Monday, August 3, 2009

Views from India: the “haughty,” “condescending,” “arrogant,” and “patronizing” NYT editorial of last July 18, 2009

An Editorial and Its (Mal) Contents. By S. Samuel C. Rajiv
IDSA, July 25, 2009

An editorial in the New York Times on July 18, 2009 ahead of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s visit to India - ‘Secretary Clinton goes to India’, has generated a lot of interest. A prominent Indian-American Democratic politician from Maryland, Kumar Barve, who is also a Majority leader in the House of Delegates, criticized the tone and tenor of the write-up as “haughty”, “condescending”, “arrogant”, and “patronizing.” Barve points out that the editorial’s first sentence, which defines India as “a longtime nuclear scofflaw,” is factually incorrect, as India had never violated any nuclear agreements it has signed.

The editorial goes on to describe India as a “major contributor to global warming,” which again can be contested very convincingly. India contributes less than 4 per cent of global emissions, and has one of the lowest per capita emissions in the world (less than 2 tonnes of CO2 per annum). The United States and China on the other hand are together responsible for 40 per cent of global emissions. In the same paragraph, it calls on India “to do a lot more to constrain its arms race with Pakistan and global proliferation.”

India and Pakistan are neither involved in any competitive arms racing nor can Pakistan afford to do so and go down the route of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Indian’s defence budget as a percentage of GDP has come down from over 3 per cent in 1988-89 to under 2 per cent in 2008-09. This has to be seen against the background of defence budgets in India’s neighbourhood – nearly 5 per cent of GDP for Pakistan and 7 per cent for China. Given the lack of transparency in these figures, compounded by a whole range of internal and external security threats, arguments in favour of increasing India’s defence budget have actually more weight.

Urging India to take “more responsibility internationally,” the supporting arguments the editorial gives in favour of this ‘advice’ is the strong mandate secured by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the fact that the country has weathered a global recession better than others. The reasons responsible for the re-election of Dr. Singh are varied. This writer is not sure if taking on greater responsibilities overseas was a factor for the Indian electorate to choose him. To do more internationally to help the world ride out the financial storm is labouring the point. Despite the size of its economy (worth more than a trillion dollars), India still has a negligible share of world trade. Its strengths have primarily been its growing domestic demand, a high savings rate, among other factors, which have helped weather the crisis that has gripped the rest of the world.

The editorial then calls on India to help allay Pakistani fears, without defining what those fears are – a grand Indian design to break up the country may be! The editorial does make the right noises about Pakistan and the need for the US administration to keep the pressure on it so that it prosecutes those involved in the heinous Mumbai terror attacks. The K-word however does find its customary place, as it perhaps should in any discussion involving the two countries. But the editorial notes the possible difficulties in finding a solution to the issue “while Pakistan is battling the Taliban.” It can actually be argued that this is the right time for Islamabad to face the reality of the dangers from the Frankenstein monsters operating with impunity within its territory and strive for a negotiated settlement to the vexing issue rather than otherwise. The organic linkages between the demons that the Pakistan Army has taken on in certain parts of its territory and the pervasive culture of ‘jihad’ that official instruments of the state continue to employ to bleed India are ignored.

The argument about Kashmir also does not take account of the fact that it is just a symptom of the disease between the two countries and not the cause. The raison d’etre of Pakistan as a separate and distinct homeland of the major minority religion of the Indian sub-continent is too stark a reality to be ignored. The same logic is extended to imply that a functioning, stable, multi-ethnic, multi-religious and diverse India is an anathema to the very existence of Pakistan. Pakistani society is in itself a hotch-potch of mutually antagonistic ethnic and tribal groups seemingly held together by artificial hatred towards India. These tensions threaten to rip the country apart any time soon. Ignoring these factors to imply that all will be hunky-dory between the two countries if Kashmir were resolved is at once naïve and immature. The argument also resounds with similar such formulations that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root cause of all that is wrong in the Middle East, ignoring such facts as the Iran-Iraq war, the cruel lack of development of economic and human resources, heavy-handed dictatorships and autocratic regimes, lack of freedom and democracy, among other factors.

On the issue of the Indo-US nuclear deal, the editorial reiterates the contention aired by the paper earlier as well as by non-proliferation ayatollahs that it frees up India to use its domestic sources of uranium solely for weapons production. It therefore urges the Obama administration to press India to cap its production of fissile material so that Pakistan can be pressured to do the same. Secretary Clinton is also urged to press India to pursue regional arms talks with Pakistan and China and sign the CTBT. This, at a time when the US has still not ratified the CTBT, a point acknowledged by Clinton in her interactions with the media on her visit here.

The agreement between Presidents Obama and Medvedev in Moscow to undertake further cuts in their weapons stockpile is held as an important negotiating point to convince India on this score. While the sequel to the START-1 treaty needs to be appreciated, as also the new administration’s right noises on disarmament, Indian concerns regarding these issues remain. Achieving comprehensive and universal nuclear disarmament is still a long way to go, despite the personal interventions of the US President who has made disarmament one of the pillars of his administration’s foreign policy. Continuing and robust nuclear force modernization programmes of nuclear weapon states are a huge stumbling block in any effort to convince New Delhi of the merits of arguments regarding FMCT and CTBT. Most reports also indicate that Pakistan has a greater stockpile of weapons material and more bombs in its arsenal than India, though it may not have as many delivery systems.

The editorial then derides India and Pakistan for not being able to define what they mean by a ‘credible, minimum’ nuclear deterrent. The US (and the then USSR) lurched alternatively from having a credible deterrent to massive retaliation to flexible response, all the time building thousands of weapons and delivery systems worth many billions of dollars without exactly seeming to know the exact numbers required to keep each other at bay. Concerns about the ‘missile gap’ (which turned out to be untrue in the first assessment carried out by the ‘whizkids’ led by the then Defence Secretary Robert McNamara) illustrate the difficulties in deciphering what the other person is up to in the nuclear realm, given the inherent nature of the nuclear weapon as not a war-fighting tool but a war-prevention ‘asset’. This is not to argue that India and Pakistan need another 50 years to figure out how not to fight a nuclear war but to keep things in perspective given the nature of the issues involved.

On Iran, acknowledging India’s “grudging” support to earlier UNSC Resolutions, it urges India to do more and hopes that India’s “arm will not be twisted this time around” in order to get this support. India has already stated that it is not in its interest to see any more nuclear weapon powers in its neighbourhood. At the same time, it has upheld Iran’s right to peacefully exploit the power of the atom. Given its strong civilisational and trade links, and Iran being Pakistan’s and Afghanistan’s neighbour – both countries of concern and vital interest to it, coupled with its energy requirements, it will be difficult to expect India to be more strident on the issue than what it has already been. Engaging and assuaging the Iranian regime’s sense of security and convincing/forcing it to give up its nuclear weapon ambitions, if any, through diplomatic and economic sanctions, seem to be the only way forward on the issue.

The editorial ends by lecturing India to “stop its pretensions to non-alignment” and calls on Clinton and Obama to encourage India to “behave” like a vital partner of the US “in building a stable world.” At the end of it, one begins to wonder if talking out loud, shooting with the mouth (or pen/keypad) and carrying a big stick (‘danda’ in Hindi) are the only characteristics of a great power. By the way, these are usually the defining hallmarks of a typical local cop in Delhi.

S. Samuel C. Rajiv is a researcher at the Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses (IDSA), New Delhi.

Is the White House's Organic Garden Toxic to Kids?

Is the White House's Organic Garden Toxic to Kids? By Jeff Stier, Esq.
No, according to toxicologists. It ought to be, according to environmentalists.
Thursday, July 23, 2009

This piece first appeared on July 23, 2009 on

Michelle Obama's "organic" White House garden was designed to promote a green agenda. In order to provide safe food to children in the community, the First Lady wouldn't use chemical pesticides or fertilizers. Green groups cheered. In an ironic twist, all of that has now backfired.
The garden was created using a "green" approach, based on the belief that exposure to even minute levels of synthetic chemicals and contaminants such as lead is dangerous. Indeed, when environmental activist groups lobbied for a drastic consumer product safety law known as the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA), they repeated the frightening but unscientific mantra that "there is no safe level of exposure" to the synthetic chemicals and contaminants they sought to ban.

The law passed, but it won't make anyone safer; the idea that the level of exposure doesn't matter flouts every known precept of toxicology. CPSIA is putting the squeeze on already threatened small businesses, forcing them to discard products with the tiniest trace of forbidden substances -- and it turns out the White House is getting a taste of the same medicine.

Earlier this month, The New York Times reported that the National Park Service found lead in the White House garden soil. In fact, tests found somewhere between 450% and 900% of the normal amount of lead in U.S. soil. The White House did not dispute the findings but defended the lead in the garden, calling it "completely safe." They are right. Though lead at higher levels can be dangerous, the garden, like the products banned by CPSIA, is well within safety limits. But the White House's defense rings of self-serving hypocrisy. Where were the White House reassurances when environmentalists were pushing CPSIA restrictions on other fronts?

Greenpeace, the Environmental Working Group, and others who were behind CPSIA -- along with their allies in Congress and in the administration -- manipulate the fears of concerned parents by contradicting established rules of toxicology, claiming that all lead needs to be eliminated. Aside from causing needless panic, their agenda could end up taking an expensive toll on industry and driving up prices for consumers.

The consequences of environmentalist fear-mongering are already spreading quickly. Bisphenol-A (BPA) and phthalates in plastics have been thoroughly demonized by junk-science reports -- so much so that people forget these chemicals have never been shown to be harmful to humans. Likewise, the organic approach endorsed by the White House unjustly contests the proven safety of properly applied chemical pesticides and fertilizers.

Now that they've seen the light, will the White House join thousands of small businesses and consumers calling for the repeal of the CPSIA? The Bush Food and Drug Administration found BPA to be safe, but the Obama FDA called for a do-over. Will their findings be consistent with the White House's newfound appreciation for basic tenets of toxicology? Will the new regime at the EPA halt its trumped-up health claims and halt their unprecedented attack on America's producers?

If so, something truly beneficial will have grown out of the White House's "organic" garden after all.

Jeff Stier is an associate director of the American Council on Science and Health.

What’s Different About the Obama Foreign Policy? The continuities with Bush are striking

What’s Different About the Obama Foreign Policy? By ELIOT COHEN
The continuities with Bush are striking. But what happens when diplomacy fails?
WSJ, Aug 03, 2009

President Barack Obama has put some miles on Air Force One. He and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have made major foreign policy speeches. The national security team is in place. It’s time to make a preliminary judgment about Mr. Obama and the world. Just how different is this administration’s foreign policy from its predecessor? And will such departures where they exist make much difference?

Set aside the administration’s conceit of “smart power,” since only fools (read: Team Obama’s predecessors) would prefer stupid power. Continuity is the dominant note.

The Iraq drawdown moves more quickly and definitively than the Bush administration had desired, but it is not the repudiation the folks from desired. The Bush-appointed Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and his Bush-promoted generals have implemented a build-up in Afghanistan that began in the last years of the previous administration. Strikes within Pakistan from unmanned aerial vehicles continue, and the administration reassuringly laces its rhetoric about al Qaeda with words like “eliminate,” “destroy” and “kill.”

Relationships with Europe have warmed. But that defrosting also began in the last years of the Bush administration, as it secured an increase in French forces in Afghanistan while easing that country’s re-entry into NATO, and backed a European-led response to the Russian invasion of Georgia.

Middle East peace process? Sure. Special envoys instead of large peace conferences, but the idea is the same.

Multinational diplomacy? Continuity there too, judging by the stacks of ineffective U.N. resolutions on North Korea and Iran.

Increased emphasis on foreign aid? We will see if the Obama administration can top the large and effective AIDS relief effort in Africa launched by President George W. Bush.

The rhetoric about the core of American foreign policy also remains consistent. Consider Mrs. Clinton’s recent speech at the Council on Foreign Relations. “The question is not whether our nation can or should lead, but how it will lead in the 21st century.” Not much bashfulness about American pre-eminence there. “We will not hesitate to defend our friends, our interests, and above all, our people vigorously and when necessary with the world’s strongest military.” Suspiciously muscular. And what animates the whole? “Liberty, democracy, justice and opportunity underlie our priorities.” Hardly Metternichean realism at work.

As for modesty about what America can do, Mrs. Clinton said this: “More than 230 years ago, Thomas Paine said, ‘We have it within our power to start the world over again.’ Today, in a new and very different era, we are called upon to use that power.” Sentiments to make an unrepentant neoconservative blush.

A few differences, however, do stand out. Mr. Obama has pledged to close Gitmo, once he figures out what to do with the enemy combatants detained there. Whereas the Bush administration only grudgingly accepted the perils of climate change, preferring the invisible hand of high energy prices and entrepreneurial innovation to combat it, the Obama administration has embraced cap and trade, with windfalls to favored clients and hidden taxes galore. It remains to be seen how Team Obama will bring the burgeoning Indian and Chinese economies, with their vast production of carbon, into a system of controls.

The Obama administration has shunned a free trade agreement with a critical democratic ally, Colombia, out of deference to its union constituencies—even as it tries to mend fences with Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela. It decided to begin its Middle East peacemaking by picking a gratuitous fight with another close ally, Israel.

It has also committed itself to the fantastic notion of abolishing nuclear weapons. It took the first step along that path to nowhere by starting an arms control process with Russia, without any evidence that doing so would produce Russian cooperation on anything at all, although it would further degrade America’s nuclear arsenal.

Mostly, though, the underlying structure of the policy remains the same. Nor should this surprise us: The United States has interests dictated by its physical location, its economy, its alliances, and above all, its values. Naive realists, a large tribe, fail to understand that ideals will inevitably guide American foreign policy, even if they do not always determine it. Moreover, because the Obama foreign and defense policy senior team consists of centrist experts from the Democratic Party, it is unlikely to make radically different judgments about the world, and about American interests in it, than its predecessors.

Differences in the execution of policy, however, make all the difference. Take, for example, outreach to Iran.

The Bush administration mulled this, and even tried it, diplomats warily meeting Iranians in various venues. But when Mr. Obama said to the leaders of Iran and other despotisms, “We will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist” he did not expect to find the Supreme Leader’s paws sticky with the blood of freshly slaughtered protestors. Remarkably, rather than adjust the policy, the administration almost immediately released five Iranian “diplomats”—in truth, members of the Revolutionary Guard Corps—that we held in Iraq.

The Iranian policy shows a faith in diplomacy that might be understandable coming from process-obsessed diplomats who live for démarches, talking points, working groups, back channels, dialogues and summits.

But this policy will soon encounter the reality, a looming choice between war with Iran or acceptance of its status as a nuclear power. Is the administration prepared to act if diplomacy fails, as so often it does?

The confidence in diplomacy reflects a deeper theme here, namely, the repudiation of the Bush era. Even as stubborn facts cause the administration to claim many of the same executive privileges (e.g., a proper secrecy about some CIA activities) as its predecessor, and continue or expand the same policies, it suffers from its desire to be un-Bush.

Believing (incorrectly) that the Bush administration did not do diplomacy, it does so promiscuously, complete with such tomfoolery as a misspelled reset button given to the Russian foreign minister. Abhorring Bush’s freedom agenda, it will avoid anything of the kind until, of course, being Americans, the president, the vice president or the secretary of state blurt out their faith in universal ideals, and their indignation at the behavior of thugs, dictators and tyrants.

The biggest difference between the Obama and Bush administrations, though, is Messrs. Obama and Bush, or rather, their images at home and abroad. Mr. Obama is popular, and he dominates American foreign policy.

Brimming with confidence in his abilities and certain of the rightness of his views, he has undertaken a wildly ambitious agenda at home and abroad. He will bring peace between Arab and Israeli, wean Iran from its nuclear ambitions, restructure the international financial system, set us on the path to the abolition of nuclear weapons, reconcile Islam and Christendom, and end global warming, while introducing universal health care at home and bringing the country out of the deepest economic crisis since the Great Depression.

Lord Salisbury, British prime minister and foreign secretary in the last years of the 19th century, famously defined foreign policy as the art of drifting “lazily down a stream occasionally putting out a diplomatic boat-hook to avoid collisions.” This does not suit our times. But the patter of applause from a press whose sycophancy would embarrass a Renaissance court should not hide the dangers inherent in Mr. Obama’s style, which is characterized by an easy assumption of foreign policy omniscience and omnicompetence.

Some of his ambitions will come crashing into ruin, and surely ghastly surprises lie athwart our path. The Bush administration, many of its critics said, fell victim to hubris, the fatal arrogance punished, according to the ancients, by the goddess Nemesis. The Greeks would understand the irony if we discovered that cold-eyed lady, always hovering closer than politicians realize, turning an increasingly disapproving gaze on today’s White House.

Mr. Cohen teaches at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies. He served as counselor of the State Department during the last two years of the George W. Bush administration.