Daily Archives: January 20, 2010

Daniel Dombey

By Daniel Dombey, US Diplomatic Correspondent

Ripples from events on both US coasts have reached India, where Robert Gates, America’s powerful defence secretary, is talking grand policy. 

Gideon Rachman

Losing the Senate seat in Massachusetts is, of course, the worst possible way for Obama to celebrate his first year in office. It is a stinging rebuke to lose a seat in a state that is so liberal that it is the only one to have voted for George McGovern in 1972. Even worse, by losing the Democrats’ super-majority in the Senate, it is now substantially less likely that Obama will be able to pass health-care reform. And if he loses health-care, he loses the opportunity to notch up a big and obvious achievement for his presidency.

Obama certainly needs something big and tangible to point to. The problem with his first year in office is that his biggest domestic achievement is a negative one – stopping the recession from tumbling into a Depression. And you tend not to get much credit for things that didn’t happen on your watch. Meanwhile his biggest foreign-policy achievement is ephemeral – improving America’s image. I have no doubt that Obama has done this, and that it is important. But it is something that it is difficult to put your finger on, and it has not yet translated into solid improvements in America’s most troubling foreign-policy dilemmas.

The Afghan war is getting worse and bloodier. Engagement with Iran has not got off the ground. There has been no progress in the Middle East peace process. Obama has made concessions to the Chinese on human-rights and Tibet, but got very little in return. He has pressed the re-set button with Russia, but not much has happened. Key allies, including India, Japan and Israel, are unhappy with him. The Copenhagen climate talks were a fiasco. It’s all very difficult. 

By Daniel Dombey, US Diplomatic Correspondent

A large part of covering modern ministerial visits consists of spending long hours in confined spaces in the middle of very big countries. This blog has been written in the darkened interior of the last car in Defence Secretary Robert Gates’ convoy, parked in the midst of Sir Edwin Lutyens spectacular government complex in Delhi.  Monkeys clamber on the rooftops of the buildings here and pigeons fly through the corridors. It is a very grand place – and it is unlike almost anywhere else the US has to deal with.

That’s partly the lesson of this trip – the US is keen for its ties with India to develop further and faster than Delhi is comfortable with. Though the relationship has come on in leaps and bounds, India has yet to sign three technological agreements that have been on the table since as far back as at least 2002. The deals would enable more cooperation between the two countries’ militaries and – hardly the least important detail – would also make US military hardware more attractive to Delhi by bundling it with fancier software. That way, aircraft sold by the US to India could include state of the art navigation and targeting systems.
But India, which is well aware of its status as a rising great power, is reluctant to do anything that would group it together with  mere US allies