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Mourning the end of Bush era?

Mourning the end of Bush era?

Author: Swapan Dasgupta
Publications: The Times of India
Date: January 18, 2009
URL: http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/Swapan_Dasgupta_Mourning_the_end_of_Bush_era/rssarticleshow/3995395.cms

Last week, Rahul Gandhi put his skills of persuasive politics on show by

accompanying fellow media-proclaimed prime minister-in-waiting,
British foreign

David Miliband, on a poverty tour of Amethi. The outcome was not very fulfilling for India. Stimulated, presumably, by his night out in the 'real India', Miliband arrived at the scene of the 26/11 outrage in Mumbai and gratuitously proclaimed that the "resolution of the dispute over Kashmir would help deny extremists in the region one of their main call to arms..." The best antidote to terror, he added, was "cooperation" and "instinctive multilateralism".

Miliband may be complimented for his bluntness and liberal compassion but in terms of tact and sensitivity this was akin to a visiting Indian dignitary telling Londoners after the July 7, 2005 bombings that a more inclusive development of the ghettos would have helped dissipate the anger of alienated Muslim youth.

Shorn of measured prose, Miliband's message to India from the scene of the carnage was stark: You had it coming, mate!

There are two ways of viewing Miliband's unexpected assault on the geniality that has marked Indo-British relations since the 1990s. The first would be to link Miliband's bleeding heart to the mundane compulsions of the Labour Party's vote-bank politics. But courting the Mirpuri vote was a minor consideration. The greater likelihood is that decent Left-liberals are unable to distinguish between empathy and condescension. The likes of Miliband are instinctively more at ease inspecting the 'good works' in Amethi (he would, of course, loath the ambience of Tory-voting rural England) than soaking in the headiness of a Vibrant Gujarat meet. The hut in Amethi may have reinforced a stereotype of Third World poverty and invited patronising concern; the we-can-do-it exuberance in Ahmedabad last week, however, invoked the fearful imagery of brash Texans and sinister Russian entrepreneurs. There is an unstated but real conflict between the bleeding India of NGOs and the shining India of the productive sector. Miliband's thesis was an expression of that irreconcilable clash.

If Miliband's bid to bless Lashkar-e-Taiba with a nobility of purpose was purely the reflection of an individual's derangement, it could have been viewed with a generosity due to an earnest young man out to make a mark. In the nuanced world of diplomacy it could even be offset by Prime Minister Gordon Brown's hard-headed observation that a majority of terrorist plots in the UK had a definite Pakistan connection.

Unfortunately, a show of indulgence is unwarranted. Miliband wasn't, after all, concerning himself with terrorism in South Asia alone. The central premise of his lecture was that the "war on terror" as defined by President George W Bush after 9/11 was "misleading and mistaken" because it conferred an artificial unity of purpose on Islamist terrorism and because it also "implied that the correct response was primarily military." Although, he did not say so explicitly, Miliband inferred that the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were misadventures.

Although, it is now obligatory to abuse the outgoing US president, it is instructive to look back on 9/11 and ask whether or not the Bush response was flawed. On September 20, 2001, Bush promised Congress that "We will direct every resource at our command... to the disruption and to the defeat of the global terror networks."

Bush walked the talk but with mixed results. His greatest achievement was in making Americans safe at home; his greatest failure was to get bogged down in a needless war in Iraq that diverted resources from the terror epicentre in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Bush was audacious and took chances. But to Miliband, he should have responded "by championing the rule of law, not subordinating it" and built on the "solidarity between peoples and nations... based not on who we are against, but on the idea of who we are and the values we share." Implicit is the advice to India to engage with terror rather than confront it. Yet, Miliband would have strengthened his case by specifying the values that bind the three democracies with those who idolise Osama bin Laden. Is it democracy? Religious freedom? Gender equity? Human rights?

If this is a foretaste of the Obama order, India will have reason to mourn the passing of the Bush era.

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