Signs of US weakening

anoop_mig25

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Them and US
By -->Shekhar Gupta
Posted: Saturday , Mar 06, 2010
http://www.indianexpress.com/news/them-and-us/587521/0


There was nothing un-Holbrooke-like about his utterly insensitive statement that the Kabul attack had not particularly targeted Indians. The use of really awful language, “I do not accept [that this was like the attack on the Indian embassy]” and “let’s not jump to conclusions”, was also true to form. In fact, coarse directness of this kind is so much his hallmark that, talking about him when his appointment was announced, a former American envoy — who himself was not exactly some Mr Congeniality — told me, “You guys will learn to deal with Holbrooke... he will make me look so diplomatic to you.” It follows, therefore, that there was also nothing so unusual about what should normally have been shocking insensitivity. What kind of a guy — other than Holbrooke, of course — speaks like this when four Indian victims of that terror attack are still battling for life in the hospital? His tone was dismissive, almost an admonition of those (read the Indian government) who “jumped to the conclusion” that this was an attack specifically on Indian interests.More significant, however, is his double-quick retraction. Within a day of making that silly statement he had “clarified” it in a manner that almost sounded like an apology — and this, indeed, was so un-Holbrooke-like. The Richard Holbrookes of the world will not usually be heard saying, “Oops, I screwed up on this one.”

So what conclusions do we draw from this sudden turnaround? Do we go home feeling vindicated, and happy that he has seen reason so quickly? Or was it just a hasty remark which, thank God, has been withdrawn? Or do we start to worry, lose sleep, and weigh our options?

Facts would point to the latter option. We would be erring gravely if we see in Holbrooke’s uncharacteristic near-apology a vindication of India’s rising power and stature. It is, on the other hand, indicative of the rise of a new, weak and further weakening America. This weakening is underlined by both his initial statement, and his quick retreat. Here is how.

The note of irritation in his initial statement was caused not so much by any arrogant claim of better information from the ground as by irritation with India on the part of somebody representing a power that is increasingly short of ideas and options — and losing both influence and the will to exercise it. Obama’s “I will send more troops but will withdraw by a deadline” approach has weakened the American position in the region gravely and not just the Taliban but even the Pakistanis are smelling victory. Pakistan now rightly believes — though these things can change quickly — that the only game left for America (and its envoys like Holbrooke) is to work towards some kind of an arrangement where a withdrawal could be arranged by declaring some kind of a quick “victory”. That can only be through a deal with a faction of the Taliban, chosen and controlled by Pakistan. Of course, the Pakistanis will then promise to ensure that these new rulers of Kabul will be no nuisance to America and its allies. Smelling success, the Pakistanis have become so bold as to again openly talk of their need for Afghanistan, for the strategic depth they always dream of vis-à-vis India. Their protestations over the “activities” of Indian missions in Afghanistan have increased and the Americans are now showing less and less conviction in countering that charge. In Holbrooke’s kind of worldview, it would do nobody any harm if the Indians agreed to be “a little more reasonable” keeping in mind the “big picture”. He is now speaking for a declining superpower that is no longer determined to go fight for its interests far from its shores, and is keen to buy peace, bury the hatchet. The problem is that the Pakistanis, who are central to the success of this defeatist strategy, would prefer the hatchet to be buried in India’s back. Holbrooke’s quick retraction in the face of Indian disgust and revulsion further underlines the lack of conviction that has seized Obama’s waffling America.

Signs of this have been visible for some time. This columnist has also pointed to the perils of continuing with the strategy of “outsourcing” the countering of our terror threat to the US, particularly in view of the new evolving Af-Pak approach in Washington (‘Our faff-Pak policy’, IE, November 14, 2009, www.indianexpress.com/news/our-faffpak-policy/541281/). This week’s developments, seen together with the increasing Pakistani confidence that they have the Americans (and maybe even the Indians) exactly where they want them, shows that Obama’s America no longer has either the confidence, or the spine, of a superpower. Further, this declining America needs help from both our immediate adversaries, China and Pakistan, in different ways, but equally desperately. One must continue to fund its deficit, and the other must bail it out of the Afghan quicksand.

Both China and Pakistan have already responded to this remarkable turnaround by hardening their respective postures towards India in their own different ways. The Chinese shifted the goalposts on border negotiations earlier, and now the Pakistanis are resiling even from the vague ideas discussed in the Musharraf era to settle Kashmir. We need to acknowledge and understand this new reality, in which we are much more on our own, and where the power we treated as our own “stalwart ally” (to turn a metaphor on its head) may be taking a very different view of life. I have talked in the recent past of the Pakistanis playing a game of triple-nuancing with terrorists, treating Pakistani, Afghan Taliban and then the India-specific Lashkars differently in pursuit of a larger objective vis-à-vis Afghanistan and India. Could it now be that the impatient Americans may also be indulging in a nuancing of their own, telling us that we face a “common” threat because “Al Qaeda and Lashkar are the same thing” while at the same time setting minimalistic targets for themselves to neutralise Al Qaeda so they could leave us to deal with threats specific to us, and with a revitalised Pakistani military intelligence complex?

The time has therefore come for us to shift gears, to readjust the viewfinder and re-set the strategic GPS. We will find ourselves on our own in the roughest of neighbourhoods eventually. But with American will weakening so much that even Holbrooke is losing his style, this could come to pass sooner than we imagined.

our policy makers should be carefull and ready or else there can be double-trouble in future
 
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Vinod2070

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It is weakening of the resolve rather than any physical weakening. Unfortunately, leaving the job unfinished is going to carry a big price for so many in our region. USA will suffer the consequences as well, sooner than they think.

The terrorists will see it as a sign that USA can't sustain its battles and will wink if they sustain the pressure.
 

anoop_mig25

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it think US is weakening because its now no financially strong as well as pressure at home for job creations . and it think indian ploicy makers must be ready both financially as well as military as we are already seeing surge in terrorist activities in J&K which is going to be further increaseind day by day.plus there is china which has harden its position on border dispute . in past we have seen how one of the chinese papers publishe a report on disintegration of INDIA by supporting Northeast terrorist and maoist activities in INDIA.this isnt good sign
 

Phenom

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I don't think its correct to say US is weakening, it's more accurate to say US has a weak administration. Obama has, from day one wanted to take the easy way out, liberals in US, like the liberals in India just want to run away from a fight without worrying about the consequences.

Ofcourse that doesn't change the fact that the world would be dealing with a weak US for atleast 7 more years. In one way I think this is good for India, there has always been a belief in India that somebody else (like US) would keep India safe. Now people would realise nobody else is going to do India's work for her, if the govt wants to protect its people, they have to do it on their own.
 
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ajtr

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The decline of America

America’s rich and ubiquitous CIA, through its National Intelligence Council, periodically collects some of the best brains in the US and after considerable debate they publish a detailed treatise predicting the future and the last one — Global Trends 2025 — came out in November 2008. The report’s most important assessment is that in 15 years there will be a gradual decline in the US’s pre-eminence along with the rise of new powerhouses China and India. The report says “although the United States is likely to remain the single most powerful actor”, the country’s “relative strength — even in the military realm — will decline and US leverage will become more constrained”.

In actual fact the decline has been far more rapid and has gone unnoticed because this was obscured by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. American predominance in the information technology sector of the global economy also covered the country’s decline as a manufacturing hub. Several other moves and events in recent years point to the direction of America’s decline.

At the Pittsburg global economic summit, the mantle of looking after the functioning of the economy passed on from G-8 to G-20, which includes China, India, Brazil, Turkey and other developing countries. It is not yet certain that this group can exercise any really effective control, but the move is significant in that it took place. The true significance, as Geoffrey Sachs put it, was not that the baton had passed to G-20 but that it had actually passed on from G-1 — the US which had really called al the economic shots in the past 30-odd years of the G-7 forum.

There are increasing reports that major countries who are America’s economic rivals have been discussing among themselves, sometimes in secret, to explore a diminished role for the US dollar in international trade where it is losing value. Saddam Hussein in 2002 tried to move away from the dollar to the Euro but that was more political than economic; the Iranians, too, have tried to establish oil bourses in Euros for the same reason.

But this one is different. Major trading countries China, Japan, Russia, Brazil and the Persian Gulf states are considering the Euro or a basket of currencies as an alternative to the US dollar. Obviously, if this is accepted it will adversely impact on American dominance in international economic matters. Link this to BRIC and we have a new international economic paradigm.

The international order has always been about control and dominance. The old Palmerston dictum about permanent interests and not permanent allies has changed. In the new international order there are permanent interests but no permanent enemies. Diplomatically and strategically, the US has had problems. American actions in West Asia, for instance, have given room for others to walk into the space provided by the US’s misadventure. The invasion of Iraq was as brainy as a World Wrestling Federation bout.

Russia and China have refused in recent months to accept the US’s proposal that Iran be placed under sanctions, even though President Barack Obama tried to assuage Moscow by cancelling plans to deploy an anti-ballistic missile system in eastern Europe. The US can no longer press for sanctions on Iran while condoning similar action by Pakistan.

In fact, Iran, China and Russia seem to have worked out an energy-sharing /distribution map that largely excludes the US from it. These three countries have been the biggest gainers from America’s Quixotic adventure in Iraq which has ended making Iran the strongest power in the region.

The US will lose ground in the economic sphere as well. American GDP in 2005 at US $ 12.4 trillion exceeded that of Latin America and Asia. By 2020, the combined GDP of Asia and Latin America will 40 per cent greater than that of the US and growing. By then, the US will be deeply indebted to the more solvent nations. It will be dependent on them for funds needed to pay for budgetary deficits which have been there since the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, meeting the annual Pentagon budget, and so on. Nevertheless, the US will remain the world’s pre-eminent economic and technology power, but it will be a military power that will be unable to undertake significant military missions abroad of the Iraq and Afghanistan variety on its own.

The stalemate in Afghanistan is really a strategic defeat for a superpower. A superpower cannot be seen to have tried to find ways of getting out of a quagmire without a resounding victory. Support for the war is grudging both at home and abroad among allies. The US is in the unhappy situation where one of its prominent allies in the region — Pakistan — has been duplicitous, while another — Saudi Arabia — stands for creeds that are the very antithesis of all that America stands for, and the third — China — is simply waiting for the US to get sufficiently unpopular before it will move into the vacuum that will unavoidably occur once American troops leave.

The US could have had three friends and allies — Russia, Iran and India — who do not want Afghanistan to become a Talibanised Wahaabi state. But the Americans chose otherwise. What the Americans were slow to understand was that whatever be the merits of the case, and in Afghanistan defeat of terrorism was one, Washington can no longer say, “I am in Afghanistan to make America safe” and it does not matter if some Afghans die in the process.

Perhaps the last setback may be symbolic but it was powerful. The US could not win the race for the Summer Olympics for 2016; worse, it got eliminated in round one.

That said, the US is still the most powerful state in the world and will remain so for the foreseeable future with the strongest military force, the largest economy and the most highly developed technological capabilities. However, those days when it was possible to take unilateral action are over; there are limitations to power — military and economic — as well as influence, as other powerful players begin to assert themselves. The US predicament in Afghanistan is the most recent example of these new disabilities.

-- The writer, who specialises in strategic affairs, is a former head of the Research and Analysis Wing.
 

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