Almost halfway through his term, President Obama’s trip to India this week will be most revealing as to what he has learned from his foreign policy failures to date.
During his presidential campaign, Obama made clear his willingness to sit down with world leaders who have interests contrary to those of the US to discuss their grievances in order to work with them to create a more stable world. He gave American voters hope that his oratorical skills would cause such leaders, some seeking to arm their nations with nuclear weapons, to reconsider that decision. Upon taking office, he followed a diplomatic road upon which he— initially, at least—saw, heard, and spoke no evil about countries such as Iran and North Korea. Hoping to nurture a positive relationship with tyrannical leaders who lack any sense of humanity even towards their own people, he turned a blind eye to their transgressions. Almost 22 months later, Obama’s talking has achieved little, a failure that has resulted in Iranian and North Korean belligerence coupled with significant advances in their nuclear arms programs. Consequently, we are now living in a much less stable world than we were just 22 months ago.
Obama’s belief in his own diplomatic skills has isolated world leaders friendly to the US as he continues to try to entice our enemies to join him in civilized but pointless diplomatic chit-chat. In attempting to broker a resolution to a Palestinian issue that defies resolution, he abuses our rock-solid ally in the region—Israel. He does so generating false hopes of winning over a Muslim leadership incapable of rational thought, as measured by the wide disparity between the Islamic world’s and the West’s perception of the equality and value of all human life. His policy of deference towards anti-American states has not gone unnoticed by other world leaders who are now challenging US interests for a slice of the Obama appeasement pie. One such state will be watching and listening closely to what the President has to say during his trip to India.
When it comes to China, there are two schools of thought within the Obama Administration on what approach to take in nurturing future relations. The “kowtow” school seeks to continue Obama’s conciliatory policy by appeasing China, which would mean that Obama must avoid making any comments that could upset Beijing during his trip to India. A more moderate “sad and disappointed” school favors taking a tougher stand by addressing many of the issues on which Beijing is fairly sensitive. These include an India/China border dispute, continuing joint US–India Special Forces training exercises, capping India’s long-range missile and nuclear program, etc. The latter school firmly believes that the US needs to bolster India’s position in the region as a strategic partner in checking an expansionist-minded China, a nation that has been stirring up concern by making outlandish territorial claims in the South China Sea.
Kowtowers oppose having Obama send any signal that the US supports India more than China as a strategic player on the world stage, but that is the exact message the moderates want to see conveyed during the trip. Kowtowers suggest that playing the India card will damage hopes of Sino cooperation in the future; moderates point out that two years of conciliation have yielded little in the way of cooperation on major issues, including stopping North Korea’s and Iran’s nuclear-arms programs.
Also closely watching the Obama visit to India will be other nations in the region faced with making decisions on their future relationship with Beijing. Chinese territorial claims are forcing countries disputing those claims to reflect on how best to do so. Critical to this consideration is which fork in the road Obama will take on India during his trip: Will his words signal that US intentions are to continue down the road of appeasement with China, or will he set out on a new road by looking to India as a cooperative strategic partner? A recently launched trial balloon suggests that the former road will be taken, because it was reported that Obama’s visit will focus on trade and economic issues. If so, in navigating America’s ship of state, it appears that Obama will leave China on board while making India walk the plank.
Obama’s visit to India will provide us with tremendous insight as to whether the President has finally come to understand—just as Free World leaders dallied with appeasement in the 20th century prior to World War II in a futile effort to contain expansionism and aggression—that his 21st-century experiment with appeasement is rendering a similar, unsuccessful result.