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White House Raises White Flag On Taxes…

It took a little over a month…but there are now tangible results from the midterm elections.

In a remarkable turn of events, President Obama yesterday came to a compromise with Congressional Republicans on the Bush tax cuts, unemployment benefits, as well as a new tax cut temporarily reducing the payroll tax.  Bush tax cuts would be extended until 2012 for all Americans.  The deal also includes a payroll tax cut for workers in 2011 — trimming the Social Security tax rate by 2 percentage points and saving $1,400 for a family earning $70,000. Republicans agreed to renew jobless benefits for an additional 13 months without paying for them, a policy Republicans were weakly fighting.

All in all, this is a broad based capitulation by Mr. Obama.  The victories?

1.  The Republicans campaigned on extending the Bush tax cuts for all Americans, and did all that.  There one compromise was that for the top earners, this is only a temporary cut.  But the bonus?  It expires in 2012…right after the next elections.  I can see the political ads already.

2.  The payroll tax cut is a bonus.  Many Republicans have asked for this for a long time, including John McCain who campaigned on this exact policy in 2008.   Obama argued that this was a hard fought victory over Republican opposition.  It was nothing of the sort.  Republicans happily capitulated on this.  If Republican equivalent of compromise is to agree to more taxes with this President, it is going to be a very good 2 years for Republicans in Congress.

3.  Republicans never wanted to really fight on unemployment benefit extentions.  Even hard core conservatives who don’t want this added to the deficit admit that there is an economic benefit to unemployment benefits.  Additionally, the political damage to making this a fight between tax cuts for millionaires versus no benefits for the unemployed should have been a losing proposition.  The only problem is, this president is not astute enough to take advantage of it.

4.  The estate tax only goes up to 35% after the first $5 million, rather than 55% after the first $3.5 million, as would have happened without any intervention.

You know it is bad for the President when the only praise he is getting…is from Republicans.  From the Politico:

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, a central figure in the talks, was positively effusive. “I appreciate the determined efforts of the president and vice president in working with Republicans on a bipartisan plan to prevent a tax hike on any American and in creating incentives for economic growth,” McConnell said in a statement. “I am optimistic that Democrats in Congress will show the same openness to preventing tax hikes the administration has already shown.”

“This is the president’s Gettysburg,” Rep. Jim McDermott, a leading progressive and a subcommittee chairman on the tax-writing Ways and Means Committee, told POLITICO Monday. Referring to Obama’s choice about whether to compromise or stand firm against Republicans on the question of higher taxes for the wealthy, the Washington Democrat said: “He’s going to have to decide whether he’s going to withstand Pickett’s Charge … I worry.”

Outspoken Democrat Anthony Weiner of New York compared it to “punting on 3rd down — it seems the president is not seeing the value of being on [the] offense.”

“You can’t let Republicans win on this. There’s no more central campaign promise made by President Obama than to repeal the Bush tax cuts for the wealthy, and he needs to be willing to fight on this,” said Adam Green, co-founder of the Progressive Change Campaign Committee, which on Monday circulated quotations from some of Obama’s 2008 campaign organizers who are threatening to pull their support in 2012 over the tax cut.

Actually, the Democrat opposition is right, in a way.  Other than the Iraq War, there was no policy that Obama was more adamant was wrong for America than the Bush tax cuts.  He stated that is was not only bad policy, but actually destructive to the American economy.  And he is now willing to sign that same policy into law.

Is this a political victory for Republicans?  Absolutely.  They basically got everything they wanted, and had to give up the unemployment benefit extention.  That is not the best conservative policy in the world, but politically it less damaging to allow for it than to fight it tooth and nail.

Additionally, this puts both the President and Congressional Democrats in quite a quandary.  Obama agreed to this for his own self interest.  Congressional Democrats, who have already taken a hit for Obama’s policies, see no reason to capitulate on this as well.  And remember:  those Democrats who remain in Congress are even more liberal than the group that existed before.

If Congressional Democrats don’t approve this, then they will further weaken Obama’s already precarious position. They also discredit themselves:  for two years, they have argued that Republicans have been the obstructionists and refused to work with Obama.  Now the positions are exactly reversed.

Every one of the Democrats catch phrases that won them election in 2006 and 2008 is slowly falling apart.  If you can’t claim that is a Republican victory, what is?


Wikileaks: Making The World A Less Safe Place…

There are now thousands upon thousands of pages open to the public eye, showing the intricacies of America’s foreign relations with virtually every major world power.  The details are engrossing, down to what people had for dinner to major initiatives.

There are numerous sources to obtain the essential material leaked, primarily from the New York Times and the Guardian.  And I will leave the particulars to them, the experts.

But the repercussions of these leaks are widespread, and may not end for months, if not years.  And mostly, it damages the security of not just the United States, but world peace in many regions around the world.

Just a few examples:

1.  Leaks showing the Sunni regimes around the Middle East fear the Iranian military threat much more than Israel.  It significantly increases the likelihood of Iran considering attacking its Arab neighbors long before threatening Israel, which further destabilizes the region.  The irony of these leaks, however, is that Israel has largely been proven to be correct in their assessment of the situation, while the Obama Administration appears to be once again one step behind.

2. Apparently the Chinese are starting to realize the growing threat of North Korea to their own best interests.  In that vein, senior Chinese officials have stated that they would prefer a unified Korea under the control of Seoul.  This likely diminishes the leverage China has with the already insane North Korean leadership, and likely just increases that states already extreme paranoia.

3.  Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (and predecessor Condoleeza Rice before her) actively tried to obtain intelligence material at the United Nations.  No surprise, but doesn’t really increase our standing in that world body.

4.  Iran is actively obtaining missile technology from North Korea that can easily threaten the entire continent of Europe.

5.  In the never ending quest to close Guantanamo, American diplomats waved large carrots in front of foreign nations to take the multitude of dangerous suspects remaining in the Cuban base.

6.  Numerous stories about Turkey, an American ally, have brought about a possible leadership battle.  Turkey was accused of possibly supporting Al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI ), and several top ministers were accused of islamist tendencies, making Turkey a questionable ally at best.

7.  Supposed American ally Pakistan would not allow the United States to secure highly enriched nuclear fuel from a Pakistani nuclear research facility, largely because of local political considerations.

This lists go on and on.

This is less a political scandal than a diplomatic nightmare.  Diplomacy can not occur without secret negotiations.  The needs and wants of countries, aired in the open, can only lead to disaster.

Wikileaks argues that they are performing a humanitarian duty.  Nonsense.  This is one of two things.  It could be that these fools have such a belief of self importance that they don’t realize the damage they are doing, that simply that the concept of open information is a goal unto itself.

The second possibility is that these idiots are purposefully trying to damage the United States and its relative hegemony as the world’s only superpower.

I think the latter is more likely.  These are people who hated George W. Bush with a passion, but generally hate America’s standing in the world.  They understand that we deal with a lot of gruesome world figures, and the clean cloth civilization we live in often cannot accept that dichotomy.  And so, the release of this information, without any forethought on consequences, damages us all.

Some liberals, such as Peter Beinart, are trying to minimize the significance of this document dump.  Maybe it is being overplayed, but the damage, whatever and however severe it may be, may last for a very long time.  This does real damage to American diplomacy, and in turn, to President Barack Obama’s standing in the world.  And since one of his primary goals was to elevate American prestige, this does damage to his administration as well.  Liberals can spin that any way they would like…but that is the reality.  If you were a foreign country, trying to keep something secret…would you share information to this State Department?  I doubt it.   That loss of faith in our foreign diplomats makes every diplomatic mission around the world more difficult, and less likely to achieve its goals.

Ultimately, there is little America or its allies can do about Wikileaks.  In an era of free press and internet access, Wikileaks is a demon we must live with.  But the investigations of how such sensitive information could land in the hands of a low Private First Class member of the military, Bradley Manning, will have to be investigated.  Clearly, access to information is essential to those that need it…but allowing to fall into anyone’s hands who at a whim can release that information is unacceptable.

But one thing is sure.  In this dangerous world, release of this information, largely documenting the work that honest people trying to keep world peace and save lives, does exactly the opposite.  Lives will be lost because of this leak…it is just a question of where, when, and how many.


Tangled: Movie Review

Tangled, Disney’s take on the folk tale classic Rapunzel, hearkens back to the hayday of Disney pictures.  A princess, in dire straights.  A handsome lead.  And an evil witch/stepmother/etc.

There is nothing new here.  This movie could have been written 50 years ago by Walt Disney himself.

But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t do a fantastic job at what it is trying to do.  This is the classic Disney fare for the young princesses in your family.  It has been a long time since Disney has had a successful movie geared specifically for girls (Up, Toy Story series, and Wall-E are fantastic movies, but not exactly the stories little girls dream about).  And the singing, dancing, and love story are enough that every little girl will want to be Rapunzel for Christmas.

There is certainly enough comedy and story to keep adults entertained as well.  Honestly, some of the comedic scenes had me laughing quite heartily.  And although the story is utterly predictable, this is a good showing for Disney.  Maybe not at the level of Toy Story 3, but certainly as good as other animated movies this year, including How to Train Your Dragon.  Compared to older movies, this movie is not up to the level of the zenith of Disney storytelling, Beauty and the Beast, but is certainly as good as many other of the hit movies of Disney past.

This movie is certainly recommended, but if you have a little girl in your house…I think you will do yourself a disservice not going and seeing this movie.  There are a few dark scenes that my 5 year old son certainly was frightened of, so this may be too dark for really young children.  But for most little girls, this may be the best Disney movie in decades.


Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part I: Movie Review

I am a Potterhead, or Pottermaniac, or whatever you want to call the illogical devotees to J.K. Rowling’s books on the magical world of Harry Potter.  And as such, we crazies have been devoted to the movies from the beginning.

But no movie in the series has been looked forward to like these last two, that will bring the Harry Potter saga to a close.

Deathly Hallows is a clear divergence from the rest of the series.  Although each iteration of the Potter storyline gets darker and darker, Deathly Hallows magnifies that darkness geometrically.  All the other movies, including the ever dark Order of the Phoenix and The Half-Blood Prince still took place at Hogwarts, with school surroundings that made the entire storyline just a little less deep.  You still had the school age crushes, teenage angst, and of course, schoolwork to worry about.

No more.  As the above poster shows…this is war.  This is pure and unadulterated war, in all of its destructive elements.

The bulk of the movie (without giving away any of the true storyline; don’t worry, NO SPOILERS!!!) is largely with our three heroes surviving on their own.  There are no parents, no schoolteachers, no Dumbledore (literally) to look after them.  They have, for all practical purposes, entered the reality of adulthood…with all of its drawbacks.

As has been the case for several volumes of the movie, the three continue their goal of finding a way to destroy the evil Voldemort, while at the same time being the primary target of the forces of darkness.  As Voldemort’s power increases, the security that Harry had enjoyed through out his childhood continues to wane, to the point of nonexistence.

But the movie is remarkable in its ability to really delve deep into the thoughts and fears of the characters.  Director David Yates, with the freedom of splitting the last volume of Rowling’s saga into two movies, spends more time in the relationship between Ron, Hermione, and Harry…a friendship based on trials, survivals and blood.

Ultimately, it is the unknown future that Harry Potter faces.  And although he has his friends at his side, more or less, the weight of the world is on Harry’s shoulders.  That is what drives the movie.  He knows, ultimately, that the fate of the world lies in his less-than-qualified shoulders.  But, even knowing his fallibility, Potter shows strength, tenderness, and resolve that we look from the great leaders.  And that, ultimately, is what drives the three heroes to their goal.

Yates has woven a beautiful film, dramatically different than the other iterations of the Potter saga.  This movie is very dark…so dark, in fact, that I wonder at what age I would feel comfortable showing this to my children.  As I said at the start…this is about the harsh realities of good and evil, of adulthood, and of war.  Yes, it is still a Harry Potter story, but in its darkest realm.  And Yates does a magnificent job of blending cinematographic artistry with the elements of emotion essential to the story.  The three main actors, additionally, show that they too have grown up, and are now able to place the weight into their roles necessary to carry out the story.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 1 in many ways is not the most enjoyable of the Potter series, because of the death and destruction and hopelessness of our heroes cause.  But it might well be the best movie of the series so far.  Watch this movie, and try not to be excited for Part 2, arriving next summer.   I dare you.


Obama As Hindu God Lord Shiva?

This is Newsweek cover for this up coming week.  It is a play on the Hindu God Shiva…

The irony, first of all, is that Shiva is the Hindu God that is responsible for destroying the world, as part of the triumvirate of Hindu deities.

Look, I am not offended, being a Hindu myself…and most Hindus are too laid back to care.  But if this was, say, Muhammed, could you imagine the uproar?  It seems those religions that don’t violently react to such caricatures have their deities easily misused.


Obama’s Terror Trial Policy? DOA.

Does it get any worse than this?

From the New York Times:

The first former Guantánamo detainee to be tried in a civilian court was acquitted on Wednesday of all but one of more than 280 charges of conspiracy and murder in the 1998 terrorist bombings of the United States Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

The case has been seen as a test of President Obama’s goal of trying detainees in federal court whenever feasible, and the result may again fuel debate over whether civilian courts are appropriate for trying terrorists.

This is a failure of epic proportions .  Obama rode into office two years ago, promising immediate closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention facility by moving the terrorists to a facility within the United States, and then trying them under federal statutes.  2 years later, Gitmo remains not only open, but under no threat of closing any time during the Obama First term.

And this was Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder’s easy case. There are loads of evidence to show that the defendant, Ahmed Khalfan Ghailani, was guilty.  Although he was convicted of one count of conspiracy to destroy government buildings and property, that was actually the weakest charge. He was acquitted of six counts of conspiracy, including conspiring to kill Americans and use weapons of mass destruction.  That included the 280 charges of murder for the innocent civilians he killed with the bombs in Africa.

This terrorist was known to have bought the truck that was used to bomb the embassy in Tanzania.  They had a witness (who was, notably, not allowed to testify) that claimed he sold the explosives to Ghailani.  He also purchased gas tanks that were placed inside the truck to intensify the blast, the evidence showed. He stored an explosive detonator in an armoire he used, and his cellphone became the “operational phone” for the plotters in the weeks leading up to the attacks, prosecutors said.  Not to mention this man was a close confidant (self admitted) to most of the major Al Qaeda figures of the time.

And the Department of Justice could only convict him on the most menial of felony charges.

This is the final nail in the coffin to Obama’s terror trial policy.  Ghailani should have been a prosecutor’s dream.  If they failed to convict him, how do you convict Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, whose crimes are largely proven not with testimony but with less tangible evidence?  Or, if we were to capture Osama Bin Laden, do you really think we could get anyone to testify against him?

Civilian trials of OBL and KSM are now only a liberal dream.  Now, we will see if Holder and Obama have the courage to admit they were wrong (fat chance…), or more likely, simply won’t prosecute the Al Qaeda suspects at all…which may be the best case scenario after this massive bungled effort.


KSM To Be Held Indefinitely…Without Trial

One of the now commonplace information dumps last Friday evening from the White House was quite informative of how failed the Obama policy has become on Gitmo detainees.  From the Washington Post:

The administration has concluded that it cannot put Mohammed on trial in federal court because of the opposition of lawmakers in Congress and in New York. There is also little internal support for resurrecting a military prosecution at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The latter option would alienate liberal supporters.

The administration asserts that it can hold Mohammed and other al-Qaeda operatives under the laws of war, a principle that has been upheld by the courts when Guantanamo Bay detainees have challenged their detention.

Liberals will try to place the blame for this failure on Republicans and the administration of George W. Bush.  That is a blatant falsehood.  Under the 2006 agreement with Congress, KSM and others should have been tried under military tribunals by this time.  These tribunals have been declared constitutional, and thus, could have easily gone forward.  But the political realities for Obama are obvious:  his political left wing would be in an uproar if he went back on his word on this issue.

Liberals, furthermore, will try to blame the harsh interrogations on KSM and others for the inability to prosecute them in normal federal courts…another blatant lie.  The reason for them not moving forward on federal prosecution is not because of any legal issue.  In fact, they are ready to move forward today.  It is wholly a political matter.  Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have failed to convince New Yorkers of the rationale to go forward with trials just block from the World Trade Center site.  This week alone, two lead Democrats, Governor-elect Andrew Cuomo and Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York reiterated their opposition to trials being held in New York City.  And the administration knows that sites in Virginia and Pennsylvania, the other targets on 9/11, would be no more accepting of these trials.

So it comes down to a purely political calculation:  Liberals don’t want military commissions, although they are legal; and New York Democrats don’t want a trial on their soil.

So instead of putting KSM and others on trial, finding them guilty in the eyes of our justice system, and moving forward, we hold them longer and longer, simply because Barack Obama doesn’t have the political and personal will to stand up and say he was wrong.

Maybe the most damning is this statement:

And the fact that the administration has not tried to do that has created a situation where not only have we never actually put many of these folks on trial, but we have destroyed our credibility when it comes to rule of law all around the world, and given a huge boost to terrorist recruitment in countries that say, “Look, this is how the United States treats Muslims.

That is from the mouth of…then Senator Barack Obama, during the Presidential campaign of 2008.

So Obama has not only failed to put these terrorists on trial, he has also broken his pledge to close Gitmo…by December of 2009. And that does not appear to be in the foreseeable future either.  Obama is finding out that it is very easy to criticize difficult decisions when it comes to the war on terror…but a wholly different matter when you are in charge.  George W. Bush’s decisions look better and better, day by day, don’t they?


Obama Waves White Flag On Bush Tax Cuts…

It took only a week for Obama to raise the white flag on the Bush tax cuts.

The White House, and Obama himself, have been signalling acceptance of a broad-based extension of the 2003 Bush tax cut levels that have been at the heart of much of the acrimony in Congress for the past few months.

Of course, the White House has tried to spin it in the best possible light.

“The president has been clear that extending tax cuts for middle-class families is his top priority, and he is open to compromise to get that done,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in an e-mail. “He has also expressed concern about the cost of making the highest income tax cuts permanent and is looking forward to discussing this and other issues with bipartisan congressional leaders next week.”

Well, yeah.  That was the same debate as 6 months ago.  What is different is that now, the Democrats (led by Obama) are so willing to accept extention of the tax rates for the rich, that it is almost a fait accompli.

That has progressives in an uproar.  From the Politico:

To progressives, and even some moderate Democrats in Congress, a temporary extension across-the-board would be a defeat. Renewing all of the tax cuts in tandem – without trying to separate the middle-class breaks – means that Congress would debate the issue again, likely in 2012, thrusting it into the presidential race when the stakes are higher.

“That would represent a complete cave,” said a senior Senate Democratic aide, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak candidly about party strategy. “It has been a cardinal truism among Democrats for 10 years that this policy was folly. That is a narrative we told for years and all of sudden we’re going to go back on that and punt on this? That would be dispiriting.”

“Obama caving on the high income tax-cut issue guarantees that he will attract an intra-party opponent from the progressive wing of the Democratic Party,” Boston University law professor Cornelius Hurley wrote on POLITICO’s Arena. “The White House misreads the mood of the country. Tea partiers do not reflect that mood. Independents and Democrats disenchanted with Obama’s lack of conviction do.”

Jane Hamsher, a frequent White House critic, posted reaction last night to Axelrod’s comments under the headline, “Obama Twists Own Arm, Says ‘Uncle’ to Extending Bush Tax Cuts.”  [Hamsher went further on  her blog]:  “If he’s the ‘political genius’ guiding the Democrats these days, they should consider themselves lucky it wasn’t 100 seats” that they lost in the House.

Progressives on the left wing of the Democrat Party clearly didn’t get any type of message from the election.  In exit polls, 2/3 of Americans wanted to maintain current tax rates, even for the rich.  Obama, realizing the political reality, has adapted.  His base is as clueless as ever.

Furthermore, Obama’s own Debt Commission boxed him in further.  Their own proposals actually even further cut rates, though cancel out other tax deductions in the process.  Republicans now have the political cover they need; they can propose extending the tax cuts, accept some of the other simplification proposals in the tax code, and still appear to be budget neutral.

This was always a ‘win’ for Republicans.  The public by large margins supports maintaining current tax rates, even for the rich.  Obama himself argued in the 2008 election that raising taxes on anyone during a recession didn’t make sense…and then obviously forgot that tidbit once he got into the Oval Office.  Obama ironically has finally seen the light on the issue.  Whether he has the spine to stand up to his own progressive wing is what is in doubt.


The Debt Commission Strikes Out

Political Cartoons by Michael Ramirez

President Obama’s Debt Commission sent up a trial balloon in the form of preliminary suggestions for long term reductions the ever growing American debt.  Suggestions include but are not excluded to:

  • According to the draft, the plan identifies $200 billion in discretionary-spending cuts by 2015, with half the savings from reductions to spending by the Pentagon. It would place limits on tax breaks for homeowners by removing deductions of interest on second homes, home-equity loans and mortgages worth more than $500,000.
  • For businesses, it would lower the corporate tax rate but remove a number of deductions currently available. It would make permanent the research-and-development tax credit.
  • The federal gasoline-tax rate would start to increase from 2013, increasing by 15 cents a gallon at that stage.
  • Federal subsidies to agribusinesses would begin to be slashed by $3 billion a year.
  • On Social Security, it would gradually increase the retirement age when people can start receiving benefits to 68 at around 2050 and to 69 by 2075.  It would combine a cut in benefits with an increase in taxes levied on wealthier seniors’ benefits.
  • The savings would be phased in over time and include a freeze on salaries and bonuses paid to federal employees for three years, at a savings of $15.1 billion by 2015.
  • It would propose cutting the federal work force by 10% for a further savings of $13.2 billion by 2015.
  • It would seek to rein in federal spending on health care, both by introducing further proposed changes, including reform of tort law, and by seeking to slow the growth of the Medicare program.
  • The commission highlights $100 billion in defense spending cuts, bolstered by $28 billion dollars in overhead reduction proposed by Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

All of these moves would shrink the federal deficit to 2.2% of GDP by 2015, instead of the almost 6% it is today.

The responses, as expected, are mixed.

Democrats hate the spending cuts.

“This is really a starting point, and it’s an honest starting point,” Sen. Richard Durbin (D., Ill.) told reporters during a break in panel deliberations.

“I told them that there are things in there that inspire me, and there are things in there that I hate like the devil hates holy water. I’m not going to vote for this thing,” Durbin said.

“This is not the conclusion of the commission’s work. This is the beginning,” said Senate Budget Chairman Kent Conrad, a Democrat from North Dakota, who nevertheless commended Bowles and Simpson for putting together a “serious proposal.”

Other members were more blunt.

“This is not the way to do it,” said Rep. Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat from Illinois.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, a Democrat from Montana, says he has “significant concerns” with the proposal and “can’t support it now.”

Republicans love the spending cuts, but of course, are more reserved when it comes to the tax changes, some of which are good, others not so much.  Republican economic stalwart Paul Ryan, though, has endorsed it as a starting point:  “This is a serious and impressive effort.  It is a good starting point.”

Fellow commission member Judd Gregg, the top Republican on the Senate Budget Committee who co-authored a bipartisan tax reform proposal cited in the draft, characterized the report as an “aggressive and comprehensive plan … I look forward to reviewing it in depth and hopefully improving on it.”

However, most predictable, is Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s response.:  “This proposal is simply unacceptable.”  Yup…the usual greatness of compromise from the leader of the left.

All in all…this would be a transformational package.  By no means is it all good.  Taxes may or may not increase, depending on how things panned out.  But overall, this would significantly decrease the federal deficit, and that ultimately must be the goal of conservatives.

Politically speaking, I say Republicans overall accept this and move forward, and make changes where applicable.  Why?  It would put Obama and Democrats into a serious bind.  For the last two years, we have heard how Obama is the voice of moderation and compromise.  Well, let us see it.  Compromise on health care, Social Security, and the rest of the federal deficit flies in the face of everything Democrats believe in.  Forcing the issue, and putting the onus on the left, would further weaken Obama’s coalition no matter what he does.  If he supports the left, then independents will have to accept that Obama is no moderate.  Move to the middle and compromise with Republicans, and the left will be furious with the obvious cutbacks to sacred cows of the political left.

I say bring it on.


Obama, the USA and India

I would argue that, politically, the timing could not be worse.  After a drubbing at the polls, for the President to leave his own party in shambles and travel overseas, to any country, is simply not smart.  Clearly, this trip was planned months ago.  But was the White House so delusional as to believe that they wouldn’t get crushed in the mid-terms?

No matter.  One way or another, Obama has begun his Asian trip in India.  India has become a fundamental and strategic ally for the United States.  “In Asia and around the world, India is not simply emerging,” Mr. Obama said in his speech, echoing a line he used earlier in the day at a joint news conference with Mr. Singh. “India has emerged.”

Geopolitically, India has become the integral front line to the threat of Muslim extremism along their western border with Pakistan, as well as counter the growing power of China in the east.   Starting with Bill Clinton, the U.S. has made a concerted effort to elevate India to one of its key strategic world partners.  George W. Bush further the relationship, as he increased economic and military ties with India to a greater extent than any other American leader.  The nuclear trade pact with India forever altered the relationship of the U.S. hegemony with the Indian nuclear state.  American allegiance to India in its efforts against terrorism, after September 11th as well as before, during and after the Mumbai attacks of 2008, cemented the friendship.  And for that, Bush is one of the most beloved Americans on the subcontinent, even to this day.

To further that relationship, Obama did something no other U.S. President has done…vocally come out in favor of a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council for India, something that the Indians have fought and argued in favor of for decades.

And many people don’t realize that ties with India are not only on the diplomatic front.  3 million Americans of Indian descent live in the United States, and that population is growing in number as well as economic and political power.  Additionally, the U.S. military performs more exercises with India than any other nation in the world, and is starting to sell large amounts of weapons to the dramatically growing Indian forces.

But the old rivalries remain.  Surely, Pakistan (and their geopolitical ally, China) will fight forcefully against India’s Security Council seat bid.  And although the seat makes worldwide sense (how do you exclude the voice of 1.2 Billion people from the United Nations?), the same old issues regarding Kashmir will arise.  And China, of course, has ulterior motives.  The last thing it wants is to elevate India to equal standing to itself on the world stage.

As for Pakistan, Obama, like his predecessors, walks a tightrope between supporting India or Pakistan on the issue of Kashmir.  Clearly, the war in Afghanistan has allowed Pakistan more power in this debate.  But the Indian public, which feels a close affinity to America, simply does not understand the calculation.  From the Washington Post:

During a town hall forum at St. Xavier’s College here, a student rose to ask Obama why he does not refer to Pakistan as a “terrorist state,” drawing some gasps from the rest of the audience. Obama told the crowd that he had expected the issue to come up, and he answered by challenging the several hundred students present to view a country against whom India has fought three major wars, and was the staging area for a devastating terrorist attack against this city, from a new perspective.

“We want nothing more than a stable, prosperous and peaceful Pakistan,” Obama said. “Our feeling has been to be honest and forthright with Pakistan, to say, ‘We are your friend, this is a problem and we will help you, but the problem has to be addressed.’ “

The balance between the clear, ideological issue of terrorism in Pakistan, versus the pragmatism of a stable Pakistani state, comes into play again and again.  Pakistan may be a terrorist state, depending on how you define it, but America needs Pakistan as long as Afghanistan is in chaos.  And that calculation simply irritates India.

Long term, however, these issues may all be secondary to the rise of India’s economic power.  Growing at a steady 8% even during the current world recession, India’s effect on global markets will only trail that of the United States and China over the next century.  And for all the domestic complaints of outsourcing, India still is net importing country, with large potential for exporters in the United States.  With a middle class nearing 300 million people (or approximately equivalent to the entire population of the United States), ignoring India as a trade partner would be foolish.

Obama, like every President before him during the post-WWII era, will have to decide how to balance these varied issues in dealing with the growing superpower on the subcontinent. India is as diverse as many continents, and dealing with them takes patience and tact.  But the question is, how will America best use the relationship to bolster not only India, but America as well?  That is the balancing act that will, along with our relationship with China, largely determine the geopolitical power balance of the next century.

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