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The tragedy of American arrogance - The Free Press Journal

M.V. Kamath ()
June 11, 1998

Title: The tragedy of American arrogance
Author: M.V. Kamath
Publication: The Free Press Journal
Date: June 11, 1998

There are two things about Indo-American relations down the years
that are most notable: the United States is ignorant about India
but believes it is not and proceeds on that basis to formulate
policies that turn out to be disastrous to all concerned.
American ignorance is compounded with arrogance and this has been
the case right down from the time of Dean Acheson to the present
Secretary of State Mrs. Madeline Albright.

No Secretary of State - with perhaps the questionable exception
of Henry Kissinger - has understood Indian sentiment or pride,
and the tendency has been to treat India as a nation of no
particular consequence to be - as a former editor of the New York
Times put it correctly - patted on the head once in a while and
treated with studied condescension. This has created needless
tension. Time and again the United States has behaved so
abominably that one suspects it of racism, pure and simple.
Washington just does not understand how it riles India and
compels it to take harsh and uncompromising stands as when Nehru
did in championing non-alignment and Vajpayee has done in
ordering nuclear tests to be done. Will American never learn to
respect India?

Such is American ignorance that a former U.S. Defence Secretary -
the man responsible for the needless killing of thousands of
Vietnamese for no other reason that they were Communists - was
recently forced to say on a BBC interview that the first thing
the U.S. must learn is to understand it is antagonist. Robert
McNamara learnt too late how sinful the United States has been in
its approach to Vietnam and has some useful things to say in this
regard in his valuable memoirs entitled 'In Retrospect: The
Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam'. McNamara said that there were
several major causes for America's disaster in Vietnam and. he
listed them thus: To quote his own words:

1. We misjudged then - as we have since - the geopolitical
intentions of our adversaries (North Vietnam and the Vietcong,
supported by China and the Soviet, Union) and we exaggerated the
dangers to the United States of their actions.

2. We viewed the people and leaders of South Vietnam in terms of
our own experience. We totally misjudged the political forces
within the country.

3. We underestimated the power of nationalism to motivate the
people to fight and die for their beliefs and values - and we
continue to do so today in many parts of the world.

4. Our misjudgements of friend and foe alike reflected our
profound ignorance of the history, culture and politics of the
people in the area...

5. We failed then - as we have since - to recognise the
limitations of modern, high-technology military equipment, forces
and doctrine in confronting unconventional, highly motivated
peoples' movements. We failed as well to adapt our military
tactics to the task of winning the hearts and minds of people
>from a totally different culture.

6. We failed to retain popular support in part because we did not
explain fully what was happening and why we were doing what we

7. We did not recognise that neither our people nor our leaders
are omniscient. Where our own security is not directly at stake,
our judgement of what is in another' people's or country's best
interest should be put to the test of open discussion in
international forums. We do not have the God-given right to
shape every nation in our own image or as we choose.

8. We did not hold to the principle that U.S. military action -
other than in response to direct threats to our own security
should be carried out only in conjunction with multinational
forces supported fully (and not merely cosmetically) by the
international community.

9. We failed to recognise that in international affairs, as in
other aspects of life, there may be problems for which there are
no immediate solutions. For one whose life has been dedicated to
the belief and practice of problem-solving, this is particularly
hard to admit.

10. Underlying many of these errors lay our failure to organise
the top echelons of the executive branch to deal effectively with
the extraordinarily complex range of political and military

What McNamara has said about Vietnam holds true about the United
States' relations with India, and it is painful. On the issue of
conducting nuclear tests, Washington just does not understand
India's compulsions and has been behaving like a bully. As
McNamara said about US approach to Vietnam, it is "misjudging"
India. It is misjudging the political forces in operation in the
Indian sub-continent. It is underestimating "the power of
nationalism to motivate people". The U.S. does not seem to have
taken note of the fact that in a poll conducted, 91 per cent of
the people were in favour of the tests having been conducted.

The U.S. suffers from "a profound ignorance of the history,
culture and politics" of the Indian people, their deep few of-
invasion from outside, their profound abhorrence of violence and
their firm determination that never again in the future will they
ever be subjugated and their fierce will to oppose any attempt by
any nation to impose its will on them.

In the case of Vietnam the United States thought that force of
arms could bring the Vietnamese to their knees. In the case of
India, the United States apparently hopes that economic sanctions
will bring India to beg for mercy. At this moment the application
of sanctions has yet to start. What shape it will ultimately take
and what hurt it will do to India as the weeks and months pass
remains to be seen. But at some point in time, there will be the
Day of Reckoning. And that is going to be a painful affair. The
Clinton Administration has yet to learn that it does not have
"the God-given right to shape every nation" in its own image or
as it chooses.

In the matter of economic sanctions, the European Union has
plainly told president Clinton that it does not share his views.
The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) has also made it clear that it
supports India. These are warnings that the United States will do
well to heed. India has no animus against the U.S. The nuclear
tests were by no means aimed at the United States. For that
matter India would be the last to use nuclear weapons, except in
self-defence. India is not a 'rogue' nation. If the truth must be
told, that appellation fits the United States very well.

Of all the countries in the world, only the United States has
been guilty of dropping nuclear bombs over non-combatants in
Japan, destroying, in the process, two entire cities, Hiroshima
and Nagasaki. And, as McNamara revealed in his BBC interview, on
October 27, 1962, the United States was a hairsbreadth away from
using nuclear weapons during the infamous Cuban Crisis. And why?
Because of threat perceptions. The United States saw a threat to
its security because of Soviet missiles stationed in Cuba.

Cuba, admittedly, is not far away from the United States but an
ocean still separated the two. It is not that the Soviet Union
stationed nuclear missiles on the Mexican-American or Canadian-
American border. What the United States would have done if such a
thing had happened is only in the realm of fancy. But consider
this: China has kept nuclear missiles in Tibet facing India. And
China (or North Korea, or someone else) has enabled Pakistan to
test-fire the Ghauri missile capable of reaching most Indian
cities. And a megalomaniac like Gohar Ayub Khan is threatening to
use it in such a manner as to make India remember it "for
centuries". What does the United States expect India to do in the
circumstances? Fall at Gohar Ayub Khan's feet?

Pakistan is India's irreconcilable enemy. It will not desist from
hurting India if and when it can. It is the blood of Ghazni and
Ghori that still runs in many Pakistani veins that seeks revenge.
Pakistan does not want peace. It wants war. And in such a
situation, India has no alternative but to be prepared. India has
by now learnt what it is to remain unprepared. It remembers the
humiliation of the defeat at the hands of China way beck in 1962.
And it wants to have no repetition of such a scene. It is as
simple as that.

Does India have any latent desire to be a world power? It has and
it hasn't. The fact is that India was once a great power long
before the British - or any European people - became one and long
before even the birth of the United States. India has not
forgotten that. In another twenty-five to fifty years and the y
are nothing compared to India's history of over 5,000 years -
India will beat all European powers and nothing can stop it. For
any nation - or group of nations - to think India can be held
down for ever is to indulge in self-delusion. The member nations
of the European Nation hopefully understands that. If they don't
- or won't - it is their funeral, not India's. In the
circumstances the United States is doing India no favour by a
visit of its President to Delhi. We don't need presidential
visits to boost our egos.

This is not a show of arrogance. India knows its place under the
sun. No country in the world has undergone more vicissitudes than
India has and it is mature enough to understand both its duties
and responsibilities. Clinton should read McNamara's confessions
where he has said, "no one should believe that, had American
troops been at tacked with nuclear weapons (during the Cuban
crisis) the United States would have refrained from a nuclear
response". That is making an honest admission. Does the Clinton
Administration think that India would wish to remain quiet in the
event of a nuclear attack from either China or its lick-spittle.

America's curbs or sanctions should be against China and
Pakistan, not India. And if the United States insists on
insulting India and assaulting its self-respect, let it remember
Vietnam. Vietnam could take a beating. So can India. Clinton
needs to do some introspection. He could also profit by some
advice from McNamara. He has seen it all.

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