In an editorial, the Times of India argues that an Obama administration would be more beneficial for India than a McCain one. This is a commonly held view – but also a wrong one.
The author, Swagato Ganguly, provides one major argument in support of his assertion: that McCain, whose hero is Ronald Reagan, would offer a dangerous continuation of Bush’s neoconservatism. In this view, “an Obama administration would be preferable to the heavy-breathing belligerence of a John McCain.”
Yet, this argument is flawed. First, it equates McCain’s policies to Bush’s. Yet, while Bush’s first term did project neoconservative thought into American foreign policy, in recent years his actions have been tempered by the limits of unilateral action. Today, almost every major international initiative – on North Korea, Iran, or the Middle East – involves other countries.
Second, McCain might hold Reagan in high regard but Reagan was a realist, not a neocon. It is unclear if McCain is either, as he is being courted by both the liberal and conservative movements of the Republican party. But, if anything, the return of realism to international politics would be a welcome change, adding a level of predictability that has been missing for the last several years.
The biggest mistake of the article, however, is to equate the interests of the world with those of India. Yes, an administration more committed to multilateralism might be better for the world order – but not for an India that explicitly seeks to change that world order.
Yes, McCain might be more inclined to attack Iran. By the same measure, he would also be more inclined to pressure Pakistan to act on terror by providing a stick as well as a carrot. On the economy, Republican presidents have historically been far more supportive of higher work permit quotas for Indian workers, and push more for free trade.
McCain’s preference for unilateralism would also work in India’s favor. Regardless of whether one is in favor of the Indo-US nuclear deal, one must admit that Obama would never change global rules as Bush did for the Indo-US nuclear deal. And while the League of Democracies proposed by McCain might bypass the UN to validate military action, it would certainly place India at the head table – something India cannot hope for at the UN Security Council.
History shows that Republican presidents have been more beneficial for India. Jimmy Carter vehemently opposses the Indo-US nuclear deal and wants to treat India and Pakistan equally; Bill Clinton applied sanctions to India in 1998. Kissinger, in contrast, might have called Indira Gandhi a “bitch,” but he was also a pragmatist and has supported India’s rise, saying as early as 1998 that “major sanctions are probably a mistake.”
Editorials are, of course, meant to express opinions. But it is disappointing that the Times of India carries opinions so biased as to have no link to objectivity. A preference for Obama is based on a worldview of a multilateral world in which several equal powers work cooperatively. Yet, that is not the reality yet. Till that happens, India will benefit more from a relationship with the US “dehyphenated” from Pakistan, predictability in the world order, the ability to create new rules, and a US administration committed to economic liberalism. Contrary to Swagato’s opinion, Obama is unlikely to offer any of this.