Saturday, February 25, 2006

Standing Athwart History

Conservative uber-ideologue William Buckley described his then-nascent political idea with these iconic 1955 words: Conservatism is about standing athwart history, yelling stop.

Neo-conservatism is more ambitious -- not satisfied with building dams on history's torrent, it seeks to power changes in history's flow.

In Iraq, these sibling ideas, clashed loudly. Neoconservative America smashed through the conservative dam (of geopolitical realism) that, for decades, held back Arabian rage under dictator thumbs.

After Samarra, it's (alas) increasingly difficult to believe that American power will successfully hold back, or alter, the flow of Arabian rage. Conservative icon Mr. Buckley asserts the obvious in It Didn't Work. Neoconservative pioneer Francis Fukuyama has thrown in his towel and looks at the world After Neoconservatism.

We remain absolutely convinced about neoconservatism's valid purpose in Iraq. We fault a poorly waged war for America's crisis in that country. Either way, the Iraq project is in trouble.

This takes us to the tricky Indo-US negotiation over nuclear collaboration. Mr. Bush has wagered pretty much all his political capital on Iraq. With Iraq in flames, and barely a year or so before he is completely lame duck, he needs to create a positive legacy for his presidency.

Because, as Fareed Zakaria notes, India could be for Mr. Bush what China was for Mr. Nixon, the Indo-US deal is his spectacular sleeper shot at a legacy. It's hard to believe, therefore, that the deal will go down.

The problem is that Mr. Bush's Iraq failure has caused his own party to begin separating from him. India can't really count on him to deliver the deal through Congress.

Indians understand these conflicting dynamics. Because Mr. Bush needs India, we should drive the hardest bargain possible -- as we are. Because US Congress remains still to be wooed, we should keep their sensitivities in mind as we shape the agreement. (What China did or did not do is irrelevant here -- we couldn't care less about aping China, as some would have us do. India has to chart its own course, consistent with history as we find it.)

One last point. Indian opponents of the deal have been busy talking about "national interest". By implication, they've suggested that pro-deal Indians are close to sacrificing India's best interest. This is an unacceptable canard. Policy disagreement is one thing -- questioning our fidelity to national interest is way beyond bounds. National interest is not the preserve of protectionist anti-Americans alone. They better watch their rhetoric.

Instead, standing athwart history, India should yell out her welcome next week to President Bush and the Indo-American deal.


Anonymous said...

Jaffna and Primary Red are on opposite sides of this issue. WOW. I come down on the side of Jaffna. He seems to understand the Indira Gandhi dictum: "There are no permanent friends nor enemies; only permanent interests". Primary Red has consistently come down on the US side; or the neo-con side. His comments make me suspicious about whether he has India's interests as his primary concern. (His demeaning of the Indian State on the Jessica Lall case and his strange silence on the Best Bakery judgement only serve to enhance my suspicions). The primary issue is whether the nuclear deal is in India's best interests. Jaffna has convinced me that it may not be. PR has to go a long way to do his convincing.

Nitin said...


I've posted on the deal and deterrence today.

The argument that sees an open-ended, infinite number of nuclear warheads as the national interest is bogus. The issue at hand is deterrence, given the current balance of power and potential changes to this balance in the future.

Once you have a certain number of warheads in the bag, even if this number is held constant, deterrence capability can still be enhanced by improving delivery systems. Even if the nuclear deal constrains how many warheads India can manufacture, it does not extend to delivery systems. If anything, greater cooperation with the US in the area of missile technology becomes concievable.


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