George Bush's victory reflects certain ground realities in the US of today.
The first of these is the continuing concerns and anxieties in the minds of large sections of people over the threat posed to the US, its nationals and interests by international jihadi terrorism of the kind practised by organisations such as Al Qaeda and the International Islamic Front.
With memories of 9/11 still haunting them they were not prepared to change their president, in the midst of what Bush had projected as a relentless war against international terrorism.
A strategic victory in the war is not yet in sight, but there were many tactical victories to the credit of the Bush administration such as the capture or killing of over half a dozen leading associates of Osama bin Laden.
In the election campaign, Bush had succeeded in having the spotlight focussed on the achievements of his administration in the war than on its failures.
Senator John Kerry was unable to convincingly articulate and address the concerns and anxieties of these people.
His projection of the war in Iraq as an unwise diversion from the war on terrorism did not convince many people. His attempts to have the focus partly shifted to bread and butter issues such as unemployment did not prove beneficial either. Large sections of the electorate were prepared to overlook the inadequacies of the Bush administration on the bread and butter front in the interest of ensuring its success on the front of personal and national security.
The second is the widespread conviction amongst the American people that Bush's objectives in Iraq of having the Saddam Hussein regime overthrown and bringing the country and its oil wealth under US control were correct though the means followed such as the deliberate use of disinformation to justify the war etc might have been wrong and though the sequel to the war in the form of bloody resistance from the Iraqi people might have made the strategic objective of making US control and influence acceptable to the Iraqi people elusive.
Kerry's ambivalence on the Iraq war, marked by his initial support for the objective of overthrowing Saddam and subsequent criticism of the conduct of the war, projected him in negative light.
The euphoria over the victory in the election is unlikely to last long as Bush and his advisers continue to grapple with the Iraqi nettle and step up their hunt for bin Laden and other dregs of the IIF.
A satisfactory end to the war in Iraq, which is now through its second year and which has already cost nearly 1,100 American lives and resulted in the death of thousands of Iraqi civilians, is nowhere in sight. The pronouncements of Bush and his advisers during the election campaign did not give evidence of any new thinking and new strategy.
The starting point of any new thinking and strategy is generally the realisation that past thinking and strategy have failed to produce results and that a mid-course correction is called for. No signs of any such realisation could be detected during the election campaign.
The Bush administration seems to be under the belief that if somehow Falluja could be pacified and the proposed election in Iraq could be held as scheduled in January, that would mark the beginning of the end of its troubles in Iraq.
A lack of lucidity in the analysis of the ground situation in Iraq, marked by ideological predilections, and an inability to re-fashion the policy response to make amends for the past mistakes continue to stand in the way of a turn for the better. The situation in Iraq continues to be dark and grim, but there are flickers of light here and there.
One such glimmer of light is the fact that despite the ruthless massacre of large numbers of Iraqi policemen and other civil servants by the suicide bombers of foreign terrorists and indigenous resistance fighters, the desertions from the newly-raised police and army have not been as high as feared and there has been no significant drop in the number of volunteers for joining the police and the army.
Those watching television images of the bloody scenes after each suicide car bomb explosion would have been struck by the courage with which members of the newly-trained Iraqi security forces perform their duties despite the threat faced by them. These images show there are sections of the Iraqi civil society, including many public servants, who do not side with the terrorists and the resistance fighters despite their unhappiness with the US-led occupation.
The over-militarisation of the US responses to terrorism under Bush during his first term, whether in Afghanistan or in Iraq, has resulted in very little attention being paid to other dimensions, which are equally if not more important. The most important of these dimensions is the psychological -- creating feelings of revulsion against terrorism and violence and encouraging spells of introspection in the civil societies of not only Iraq, but also in the rest of the Ummah over the brutalities of the terrorists in the name of jihad and Islam.
The absence of any such introspection is partly due to perceptions of similar brutalities in the military response of the US and in the methods followed by Israel against the Palestinians. Without appropriate modifications in the counter-terrorism methods followed by the US forces, the terrorist attacks, even if directed against innocent civilians, will continue to be seen by large sections of the Muslim masses as understandable acts of retaliation and not with feelings of revulsion.
Killing of Muslims by Muslims in the name of Islam; beheading of innocent civilians, including Muslims, by Muslims in the name of Islam; and killing of innocent Iraqis by Muslims in the name of Iraq and Islam -- these are nauseating elements of the jihadi terrorism of the kind practised by the likes of bin Laden, Ayman-al-Zawahiri, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi and others, which should be troubling the minds of large sections of Muslims even in the Islamic world, though they might be reluctant to give open expression to the prickings of their conscience.
How to bring about a more assertive role by the right-minded sections of the Islamic world? How can they be expected to be more assertive if, in their perception, the US military is no less brutal as seen from air strikes in civilian areas, excessive use of force through tanks and artillery in heavily-inhabited areas etc?
The over-militarisation of the counter-terrorism campaign has been the bane of the Bush leadership of the so-called war against terrorism since 9/11-- whether in Afghanistan, Iraq or elsewhere. Since the US is waging its counter-terrorism campaign in foreign territory and not in its own territory, the restraints normally dictated and imposed by counter-terrorism campaigns in one's own territory such as non-use of the air force, the armour, the artillery and other heavy weapons do not operate.
The harsh methods used by the US to match the harshness of the terrorists are weakening whatever little influence the civil societies of these countries may be able to exercise and adding to the number of volunteers joining the ranks of the terrorists.
Unless these aspects of the policies followed by Bush and his advisers during his first term are corrected and a new counter-terrorism strategy devised and implemented, Bush's second term could turn out to be a re-run of his first. This would not be in the interests of the US, its nationals and interests.
India watched the presidential race and the prospects of a Kerry win with nervousness because of his pronouncements against outsourcing, his emphasis on bread and butter issues which might have presaged a return to protectionism etc. Memories of the past rigidities of the advisers around Kerry on the nuclear issue and the ambivalent stance of the Clinton administration in its first term on issues of concern to India such as Pakistani sponsorship of terrorism against India, the Kashmir issue, technology transfers etc added to the nervousness in India.
The only benign stance favourable to India, which the Clinton administration adopted, was at the time of the Kargil conflict in 1999. Otherwise, it was hardly ever helpful towards India.
It was Clinton, who, despite the strong advice of his counter-terrorism experts, avoided declaring Pakistan as a State-sponsor of terrorism in 1993. It was Robin Raphael, his assistant secretary of state, who, in October 1993, publicly supported Pakistan's stand that Jammu and Kashmir is disputed territory.
Before joining the State Department, it was she, while posted in the US embassy in New Delhi, who had instigated the Kashmiri militant leaders to form the All-Parties Hurriyat Conference to wage a united struggle against the Government of India.
Who can forget her role and that of Bill Richardson, Clinton's energy secretary, in the birth and growth of the Taliban to promote the oil interests of Unocal, the American company?
In 1995, it was Clinton, who, after Benazir Bhutto's visit to the US, engineered the passage of the Brown Amendment by US Congress to facilitate the renewal of the US arms supply relationship with Pakistan.
As against this, what has been the track record of successive Republican administrations?
After having initially courted the Khalistani terrorists after coming to office, the Reagan adminstration ordered its intelligence agencies to cut off their links with them after then prime minister Indira Gandhi's visit to Washington, DC.
It was George H W Bush, the father of the present president, who invoked the Pressler Amendment and terminated the military supply relationship with Pakistan in 1990 because of its development of a clandestine military nuclear capability. Bush Senior and James Baker, his secretary of state, took a tough line against both China and Pakistan for China's clandestine missile supply relationship with Pakistan.
If Bush Senior had returned to the White House in the 1992 election, it was most likely that he would have accepted the advice of US counter-terrorism experts to declare Pakistan a State-sponsor of international terrorism.
Clinton, to whom the file came in January 1993 for a decision, did not declare Pakistan a State sponsor of terrorism. Instead, he kept Pakistan in a list of suspected State-sponsors of terrorism and removed it after six months.
The attitude of the present Bush administration on the question of Pakistan-supported jihadi terrorist groups operating against India has been more helpful than that of the Clinton administration, though not as satisfactory as one would have liked it to be. It designated the Lashkar-e-Tayiba and the Jaish-e-Mohammad as Foreign Terrorist Organisations and took sympathetic note of India's complaints against the activities of the transnational criminal mafia group led by Dawood Ibrahim from Pakistani territory and declared him an international terrorist linked to Al Qaeda.
Despite these positive factors, India has had reasons to be concerned over some aspects of the Bush administration's policies towards Pakistan. Among these, one could mention its
- lionisation of President General Pervez Musharraf as a stalwart ally in the war against terrorism despite his failure to act against Pakistani jihadi terrorist organisations operating against India and his complicity in keeping the Taliban alive and active in sanctuaries in Pakistani territory;
- its declaration of Pakistan as a major non-NATO ally thereby according it certain facilities in matters of military procurement;
- the US decision not to act against Pakistan for the nuclear and missile proliferation activities of A Q Khan, the so-called father of Pakistan's atomic bomb;
- and the recent reports of a possible re-consideration by the US of its past refusal to sell new squadrons of F-16 planes to the Pakistan Air Force.
Bush, during his second term, is unlikely to address these concerns to India's satisfaction.
A question often asked in India is who would better promote Indian interests -- Bush or Kerry. That is an irrelevant question. The US electorate elects someone as its president because it thinks he will better promote US interests and not because of the interests of any other country. Anyone, who is elected president, has the US national interests foremost in his mind while formulating his policies. Indian interests will receive attention only if they are compatible with US national interests.
The purpose of any exercise in relation to Indo-US relations should, therefore, be to identify Indian interests, which are compatible with US interests, and work for a convergence of views and policy-making and implementation with regard to them.
Three such issues can be immediately identified:
- the campaign against jihadi terrorism;
- the importance of the restoration of normalcy in Iraq and the prevention of its balkanisation and pulling it out of the throes of fundamentalism and jihadi terrorism into which US policies have pushed it;
- and facilitating India's catching up with China as an economic power of equal strength for which India would need a large flow of US investments and technology.
Till the US wins its war against jihadi terrorism -- if it is able to win it at all -- its national interests would demand close strategic and military relations with Pakistan.
While India should work towards closer relations with the US, Washington is unlikely to let such relations be at the expense of its counter-terrorism-related relationship with Pakistan.
Unless and until the US realises that Pakistan has been playing a double game in the so-called war against terrorism, there is unlikely to be any change in its policies towards Islamabad.