Trump’s upcoming India visit must be viewed through a broad geopolitical Kaleidoscope. With both parties invested in a goal of containing China, and its surrogates in the region, a show of bonhomie is of utmost importance in itself. With two leaders who seem to intrinsically get each other, US-India relation is on the cusp of a very positive break. Amen!
Robin Williams is a funnyman. In his Oscar winning role as Adrian Cronauer, a DJ for US Armed Forces Radio Service in Saigon, in the critically acclaimed “Good Morning, Vietnam”, Williams – together with Forest Whitaker as his partner-in-crime – creates an alternate universe for the servicemen living on edge. Masterfully irreverent, unapologetic of his distaste of the status quo, flamboyant in his showmanship over the spoken words, and, as importantly, unafraid of the Bugaboo of the Chinese and their North Vietnamese handmaidens, DJ Adrian wakes up thousands with a rendering of “Good Morning” – adding a twirl to their morning steps even when bombs rain and blood spills all around them.
The Vietnam of the movie worked to be free of Chinese stratagem. When US President Trump arrives in India next week, he will find a country – with all internal conflicts, contradictions and confusions – united against a neighbor encircling her with stench of naked self-aggrandizement. As in the movie, India needs a partner in the USA, even if he appears in an Avatar of a carnival-barker willing to walk to the high pulpit dressed in contempt for how things are usually done, just like DJ Adrian belting out “Good Mooooorning”.
There are many constructs through which Pundits are analyzing this trip. Trade pact is one of them. For a President so married to a transactional view of the world, it is a natural one. It looks like the trip will come up short. US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer canceled an advance trip last week, though he might accompany the President. Frantic attempts to arrive at a trade pact ahead of the trip were unsuccessful. Alice Wells, the most senior US Diplomat for South Asia is staying back but warned that failure to arrive at a limited trade deal during the trip will be a “big setback”. “We are not treated very well by India”, chimed in Mr. Trump on Tuesday.
People have questioned if it is a reward for Modi Government which undoubtedly took a hard right turn since reelection, often riling up divisions that are better alleviated and mostly left undisturbed. I seriously doubt how much that played into the calculus, given Trump’s penchant for white-washing contentious non-economic concerns. But he will not be the first US President to take questionable stance when it comes to India – US aircraft-carrier hugged the coasts of the Bay of Bengal as India was fighting a righteous war against Pakistan over Bangladesh. Both countries looked past over the years, India de-facto quit the disastrous Non-Aligned Movement flirtations, US learned to respect India and its peoples for all what they can be. Domestic politics stops at the shores, and, you do not speak ill of your brother in front of a houseguest; this time is no different.
Biggest driver of the bonhomie is the One who is not even present at Namaste Trump nor the Taj nor the Ceremonial Dinner. It is the one who will not be named, but looms large from across the Himalayas up north. It is the one who is buying favors – plying compliant decision-makers with personal favors while loading their countries with loans for mega projects they did not ask for nor pay for -– all with the singular goal of moving, or facilitating movement of, goods manufactured domestically of the Lender. These mega projects look great on paper, employ few local workforce, managed and peopled (mostly) by expats using equipments purchased at a premium from designated vendors. In all manners of speaking these mega projects are nothing but a (legal) way to move cash from one entry to the other in the Lender country – while getting the host country pay hefty interest for the privilege. Just in case the host country cannot, there have already been instances of seizing of prized assets – all without firing a shot. If you thought Hitler’s Autobahn was ominous precursor to his devious killing machines, wait for a program hundred times as ambitious to raise its fangs in due course.
All of that right on the doorsteps of India. If we are indulgent, we will call it an existential threat today.
Both the US and India aim to contain and control hegemonistic aspirations of an autocratic China. Contrasted with the old Iron Curtain, China is not at all interested in spreading an “ism”, nor is it driven by an opposition to religion. China is most certainly driven by market completion internally, even if greased by the Hand of the State; Communist Party keeps the deadly grip on everything. China has concentration camps for over a million Muslims, even as it hugs leaders in the Islamic World. More than US, China knows the color of money, and is not burdened by moralities of the Man.
China is an existential threat to the Free World, of which USA is the (un)crowned Leader.
The only angle to analyze the upcoming trip that makes sense is through shared destiny of opposition to the crouching Dragon, especially India’s vulnerability to a foe many times more powerful at its border. If two leaders walking hand-in-hand, literally, demonstrate a commitment to take the fight to where it hurts, it is for the common good.
Each of India and the USA has a leader whose appreciation of ground-level realities in their core constituency, keen understanding of how power works in a geopolitical setting and an obvious camaraderie laying foundation of a win-win relationship are only matched by their instinctive showmanship. As India puts on an epic show – Bollywood heritage, anyone? – for a Guest-the-Entertainer, it is to showcase shared interests far beyond a trade-pact or purchase of a items.
Yes, India should put on a show. We will all sit back, relax and enjoy a celebration of common interests of the Biggest Democracy and the Oldest Democracy, and their peoples who are energetic, aspirational and pluralistic.
Good moooooorning AmerInda the Future. Why should it be anything less?
[Partha Chakraborty, Ph.D., CFA is an entrepreneur in Water technologies, Blockchain and Wealth Management in US and India. All opinions are of the Author alone, and do not necessarily represent that of any organization he may be part of. The author alone is responsible for any error or omission]