocative actions of the PLA.
PM Modi’s Positive Approval
Once he took charge as Prime Minister on May 26, 2014, Narendra Modi demonstrated clear-sighted pragmatism in reaching out to the US. A warm personal bond was quickly established between the first African-American President of the United States and the first Prime Minister of India from what was termed the “socially backward” elements of society, a misnomer given that some of the most talented citizens of the Republic of India come from this group. Although Modi heeded the counsel of the establishment (rather than those who had suggested that he meet with Candidate Trump during 2016) and did not meet the 45th President of the US weeks after he was sworn in on January 20, 2017, very quickly he established a close relationship with Trump. It is certain that the same alchemy will be at work with Biden and Modi, and that the two will bond together just as the former’s two predecessors have. The reason lies in the reality that the US is engaged in an existential contest of systems and global primacy with the Peoples Republic of China, much as it earlier was with the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Those with pecuniary interests in Washington ignoring the reality of Cold War 2.0 are many in the US, so extensive is the web of networks that has been created over the years to ensure that the US (as well as Japan, and the EU) continue to act as though a little more development, a smidgen more of empowerment, will transform the governance system of the PRC from authoritarian to social-democratic. Since Xi Jinping took over as General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) in 2012, that expectation has been shown to be the illusion it has always been, even under the avuncular Deng Xiaoping or the mild-mannered Hu Jintao. CCP General Secretary, President of the PRC and Chairman of the Central Military Council Xi Jinping is transparent about the aim of replacing the US as the centre of gravity of global geopolitics in a manner that his predecessors were not, and this has had an impact on the number and influence of those in Washington who claim otherwise. Whether it be Secretary of State (nominee) Anthony Blinken, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin, USTR Katherine Tai, Human Rights Commissioner Shanthi Kalathil or others who are known to be firm in defence of democracy against autocracy.
Both Biden and Modi need to take steps to ensure that the flames of exclusivism and hate do not increase but get reduced and finally extinguished. Democracies are under threat far more severe than ever during the battle of systems between the USSR and the US. The PRC is rapidly catching up with the US in the development of Artificial Intelligence and its military applications, including asymmetric warfare that involves expanding faultlines in society. Its network in the US is as pervasive as the influence of Pakistan and Russian lobbies are in India
Pakistan lobbies in the US has been working on overdrive to ensure that the spotlight gets turned towards Delhi and away from Beijing. The Pakistani diplomats and others mentoring them are thereby promoting the shared interests of GHQ Rawalpindi and the PLA, both of which are working seamlessly together, including in the utilisation of asymmetric methods. The good news is that they are unlikely to succeed with an administration headed by the clear-sighted Joseph Robinette Biden Jr and Kamala Devi Harris, given most of the new administration’s personnel selections.
The US has just undergone a trial by fire, when mobs suffused with hate stormed the US Capitol on January 6, and exposed the effects of the drumbeat of the faultlines of exclusivism and prejudice that have been covertly widened by info warriors loyal to Beijing, Moscow and Islamabad. Beijing, Moscow and Islamabad have been working together to make the forecast come true of a meltdown of currency, the economy and the society in the US, just as Islamabad and Beijing are collaborating in India to achieve the same result. Both Biden and Modi need to take steps to ensure that the flames of exclusivism and hate do not increase but get reduced and finally extinguished. Democracies are under threat far more severe than even during the battle of systems between the USSR and the US. The PRC is rapidly catching up with the US in the development of Artificial Intelligence and its military applications, including asymmetric warfare that involves the expansion of faultlines in society. Its network in the US is as pervasive as the influence of Pakistan and Russian lobbies are in India. The front is not only on the frontier but also in the citizen’s minds in both the biggest democracies of the world. As situations change, as new paradigms emerge, policies need to change along with perspectives. From the last two years of the Obama administration, Washington’s focus has moved from the Atlantic to the Indo-Pacific. In such a shift, India is an essential partner for the US as the latter is for India in confronting the threats posed by the confluence between extremism and authoritarianism, both of which have established a close working relationship with each other. Whether for President Biden or Prime Minister Modi, working together to build a robust India-US security and defence partnership is not an option, it is an existential necessity.
(The writer is Professor of Geopolitics at Manipal Academy of Higher Education and Editorial Director, iTVnetwork.com)