Last night I tallied up the number of times various countries were mentioned in Monday's foreign-policy debate. And today, not surprisingly, many of the most-mentioned countries are adding their two cents to the discussion. In China, the Global Times notes that President Barack Obama "surprised China and his own people by labeling China an 'adversary" while Xinhua cautiously observes that the candidates offered a "speck of belated comfort" by also referring to Beijing as a partner. Israeli columnists are discussing Obama's anecdote about visiting Yad Vashem and Sderot as Pakistani news outlets highlight Romney's pledge to continue drone strikes and attach conditions to Pakistani aid.
But it's the countries that didn't get mentioned last night that are issuing some of the most interesting commentary today. Blogging for the French newspaper Liberation, for example, Lorraine Millot notes that Europe was in the running with Australia for the most forgotten continent last night but adds that the silence may not be so bad, since Europe is a perennial scapegoat on the campaign trail. Palestinian political leader Hanan Ashrawi has called the lack of discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian peace process a "sin of omission" and "clearly the elephant in the room."
Indian news outlets in particular have been wrestling with the meaning of their country's absence from the debate.
The Times of India, for its part, isn't surprised. "As expected, India did not come up even once during the 90-minute debate, not even obliquely or tangentially ... or in reference to China or Pakistan," the paper observes. But other outlets appear to be more taken aback. In an article for The Hindu entitled "Obama scores, but did the world lose?" Narayan Lakshman laments the narrow worldview that the candidates articulated on Monday night:
[B]oth men appeared keen to limit the debate to their respective talking points, which not only resulted in the debate often being pulled back into arguments over domestic issues such as the economy, it also led to a vast swathe of nations, allies and foes of U.S. alike, being entirely ignored. India and sub-Saharan Africa, for example, did not feature in the debate at all, and the European Union and Latin America were only given passing mentions.
In a far more pessimistic take at Business Line, J. Srinivasan accuses India's leaders of inviting the slight by scuttling the country's relationship with the United States and global ambitions:
Some years back, with 9 per cent-plus growth, India was the toast of the world, and the US. Obama had called India the ‘risen nation'. Washington and New Delhi finally seemed getting closer, overcoming the peculiar legacy of an uneasy relationship between the two largest democracies. Suddenly, all that bonhomie seems over.
Principally, the blame may lie with India. The US has been backing India in its anti-terror efforts at all fora. But the quid pro quo has not come. Washington must be most disappointed with New Delhi's waffling on serious foreign investments. Actually, the loser is India as it now gets only some portfolio investment that is notoriously fickle to boot. And, when the government has made some glacial moves, they have been politically stymied. India is still to open its banking and insurance sectors. Then, the off-putting corruption revelations.
Really, can the US, or any other country, be blamed for ignoring India? For all the big talk of our political class, the sad truth is forget a chair, we don't get a stool at the world high table. We, the aam aadmi [common man], must also wake up to the reality that if our political class continues in its ways, we cannot catch up with China warts and all.
At First Post, Venky Vembu has a little more fun with the omission:
What's the point of our "stealing" so many middle-class American jobs through the outsourcing route if we can't even find one measly mention in the US presidential debate? What price our status as a "risen power" (to quote Obama, during his visit to India in November 2010) if we cannot colonise the mindspace of even one of the two men who are vying to be the next president of the US?
Even lowly Pakistan came in for mention, uncharitable though it was....
But while Vembu, like J. Srinivasan, argues that India's political, economic, and diplomatic problems may contribute to the country's irrelevance in the current U.S. foreign-policy debate, he adds that America's increasing isolationism is also to blame:
[America's] foreign policy horizons are shrinking, as an economically enfeebled America increasingly focuses inwards.
India and the US, it has been famously said, are "estranged democracies" that ought to have gotten along a lot better than the vicissitudes of geopolitics have allowed. History, of course, comes with its own baggage, but today, as both India and the US retreat into the recesses of their minds, the capacity for India to inject itself into American foreign polity thinking stands vastly diminished.
If it's any consolation, Obama did mention India once in the second debate. The context? Condemning Romney for supporting tax breaks that would create jobs in countries like India.
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