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Why Does the American Left Fear the Rise of India?

The Obama-Reid-Pelosi trio eagerly canceled the highly successful H-1B visa program, which was designed to encourage U.S. companies to hire Indian IT services (as well as tens of thousands of Indian engineers at a time of talent shortages). Congress barred U.S. corporations with bailout dollars from hiring foreign workers. This sparked largely overlooked outrage across India’s polity. “This is just irrational protectionism. … It makes no economic sense at all,” said the deputy chairman of India’s Planning Commission. Opposition leaders called for boycotts of U.S. companies. “If these policies hurt Indians abroad,” said heavyweight politician Praveen Togadia, “then we have to take steps to hurt American companies in India.” In just a few short weeks, during the Bush-to-Obama transition, U.S.-Indo relations had gone from having never been better to tense and laced with rhetorical rancor.

For those of us who view India as an invaluable future ally, these are disturbing developments. Not unsurprisingly, as trade between the two countries deteriorates, so too do other arenas. Our current disregard of India is risking nothing short of causing “great damage … to the foundations underlying the geostrategic partnership” itself, in the words of National Interest columnist J. Peter Pham. When President Obama seemed to blame India over the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan, India’s national security advisor promptly said Obama was “barking up the wrong tree.”

Additionally, Secretary of State Clinton skipped a visit to New Delhi during her maiden voyage to South Asia, stoking concerns that the new administration was putting India on the back burner (opting instead to prioritize relations with an ascendant China). As former U.S. ambassador to India Robert D. Blackwill phrased it, “China today appears … to be on a substantially higher plane in U.S. diplomacy than India, which seems to have been downgraded in the administration’s calculations.” Validating this view, India was not mentioned even once in the Obama administration’s official foreign policy agenda. The world’s largest democracy, more than one billion people -- ignored.

This antagonism towards New Delhi is not merely an Obama phenomenon; the American left itself has expressed its unease with a powerful India for quite some time. It was in 1998, after all, when President Bill Clinton imposed sanctions on India for conducting underground nuclear tests -- treating an ally and proud democracy as if it were a rogue enemy and brutal tyranny. President Bush, on the other hand, lifted those sanctions in 2001 and signed a historic civilian nuclear agreement with India in 2006, whereby the U.S. would share nuclear reactors and fuel with Prime Minister Singh’s government.

Why is there such a disparity of views on India between conservatives and liberals in these states united? Not all members of the left, of course, hold a hostile opinion of India (Christopher Hitchens comes to mind). But by and large, the American left seems to consider India the “biggest pain in Asia,” in the words of Barbara Crossette, a writer at Foreign Policy. Crossette criticizes India for not adhering to international accords which infringe upon a democracy’s sovereign right to control its nuclear destiny, as well as climate change treaties which would destroy India’s growth -- some of the very reasons American conservatives respect India. The left is wary of India for the same reasons it remains wary of Israel: both democracies are fiercely nationalistic and unapologetically defend themselves against the “downtrodden” “other,” i.e., Islamic lunatics.

The American left simply prefers to play hardball with allies than with adversaries. Recall President Carter’s handling of Iran: the allied shah was condemned as an autocrat; the enemy Khomeini, a “holy man.” For Carter, our anticommunist allies were violators of human rights first, second, and third; the Soviets, murderers of tens of millions, were benign enough for Carter to proclaim Americans had an “inordinate fear of communism.”

Contemporaneously, the left’s is a world where dictatorial Venezuela is to be apologized for, democratic Colombia economically punished; where the fascists and racists and bus-bombers in Palestine are “misunderstood” and the democrats in Israel are Nazi brownshirts incarnate. Anti-American terrorists in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Lebanon are euphemized as “guerrillas,” whereas pro-American militiamen are castigated as “warlords” -- and on and on it goes.

Embroiling the Indians in such amoral nonsense would threaten not only our present rapport with India, but also what could potentially become the most significant American alliance with another country this century -- an alliance rooted in a commonality of values, genuine companionship and affection for one another, and solidarity against the totalitarian evils of the world. The United States should welcome India’s rise. We’re largely the reason it’s occurring.