BY D.C. PATHAK
The course geo-politics has taken over the last few years makes it crucially important for the entire democratic world that the strategic depth acquired by Indo-US relationship remained in place for serving the cause of global peace. From India’s point of view, the rise of Pak-China military alliance, the new alignments in the Muslim world that gave a certain advantage to Pakistan and the compulsion for India to build a stronger land and marine defence — all add up to a new challenge that has to be met on our own internal strength and also through a competent handling of our foreign relations.
Indo-US convergence on global security issues can greatly help to contain the twin threats of terrorism and ‘expansionism’ that have arisen — particularly in this part of the world — from a military-controlled Pakistan using Islamic extremism as an instrument of its foreign policy and an ambitious Chinese dictatorship, working in concert. It is not that India cannot deal with any external or internal problem on its own but the way the international scene is developing in the wake of the Corona pandemic, global economic downturn and a new level of US-China tension, it is necessary for the democratic nations, big or small, to unitedly stand up to the vicious Sino-Pak axis. It is reassuring to find that the Modi regime is well-informed on this big picture and is rightly relying on India’s own strength in addition to the mutually gainful friendship it has sought with the US and other influential countries including Russia, Japan and Israel.
It is in this context that the forthcoming presidential election in the US is becoming an event of great interest for India. Apart from the domestic issue of the handling of the Corona pandemic and its economic fallout by President Donald Trump, racism has suddenly cast its shadow on the American election because of the rise of ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement following the ‘killing’ of George Floyd, an Afro-American by a white police officer in full public view at Minneapolis — the victim was arrested for some minor crime before the rogue policeman held him to the ground and pressed his neck with his knee till he was choked to death. Trump did not condemn the policeman and instead denounced the protestors who had spontaneously agitated on the issue and caused some acts of destruction of property initially. As the election draws close, nuances of approach of the Republicans and Democrats to domestic and foreign policy issues — as understood by various sections of the American electorate — will determine its outcome. From the present indications, the contest seems to be evenly poised with Donald Trump having the advantage of being the serving President and therefore in a position to claim some ‘successes’.
Joe Biden accepting his nomination as the presidential candidate at the DNC on August 20, talked of his long experience in the government and vowed to lead the nation through a ‘season of darkness’ and restore ‘decency’ to America. He charged Donald Trump with cloaking America for long in darkness of anger, fear and division and declared that the present President ‘had failed to protect us and failed to protect America which was unforgivable’. He pointed to the pandemic, social unrest and an economic and climate crisis facing the country — all at once — and projected Trump as a uniquely divisive figure unfit to lead America. He pledged to throw the full force of the federal government behind battling the Corona virus. He said that his campaign was about winning the heart and soul of America, winning the workers and not just the privileged and winning the communities who have known the injustice of ‘knee on the neck’. Joe Biden made a passing reference to the Russian interference in the domestic affairs of the US, maintained a studied silence on China and hardly dwelt on foreign policy. His speech was mainly devoted to the situation of disquiet within the country.
President Donald Trump addressed a very visible Republican convention on the lawns of the White House on August 27 — to which several hundred special invitees had been called — for accepting his nomination as the presidential candidate. He lost no time in denouncing Joe Biden as ‘the destroyer of American jobs’ and ‘the destroyer of American greatness’ who ‘shipped our jobs to China and many other distant lands’. Trump acknowledged that ‘a powerful invisible enemy’ had attacked ‘our nation and the entire planet’ and declared that ‘we will defeat the virus’ and produce a vaccine before the end of the year. He held that Joe Biden wanted to inflict a painful shutdown on the entire country that would have caused unthinkable harm to the nation.
He described Biden’s plan as a surrender to the virus not its solution. Trump claimed to have taken the boldest and toughest action against China which was continuing to ‘steal our jobs and rob our country blind’. He said he had ‘ended the rule of the failed political class’ and declared that his opponents were angry because he had said ‘America first’. The theme of his address was that the voters this time had to choose if we ‘save the American dream’ or let a Socialist agenda demolish our cherished destiny, create millions of high paying jobs or crush our industries and send these jobs overseas, and protect law abiding citizens or give free rein to violent anarchists. He called upon the electorate not to allow a radical movement to completely destroy the American way of life.
It is clear from the campaign themes and the points flagged by the two presidential candidates at their party conventions that the US election this time is largely being fought on domestic issues — impact of the pandemic, economic downturn, racial discrimination, image of law enforcement and treatment of immigrants. While the native whites are the core group supporting Trump, the bulk of Afro-Americans and a lot many coloured people are inclined towards Democrats. About half a dozen ‘swing’ states such as Florida, Michigan and Pennsylvania will play a major role in determining the victory. In the last election, Trump had benefitted from the strong stand he took against Islamic terror — this time around he has focused on China as the new threat in the context of both economy as well as the Corona pandemic. The call of ‘America first’ projected as the guiding line for economic revival can to an extent mitigate the impact of the downturn. The play of liberalism in the Democratic camp and emphasis on restoring America’s greatness in the Trump campaign may not be the prime movers of voting trend this time. Trump’s greater visibility might help him in this contest.
In the current world scenario — both on the economic and security fronts — a deep seated Indo-US friendship has been a major plank of India’s strategy to deal with its own specific challenges arising out of the collusion between the two hostile neighbours — Pakistan and China. President Trump has firmly supported India against the provocations of China on the LAC — he had consistently reprimanded Pakistan earlier for its failure to curb Islamic extremists. The military response of the Trump administration to Chinese aggressiveness in the South China Sea has rightly been supported by India in the larger interest of the defence of Indian Ocean. A regime change in the US would require India to work on Indo-US relationship afresh making such use of the opportunity offered by a Vice President of Indian origin as circumstances would allow. The present strength of Indo-US relations is attributable a great deal to the personal bonds between Prime Minister Modi and President Trump — the strategic partnership of the two largest democracies, however, would hopefully continue in all situations because of the shared economic and security interests.
(The writer is a former Director Intelligence Bureau)