A couple of weeks ago when I was in India, I had a chat with a friend who is a software engineer. The conversation was on the following lines:
Friend: ‘I hope Obama will win. I am sure Obama will win. I can’t imagine Obama not winning.’
Me: ‘You mean you want Obama to win?’
Friend: ‘Of course I do. Don’t you want Obama to win?’
At the risk of being hit on the head, I said, ‘Actually I don’t care. I don’t mind if Obama wins. But I can’t say I will be terribly disappointed if Obama doesn’t win.’
Friend, his voice rising to a scream: ‘How can you say that? We all want Obama to win. After George Bush, we need Obama. We desperately need Obama.’
Me, trying to sound unruffled: ‘You sound as if you hate George Bush. What did he do to you?’
Friend: ‘If you like Bush after all that he has done, you must be an idiot.’
Me: ‘Bush did nothing to restrict outsourcing. He agreed to the nuclear deal. And he has not done you or your country any harm. Why do you still hate him?’
‘Friend: ‘He invaded Iraq. He messed up so many things.’
Me: ‘What makes you think Obama is going to be any smarter? Obama plans to take a tough stand against Pakistan. Do you know what will happen if Pakistan is destabilised?
Friend: ‘Obama will never do anything so stupid.’
Me: ‘Don’t be too sure. Obama may clamp down on outsourcing. How’d you like that?
Friend: ‘Let’s talk about something else.’
My friend works for a software firm that depends on work outsourced from the US. If there is a decline in the flow of work, there is a good chance that he will be jobless. It is not that my friend was not aware of this, but he had placed the symbolism of Obama’s victory above his own narrow interests. However, I wonder, a few months down the line, if Obama were to actually clamp down on outsourcing and my friend loses his job, would he continue to feel the same?
In domestic elections, every citizen is expected to vote for the good of his country. If an Indian votes for a candidate solely because he or she is of a particular caste or religion, the voter is labelled parochial or casteist. However, in the world of international relations, there are supposed to be no permanent friends or enemies. Every country is expected to look out for itself and its interests. It is perfectly acceptable to support or oppose an individual or country in order to further your interests. If Indians are to judge Bush by this yardstick, he has been a good President for India. Bush, a true capitalist, did not discourage outsourcing. Despite a lot of anti-immigrant rhetoric, he did not try to reduce the number of H1B visas issued to Indian companies. The Iraq war did not harm India. The crackdown on militants based in Pakistan has actually helped curb militancy in Kashmir.
However, Obama has managed to garner support from so many groups all over the world, including groups and individuals (such as my software engineer friend) which or who may not benefit from his presidency. For example, Obama has received massive support in the Arab world, even though he had appeared in front of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and promised to be as much pro-Israeli as any other candidate. I assume many Arabs expected that Obama, after doing what it takes to win the elections, would show his true colours and crack down on Israel. Instead, we find that just a few days after his election, Obama has chosen Rahm Emanuel to be his chief of staff. For those not familiar with Rahm Emanuel, the gentleman in question is an ardent Israel supporter who has in the past volunteered to serve in the Israeli army. Rahm Emanuel’s father Benjamin Emanuel used to be a member of the Irgun (a pre-1947 armed group which has been accused of many atrocities against Arabs). Rahm Emanuel’s appointment has elated Israelis and made many Arabs despondent. In a matter of a few days, ardent friends have ceased to be so friendly.
I wonder how Indian supporters of Obama will react if Obama were to insist on India holding a referendum in Kashmir. After all, if one has to name a live dispute other than the Israeli-Palestinian dispute which causes so much heartburn in the Islamic world, it’s Kashmir. If Obama, having chosen to stay pro-Israeli, decides to score brownie points with the Islamic world by pressing India to compromise over Kashmir, will Obama’s Indian supporters turn into foes overnight?
I am happy that Obama won the elections. I am happy that a half-black man is in the white house. It would have been better if the winner actually had ancestors who had been slaves, but putting a half-black man in the White House is still a big step towards the atonement long overdue from mainstream America. If it hadn’t been for the symbolism involved in an Obama victory, McCain might have won many more votes than he actually did. McCain is no friend of George Bush. Until this election campaign, McCain has actually been in favour of immigration law reform. A maverick and a contrarian, McCain made a few mistakes in his campaign, such as choosing Sarah Palin to be his running mate. However, if elected, McCain would have been as much pro-India as Bush has been. I can’t imagine McCain ever going back on the nuclear deal, but Obama might.
Is this support for Obama the beginning of a trend where people support the common good at the international level rather than looking after their own selfish national interests? I doubt it. Bush’s policies in matters such as the Kyoto protocol and Iraq had created a huge wave of revulsion (both within America and outside it) against the Republican Party. Obama benefitted from that wave and McCain, by association, paid the price for it. Many of Obama’s supporters are not liberals. Fundamentalist Muslims, Hindus and Jews, right-wing Asians, Africans who can’t tolerate homosexuality, they all voted for or supported Obama in the hope that he is one of them or will be on their side. It is only a matter of time before more of his supporters become disappointed with him.