The Obama administration may lack a clear Pakistan policy, but at least it isn't wrecking relations with India as a result. Just a short while ago, Obama had appeared so intent on winning Pakistani support for the war in Afghanistan that he was prepared to jeopardize the gains in U.S.-Indian relations made under the previous administration. But in her recent trip to the subcontinent, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shored up America's relationship with New Delhi, securing important commitments on nuclear and military cooperation that had seemed unlikely just six months ago. Clinton made clear that relations with India won't be dictated by "Af-Pak" concerns. Instead of packaging the region's diverse problems into a muddled pursuit of grand bargains, the administration seems content to address South Asian issues discretely, and on their own merits.
The shift is promising. Where it once seemed that nuclear technology exchange with India might be held hostage—not only to Pakistani objections but to homegrown opposition to all forms of nuclear proliferation—Washington is now working to implement the civil nuclear deal that the Bush administration negotiated with the Singh government. Rather than intervening in the Kashmir dispute between India and Pakistan, as some of Obama's earlier comments had suggested he might, the administration has endorsed India's view that it's a matter for the two belligerents to address. Obama has effectively rejected Pakistan's argument that resolving Kashmir to its east will enable Pakistan to take decisive action against the Taliban in the west. He seems disinclined to sabotage future relations with India, a major ally, in order to achieve short-term gains in Afghanistan. Likewise, the U.S.'s likely sale of advanced weapons to India is evidence of a mature policy, one that recognizes the value of a strategic partnership with one of the rising powers of Asia.
The one point of enduring tension with India is disagreement over the response to climate change. In the U.S., one of the objections to the Kyoto Treaty is its exemption of newly industrialized nations such as India and China from its requirements. Yet any effort to include these emerging markets in the accord is a political non-starter in both countries. Whether or not new controls on greenhouse gas emissions would actually require India and China to forfeit significant economic growth, neither New Delhi nor Beijing seems willing to take the risk. Their opposition is hardly surprising given that politicians in both nations have obtained power with promises of aggressive economic expansion.
Indeed, as a multiparty democracy, India may be even less likely than China to accept emissions reductions. Any New Delhi government that agreed to such cuts would surely face an electoral backlash. That's why India regards proposals for binding reductions in emissions as no more tolerable than foreign interference in Kashmir. For now, at least, pressuring India to accept a climate change agreement simply will not work.
Given the myriad failures of the past, it must have been tempting for President Obama to adopt an "Anything but Bush" response to every international issue. That, after all, is what the Bush administration did in following its own reflexive disdain for All Things Clinton. But Obama's handling of South Asia—especially India—confirms that his foreign policy so far has been guided by attention to American and allied interests rather than by an obsession with repudiating his predecessor's legacy. The president may not be willing to admit it, but the Obama policy in India looks an awful lot like George W. Bush's. For once, that's not a bad thing.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Syrian women know how to defeat ISIS
- The U.S. Marines are developing laser weapons. Here's why.
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- The one thing the New Atheists get right about religion
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- Will Kobani be ISIS's Waterloo?
- 6 things the happiest families all have in common
- 5 baffling foreign-language versions of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song
- 3 horrific inaccuracies in Homeland's depiction of Islamabad
- How to make corn dogs
Subscribe to the Week