The End of the Affair?

Washington's Cooling Passion for New Delhi

One of the signature features, and generally acknowledged successes, of the George W. Bush administration's foreign policy was the close relationship forged between the United States and India. For decades, due to Cold War politics and mutual antagonism over India's quest for nuclear weapons, the U.S.-Indian relationship had languished. The Bush administration, however, identified India as a potential strategic partner early on and chose to build on the goodwill the Clinton administration had garnered with New Delhi in its closing days. The capstone of Bush's efforts was the U.S.-Indian nuclear deal, which gave India access to technology and material for its civilian nuclear program in spite of its refusal to sign the Nonproliferation Treaty. By the time Bush left office, U.S. relations with India were the best they had ever been.

By contrast, during its first months in office, the Obama administration has essentially ignored India. Until this week, the only senior administration official to make a significant India-related policy speech has been Deputy Secretary of State James Steinberg. In its dealings with Asia, the administration has focused instead on China, Afghanistan, and Pakistan -- going so far in its attempt to woo the latter as to float the idea of mediating the Kashmir dispute (something long sought by Islamabad but anathema to New Delhi).

This behavior has not gone unnoticed. India's strategic elites recognize that no other U.S. president is likely to match Bush's personal commitment to strengthening Indo-U.S. ties, but they worry that Barack Obama's apparent lack of interest could do real harm to the relationship and squander recent hard-won gains.
 
Were this indeed to occur, it would be a major blunder. India and the United States share important interests on some of today's most pressing strategic issues, including the struggle against Islamist terrorism, the stabilization and de-Talibanization of Afghanistan, the cautious engagement of a rising China, and the pursuit of improved bilateral economic ties. To advance those common interests, however, Washington and New Delhi need to cooperate closely.

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