Choice of poisons (augmented)

Trump reportedly alarms confidantes after he asks Mike Pence's loyalty -  Business Insider
]Trump & Pence: What do I smash next?]

It is stunning — the width and resilience of the incumbent President Donald J Trump’s vote base. Despite doing everything wrong, he could win a second term! On his watch, he grossly mismanaged the novel Corona pandemic and wrecked the US economy, spiked unemployment to unprecedented levels (30%), and stoked the deadly corona health crisis with ridiculous assertions (the virus will “disappear miraculously”) and laughable ‘snake oil’ remedies (insertion of “light” inside the bodies of infected patients and injecting common bathroom detergent into veins!!).

His record of reckless policies and corruption — his Secret Service protectors, for instance, are charged room and board at extortionist rates at Trump-owned hotels and golf resorts where the president invariably chooses to stay, and of a raft of foreign and economic policies designed to further his family’s interests — Trump properties in several countries (including India) coupled to his blowing up of Constitutional norms and political proprieties, has not fazed his followers who have elevated him to a cult figure. Trump is verily a Yankee version of the self-serving Indian politician!

He tarred the Joe Biden-Kamala Harris duo as carriers of “socialism” into America — a dog whistle for all kinds of people ranging from immigrants escaping socialist states (Cuba, Venezuela), anti-abortionists, to extreme racists who vow to use violence to return America to a supposedly pristine all-White past!

Except, he has run into headwinds building up over the last four years. Based on intense dislike of Trump and his destruction-derby mentality, the president has turned very large swathes of the American society against him. Educated, liberal, Whites, and bulk of minority and immigrant populations and even mainstream ideologically conservative Republican party voters — especially suburban house wives — who find the President’s crudities and excesses hard to accept. The mailed-in votes are still being counted in several crucial states, but the trend suggests Joe Biden and the democrats may squeak into the White House.

The Narendra Modi-led BJP government, like the Manmohan Singh-headed Congress coalition regime, with Ministry of External Affairs in the van, invested a lot politically and diplomatically in Trump and the Republican party. While in the George W Bush and Barack Obama years Washington pushed its national interests using the liberal world order as cover, Trump dispensed with that pretense and made bilateral relations, to Delhi’s consternation, a purely transactional affair. Modi tried to get around this bump by personally cultivating Trump but it failed to pay dividend. His administration did not water down its antipathy to any and all channels of immigration from “shithole” Third World countries, involving illegal influx at one end to high-tech coolies India has funneled into the US using the H1B visa, at the other end, notwithstanding pitiable pleadings by Modi and his sidekick, S Jaishankar, at every meeting to ease up on the movement of skilled labour India can ill afford to lose. He imposed a policy of denying India the benefit of concessionary trade provisions in the Generalized System of Preferences and did not relent in the face of repeated supplications by Delhi.

The only favour Trump showed India — and here the shared threat perception of China and security of the Indo-Pacific region, has come in handy — is his pushing Modi to buy expensive, mostly dated, military hardware — M-777 light howitzer, F-16/21, etc. Delhi has compromised by making regular buys of transport planes — the C-1380J and C-17, and of maritime recon P-8I aircraft, to placate Washington and keep it engaged. Similar motivation has resulted in the Indian government in this past decade acceding to the four “foundational accords” (LEMOA, COMCASA. GSOMIA & BECA) desired by the US with “India-specific” exceptions being signed into them, which may not mean much. Even in purely transactional terms, India has received little in return for surrendering its freedom of action and “strategic autonomy”. Conclusion: Indian leaders, across the board, like to be taken for a ride.

The good thing, however, about Trump’s tit-for-tat basis of US foreign policy was that it took uncertainty out of the calculation! India, or any other country, knew exactly where it stood on any issue, what to expect, and the kind of deal Washington would be amenable to signing. But mostly it compelled friendly states to look out for their own interests and their own security. The reason why, on this blog, four years ago I welcomed Trump’s presidency and warned MEA to retool its US policy accordingly. It was advice the Indian government, of course, ignored to the country’s detriment. Because by persisting with a beggar bowl policy that looked to America for succour, the Modi government pushed India deeper into dependency status and lost the country respect in the world.

Biden, Harris vow to 'rebuild' America - Global Times
[Biden & Harris — hopeful]

With Trump possibly becoming history, what does a Biden-Harris Administration mean for India?

Firstly, a 180-degree turn is likely to be affected on the human rights front. Pramila Jayapal, a fashionably leftist Indian-origin Congresswoman from Washington state, prompted by the curbs in J&K, is spearheading an HR anti-India campaign. Not too long ago she introduced in the House of Representatives (the lower house of the US legislature) a resolution condemning India for denying Kashmiris rights and freedoms. The resolution HS Res.745 urged “the Republic of India to end the restrictions on communications and mass detentions in Jammu and Kashmir as swiftly as possible and preserve religious freedom for all residents”.

The significant thing about this resolution is that it managed to attract some 93 fellow Congresspersons from both the Democratic and Republican parties, constituting a quarter of the 435-representative-strong House, as co-sponsors. It may not have the force of presidential directive or executive order, but it could be the precursor of a punitive US policy. This initiative is in the context of the US Commission on Religious Freedoms recently charging India with restricting such freedom. “I have fought to strengthen the special US-India relationship, which is why I’m deeply concerned”, tweeted Jayapal, by way of explanation. “Detaining people w/out charge, severely limiting communications, & blocking neutral third-parties from visiting the region is harmful to our close, critical bilateral relationship,”

Indians being a sentimental people, we were pleased as punch when a half-Tamilian Vice Presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, admitted her love of idli with “really good Sambar” and for “any kind of Tikka”. This kind of familiarity led many to conclude that real India-friendly policies may be in the offing. And that being the VP places her in a good position to be her party’s presidential candidate in 2024. This last is winter dreamin’. The fact is the real reason why Biden hasn’t sailed through this election by walloping Trump as was expected in many American quarters is because the White majority is simply not ready for a coloured woman president to takeover from Biden.

The mere prospect of this may have turned many voters away from backing Biden. Indeed, if anything, the rethink in Democratic party circles will lead to the selection of a middle of the road white politician to be its standard bearer in the next election cycle given that Biden has already pronounced himself a bridge to the next generation of leaders. The question is what kind of leader? In realistic terms then, Kamala Harris because she has been a drag on the Biden ticket and is not acceptable to the white majority will not be acceptable to the Democratic party either in the future. There dies the Indian dream for our Kamala. It also ends the Democratic party’s dalliance with leftist policies which are anathema to most American people.

But what can one expect by way of Biden’s foreign and security policies? The advisers to Biden, are all Washington establishment type. Such as Anthony Blinken, who has been advising Biden since 2002 and was his National Security Adviser for eight years in the Obama Administration. Blinken is joined by Tom Donilon, sometime NSA to Obama, Nicholas Burns, a former diplomat who negotiated with Jaishankar the civilian nuclear deal with India, Kurt Campbell, a Far East expert, and Michèle Flournoy, who may become the first female US Secretary of Defence.

All of them have had a hand in propping up the old American treaty system in Asia and, this is important, balancing power in the subcontinent by tilting discreetly on Pakistan’s side. This does not mean the Biden dispensation will not try and build on the foundational accords to advantage US interests in the Indo-Pacific. Rather, that Messrs Blinken & Co., like the Trump Admin will be partial to not alienating Islamabad considering an Afghanistan solution is still hanging fire and generally to keep India muzzled. These advisers are divided on China with some of them believing that where China is concerned the US ought to show “humility” and carefully manage Sino-American relations. Others more realistically have talked of “great power competition” being back. They all share the view, however, that while Xi Jinping’s China and Vladimir Putin’ s Russia are powers to reckon with, they are convinced that the world can’t do without American leadership and that the US still needs to lead (on climate, for instance) even if it cannot any longer throw its weight around as it once did.

Then there’s a powerful element in the Democratic party beholden to Bernie Sanders, which thinks that after the disastrous Trump term America is in need of internal repair and democracy building and that this should be priority, not foreign ventures. So for quite different reasons, the Biden Admin too may be inward-turned, preoccupied with righting the domestic scene scarred by racial turmoil and political unrest necessitating a rebuilding of the US polity.

This may mean that India will be left to its own devices to look after its own security and economic interests the best it can. If the Jayapal initiative is guide, the Modi government may be well advised to not harp over much, even if indirectly, on the Muslim-ness and Pakistani-ness of the terrorist threat India faces. Because unlike with the Trump cohort, such stance will have less traction in Biden’s Washington. However, Indian policies may be better received in Washington if it substantially reorients its national security policy to take on China instead but without expecting the US to pitch in other than marginally in the collective Asian-regional containment effort.

As to the belief prevailing in some circles in India that a Democratic party Administration will be more open in its trade policies and welcome a bigger volume of Indian exports, they will be disappointed. Like the President (Obama) he served, Biden has made plain that he is for “inshoring”, the opposite of out-sourcing, and aims to incentivize American companies and financial institutions to invest and grow the manufacturing and other industries in the US as a means of addressing the high unemployment problem. That rules out relief for India.

Whatever the difference in the outlook and approach of Republican Trump and Democratic Biden, for India it is a choice between poisons.

About Bharat Karnad

Senior Fellow in National Security Studies at the Centre for Policy Research, New Delhi, he was Member of the (1st) National Security Advisory Board and the Nuclear Doctrine-drafting Group, and author, among other books of, 'Nuclear Weapons and Indian Security: The Realist Foundations of Strategy', 'India's Nuclear Policy' and most recently, 'Why India is Not a Great Power (Yet)'. Educated at the University of California (undergrad and grad), he was Visiting Scholar at Princeton University, University of Pennsylvania, the Shanghai Institutes of International Studies, and Henry L. Stimson Center, Washington, DC.
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21 Responses to Choice of poisons (augmented)

  1. From Joydeep Sircar, via email

    Thu, 5 Nov at 9:40 am

    Very cogent reasoning. If their is one thing we should have learned it is to treat agreements with USA as Lenin treated the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.

    J. Sircar

  2. Vikrant says:

    For someone who claims to be familiar with American politics your analysis lacks the granularity while still managing to regurgitate the talking points of US corporate media.

    Trump is a narcissistic toddler who lost to the swamp for various reasons, chief among them would be his personality, his lack of governing skills, bad staffing and lack of focus. Even Reagan, who knew what he wanted to do, had to surround himself with people who believed in his plan and had the skills to execute it. For Trump, who doesn’t know any policy, to surround himself with the people who did not believe in his plan was always going to be hard.

    when you’re taking incoming from intelligence community, national security apparatus, corporate media and regime change operatives like Norm Eisen who are applying the color revolution playbook on you it helps to have a little bit of tact.

    What’s interesting but not surprising is the historic support he got from the non-whites. Hispanic counties in texas that never went for republican flipped for trump. Similarly broward county in florida went from blue to purple. Working class whites and non-whites voted for him in droves but he lost the PMC. One of his big achievement would be transforming Republican party into a working class party.

    Only country that had the best response to Corona virus was Sweden. They followed the herd immunity model and saved their economy.

    Jaypal is opting for a spot at the extremist table of American politics filled with islamist like tlaib, omar and sarsour. Expect more interference in Indian affairs through political, social media, corporate media and intelligence apparatus.

    Kamala harris, like martha mcsally and Hillary Clinton, can’t connect with people. She is neither charming and well spoken like Reagan, Obama and Bill Clinton nor does she have the working class vernacular and sensibilities like bernie and Trump. She comes from the type of Californian politics where you win just by announcing your candidacy.

    Recent revealation from Biden laptop confirm what has already been known about bidens corruption. one of the interesting disclosure for Indian interest is how China has compromised bidens. Indian policy makers will have to deal with china-friendly washington and expansionist China. Indian policy makers and politicians have to go beyond sloganeering and truly become atmanirbhar.

    • Sankar says:

      “… Reagan, who knew what he wanted to do, had to surround himself with people ..” –

      Not sure how one can come to such an assessment. Reagan was professionally an actor and played his role of “actor” superbly on the President’s throne. This was precisely the stake-holders of US policymakers at the highest level who enthroned him wanted from a President of US in that era – no interference in policy matters. Reagan had no capability in politics to “surround himself” with officials of his choice.

      It is recorded that Reagan trusted “astrology” and it was difficult to get an appointment with him on Thursdays. He was civil in the extreme in all dealings and in interactions with everyone no matter who you are. In fact, this trait in him was exploited fully by the State Department and other officials to break the ice that set in between Delhi and Washington by Nixon-Kissinger’s anti-India moves since 1971 war (remember Nixon calling names on Indira Gandhi). When Indira Gandhi was going to the UN in New York to give a speech, Reagan invited her to have lunch with him. In response, Mrs. Gandhi sent him a message why didn’t he come to New York to have lunch with her instead. Reagan accepted and his perfect demeanour with her started the ball rolling for the US administration to mend the relation with India.

      • Vikrant says:

        Read Reagan’s war by Peter Schweizer. Reagan, like Thatcher, was by no means a model conservative. In fact, both Reagan and Thatcher polluted conservatism by conflating it with libertarianism; the toxic combination of social liberalism and economic liberalism which makes societies decadent and decrepit ( Why Liberalism Failed by Patrick Deneen, The Demon In Democracy by Ryszard Legutko, The Once and Future Worker by Oren Cass, The Cameron Delusion by Peter hitchens ).

  3. Amit says:

    India will always be choosing between poisons if it does not become economically strong and a powerful country on its own accord. The problem with India is that it focuses too much on what other countries can do for it rather than examining its own deficiencies and trying to fix them. The Indian state is weak – laws are applied erratically, too many interest groups, corruption, lack of development, living in the past, etc. etc. Unless the public in India pushes for major reforms and more efficiencies in the public and civic domain, India will always be at the mercy of others. In fact, there is no guarantee it can even survive in its current form unless it becomes more efficient. History is a guide here – India has only been united in as large an area as it currently is or more, four times before (Ashoka, Delhi Sultanate, Aurangzeb and British India). In each of these instances, it remained in that form for less than fifty years (except British India). Note also that in three of these instances, India was ruled by foreigners. So history is not very encouraging!

    We should give up talk about strategic autonomy if we cannot be internally powerful. The Modi government has bent over backwards to accommodate Trump as it has decided that a partnership with the US is beneficial to India. The reason India-US relations have developed in the last few years is more due to Modi’s efforts. I believe that the same will happen with Biden’s administration (if he wins). The only difference will be that the irritants in the relationship will change.

    But for India to truly do what is in its interests (e.g., to create an alternate sphere of influence from China in Central Asia/Afghanistan/Iran, where US-India interests are not aligned), India has to address its own weaknesses first. No one can help India there except Indians themselves.

  4. Vaibhav says:

    I hear that Joe Biden will be more friendly towards economic globalisation than Trump, which means that India will have a better chance of securing a fair free-trade deal with US under a Biden administration.

    Free-trade agreements with US, UK, EU and Japan are crucial for India to rapidly grow its economy, aren’t they? Moreover, everything is secondary except the economy. The bigger your economy, the bigger your military budget and technological-scientific-industrial capability.

    So, isn’t a Biden administration better for India from this point of view?
    What are your thoughts, Mr. Karnad?

  5. Dr Aditya Narayan (MBBS MD Radiodiagnosis) says:

    Mr Karnad , you are wrong when you say white people didn’t vote for Biden decisively because they don’t like the prospect of Kamala Harris being president in future . Frankly its absurd coming from you . Trump was simply able to convince a lot of people into thinking that Biden has allied with extreme left wing and socialist wing of democrats . Kamala Harris I think is a future president material .

    • Hope you are right. But I am referring to Middle America that powered Trump to the White House. Of course, Middle America is changing and for the better. But it will still be a while before ethnic minorities escape the bi-coastal pull of cosmopolitanism and become political leadership mainstream. I was right when I said in a post of 4 June that Biden will win. (“The end of Trump”, ). ‘Am prepared to bet now that, assuming Biden gracefully exits the stage — whenever that is, Kamala may become Democratic party candidate but will not be elected President, by a mile. That’s just the way it is. In the US of A.

      • Tony says:

        There is tendency among highly paid educated Indians who work with educated whites to lecture how good the whites are whereas you will find a Punjabi taxi drivers in US of A having borderline hatred for whites as a result of all the abuse and racisim they have faced.

  6. Tony says:

    Biden will be bad for India as he is surronded by ultra leftists including puke inducing ruthless chameleon kamala harris . Trump was great for optics as far as India was concerned but he was no friend to pakistan or china or radical leftists islamists who will have free run now along with their allies in India.

  7. From Gaurav Tyagi by email
    Mon, 9 Nov at 8:52 am
    Good Morning Mr. Karnad, I hope life is proceeding smoothly at your end.
    I just finished reading your latest write-up; “Choice of Poisons”. An excellent analytical piece. I will forward it to everyone in my contact list. The dependency on any foreign nation for military equipment is the bane of our country. The policy makers need to think that why despite more than 73 years of independence the country cannot be self reliant on it’s own weapons?

    As per my understanding, it’s due to the large amount of secret commissions involved in buying weapons from overseas. Citing official secrets act, the deals are never made public and every party in power at the Centre gets good funds in foreign bank accounts.

    It has been happening ever since independence. Modi has eliminated the middlemen from such deals. He negotiates directly with the governments of foreign nations (Rafael deal etc.). The Commission money must be going into either RSS bank coffers or PM care fund (not open to any audit)

    Every individual as well as nation have to fight their own battles. What’s the point of spending such huge amount of money on procuring weapons from Russia, U.S etc. when the political/military leadership doesn’t have the courage to use them.

    This Jaishanker fellow is a good for nothing chap. A few days back, he said that negotiations are going on with China but the details cannot be made public. Why? What kind of democracy we have in India, Indian citizens have a right to know the truth otherwise, what’s the difference between India and China, which as I say is not communist but a dictatorship (Xi Jinping, President for life)

    Modi should walk the talk, either launch an all out assault on two fronts. As per our Indian army Braveheart Generals, the country can fight on two fronts.

    Grant them their wish. Get the so called POK and Aksai Chin back and claim the title of world’s superpower even if you lose, there is no shame in fighting and losing. Die with honor and glory.

    Otherwise, just accept the present border demarcation between India-China & India-Pakistan. Make the whole of South Asia as well as China a EU style free trade zone to enhance people to people exchanges and trade.

    No tall claims. Either go all out for war or accept the status quo and move on.

    Sadly, our Gujrati self proclaimed lion heart doesn’t have the balls for any real action.

    Have a nice day

    Gaurav Tyagi

  8. Sankar says:

    Reagan was hopeless in international politics. In the 1980s he visited (West) Germany as the US President and made a mess in every issue he had hands on. Inadvertently, or following whoever among his accompanying officials advised him, he visited a German cemetery to show his respect to some political figure, but unknown to him there were high Nazi officials buried there also. The German TV showed him how he awkwardly jumped around to avoid embarrassment to be seen standing in front of Nazi tombs. Finally, the NDR TV news (Nord Deutsche Rundfunk) began a roundup of his tour by announcing his departure after he had boarded the plane with the wording “In Washington ist er noch nict angekommen, aber von Bonn ist er wenigstens weg” – translated: He has not yet arrived in Washington, but at least he is out of Bonn!


    Another analytical gem from the mighty pen of yours Mr Karnad. I would also like to congratulate you for rightly calling the outcome of the US election all those months ago. Now do you think China and Pakistan will be happier that Biden has won the elections ?

  10. V.Ganesh says:

    Joe Biden is not even the President-elect. He still remains a candidate of the Democratic Party for the post of president in the USA’s Elections 2020. The media like the pollsters have got it wrong. After the Associated Press wrongly declared Joe Biden the 46th President of the United States of America, everyone including some world leaders including Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi thinks so. Today’s [Tuesday, November 10, 2020] The Hindu newspaper in its Tiruchirappalli [Tamil Nadu] edition on page 11 in the section titled “World” has a news report titled, “Biden convenes COVID-19 taskforce”, [I’m not able to find the link to this, otherwise,
    I’d shared it with you] the report [by Reuters] says, “But the transition cannot shift into high gear until the U.S. General Services Administration certifies the winner. Emily Murphy, the Trump appointee who runs the agency,
    has not yet done so.” This clearly means that even the Government of the United States of America doesn’t recognise Joe Biden to be the winner, leave aside even President-elect. One could say that Murphy is a Trump appointee and has not certified the election. But, the question that needs to be asked is especially to the media and pollsters across the world, some of whom are only media and pollsters, but, in fact, propaganda machines for political parties is – SINCE WHEN DID THE MEDIA AND POLLSTERS GET TO DECIDE WHO HAS WON ELECTIONS, BE IT ANY ELECTION IN ANY NATION? This also means that the media and pollsters are no longer truthful and unbiased. It’s government authorities/organisations who decide who won elections, like in India where the Election Commission decides and declares the winner.

  11. V.Ganesh says:

    As of this day, Donald Trump remains the 45th President of the United States of America and could become the 46th President United States of America because he’s recourse to the US Supreme Court and US Congress. Please read this to know how

  12. V.Ganesh says:

    Biden will be a disaster and an albatross around the neck of India-USA relations. Let’s not forget that it was the USA Administration in which he was the Vice President which denied India UCAV’s like Predators. God Forbid, if he were to become POTUS 46, I’m sorry to say India-USA relations will go to the dogs and India will have to tell him to take a hike for interfering in India’s internal affairs which the USA thinks is a God-given right as a superpower and so-called leader of the so-called free world. India should brook no nonsense and take anything lying down from anyone including the USA irrespective of whether they’re a superpower or not.

  13. V.Ganesh says:

    India-USA relations, especially foreign policy in the unlikely event of Trump losing to Biden would be Biden “say anything” in the words of this article

  14. V.Ganesh says:

    I don’t know why India doesn’t use sanctions as retaliation. The likes of Pramila Jayapal and the anti-India ilk in the USA of whom there are many should be sanctioned with a permanent ban on entering India. This ban should be extended to each and every person associated with them. They should be ostracized and made PNGs. Then only will this holier-than-thou anti-India ilk will learn a lesson. EAM S. Jaishankar rightly refused to meet Jayapal when he was in the USA. Serves Jayapal and her ilk right.

  15. Kunal Singh says:

    Now Modi wd buoy up Biden as a part of his habit. We could hear Swami “Vivek-aa-munad” again in future.

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