President Obama strengthened U.S. ties to India, Indonesia, and South Korea this week on a trip designed to open new doors for the U.S. economy and send a signal to emerging regional superpower China. In Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, Obama won the crowd by invoking memories of the four years he’d lived there as a child. “Indonesia is a part of me,” he said in Indonesian. He praised Indonesia, which is known for its moderate strain of Islam, for religious tolerance. Touring the country’s largest mosque, Obama said the fact that it was designed by a Christian architect underscored the peaceful coexistence of religions there.
On a three-day stop in India, Obama highlighted the U.S.’s “strategic partnership” with the world’s most populous democracy. He delighted his hosts by endorsing India’s quest for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council. “The United States not only welcomes India as a rising global power,” he said to a rapturous Parliament, “we fervently support it.” Obama announced trade agreements that he said would bring U.S. firms more than $10 billion in Indian business, and said globalization was good for both nations. “For America,” Obama said, “this is a jobs strategy.”
What the editorials said
Turnabout is fair play, said the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Americans are accustomed to thinking of India as “the place where some of their jobs are outsourced.” It’s refreshing to see that India can also be a vast market for U.S. goods and services. Americans will support Obama’s outreach to India as long as it “pays off in the form of healthy economic developments at home.”
We hardly recognize the Obama who spoke in India, said Investor’s Business Daily. The president who has “done so much to make globalization a dirty word in America” was instead singing the praises of free trade and explaining how it creates jobs back home. Yet even as he embraced India, Obama was appallingly negative about America, said The Washington Times. He said that while the American economy used to be dominant, our fortunes have declined, leaving us to face stiff competition from India, China, Brazil, and others. “Instead of patriotism and pride, he promotes internationalism and guilt.”
What the columnists said
I thought his India speech was “terrific,’’ possibly “the best one of his presidency,” said Bret Stephens in The Wall Street Journal. Not only did the president stand up “for free trade, free markets, and free societies,” he also pledged his strongest commitment yet to fighting terrorism. Obama said India had been victimized by terrorism because of its democracy, a signal that he now recognizes that “terrorists can never be mollified by political concessions, and that democracies live under a common threat.”
It’s about time Obama embraced India, said Rich Lowry in National Review Online. President George W. Bush reversed decades of Cold War–era tension with India by forging a civilian nuclear accord, yet Obama failed to build on that breakthrough in his first two years, choosing instead to court China with speeches and actions that “belittled the Indians without easing Chinese belligerence.” This week’s love song to India marks Obama’s realization that the world’s two largest democracies are natural partners, and that the opening of the Indian economy is “a global success story” for both capitalism and democracy.
Too bad he “conspicuously” left China off his itinerary, said Yasheng Huang in ForeignPolicy.com. Obama had a chance to communicate his nation’s “intentions and its actions to the broader Chinese public,” which is generally suspicious of American power. He shouldn’t have passed up the opportunity. This trip was all about China nonetheless, said Thomas L. Friedman in The New York Times. Over the past year, China has sent warships into parts of the South China Sea claimed by other countries—including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam—and deployed its monopoly on rare earths used in tech industries to pressure Japan. It was China’s bullying that “prompted its neighbors to roll out the red carpets for Uncle Sam.” China remains India’s largest trading partner, so India won’t soon “jump into America’s arms.” But closer ties between the U.S. and India are “a good thing for both.”