Thursday, March 29, 2012

An Indian Purva-Paksha of Walter Russel Meade's American Political Spectrum

To analyze the dynamics between ideological groups that determine US foreign policy, it may be wise  begin with a taxonomy based on existing scholarship.

A good example would be the ideological classification proposed by Walter Russell Meade. He divides US policy groups into four classes: Hamiltonian, Wilsonian, Jeffersonian and Jacksonian, based on their broad imperatives.

Here are a few articles explaining Meade’s “spectrum” and its four subdivisions from the American point of view:

To be useful to our analysis, we must reconstruct this “spectrum” from an Indian point of view. Here’s an attempt.

In general, Hamiltonians and Wilsonians are the more “outward looking” of the four groups. Jeffersonians and Jacksonians are the more “inward looking.”

Also in general, most of the American public tend to be either Jeffersonian or Jacksonian in their broad geopolitical outlook. The Hamiltonians are mostly represented by a powerful elite of corporate and business interests. The Wilsonian base is a well-entrenched Washington intelligensia with strong influence over institutions like the State Department and the Pentagon (the “babudom” of America.) Wilsonians also dominate American academia and think-tanks.

Let’s look at these four groups one by one.

1) Hamiltonians: named for America’s first treasury secretary, Alexander Hamilton, this group stands for Economic Expansionism. They support global political and military involvement for the purpose of creating and maintaining a system of trade and commerce dominated by the United States, with an American agenda at the helm.

Bretton Woods was the cradle of the modern Hamiltonian movement. The Marshall Plan, and the Roosevelt-Ibn Saud agreement (which formalized the USD as the currency in which international oil prices would be set) were early initiatives undertaken with Hamiltonian support to establish American economic supremacy.

Domestically, Hamiltonians are backed by big-business corporate interests.In nations where a climate favourable to international commerce exists, Hamiltonians try to further their agenda by political means (through American-dominated institutions such as the World Bank, G8 and WTO.)

In regions where a climate exists that is unfavourable to international commerce, the Hamiltonians are most concerned with making sure nothing happens to threaten the domination of global commerce by the United States. Chiefly, this means using the military, and shoring up military alliances, to ensure America’s energy security… and sometimes, to deny other nations the energy security they would need to compete economically with America. Hamiltonians insist that American foreign policy in the Middle East and Central Asia focus on enhancing American influence over the oil and mineral resources of those regions.

With respect to India, Hamiltonians generally ignored the socialist avatar of India as a lost cause, but they have begun to take increasing notice of India since liberalization and economic growth began in the early 1990s.

The most pro-India Hamiltonians would like to shape the rise of India into an economic partner and hedge against other potential economic competitors such as China. This sub-group of Hamiltonians were fully supportive of the India-US Civilian Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. They are generally in favour of outsourcing and guest worker programs, as long as American corporations continue to receive growing access to Indian markets.

The least pro-India Hamiltonians, on the other hand, are skeptical about the relatively “slow” rise of India, about the obstacles to economic liberalization posed by the exigencies of India’s democratic system, and instead choose to support China as a relatively “sure bet.” They are the ones who would gladly overlook human-rights abuses or nuclear proliferation by China as long as market access and profit mechanisms remained intact.

As India continues to develop economically, it is likely that of all the four groups, the Hamiltonians will adopt policy attitudes most favourable to India. Along the way, however, there will be hiccups: India refusing to sign the Nuclear Liability Bill (thereby denying access to American energy corporations into the reactor-building market), or India choosing not to opt for an American-made MRCA, will be detrimental to the support we have among the Hamiltonians.

All Hamiltonians are realists for whom the bottom line is all about the money.
They see the maintenance of a running trade deficit with China as the best insurance against an inimical, confrontational US-PRC relationship in other spheres of competition. They figure that as long as China is invested in the economic well-being of the United States, its will to threaten the political interests of the United States will be limited.

Very few US presidents have been overt Hamiltonians, chiefly because being overtly associated with big business interests could be detrimental to the electoral success of a US presidential candidate. However, ALL US Presidents since Ronald Reagan have relied on the support of Hamiltonians to exercise their policy initiatives, and no president since Reagan has managed to enact a policy that was opposed by the Hamiltonians.

The most overtly Hamiltonian president so far might be George H.W. Bush, who actually ran the first Gulf War in such a way that America ended up making a profit! In recent years, meanwhile, some potential and actual Presidential candidates have been openly Hamiltonian, in background as well as in terms of their policy platforms. These include Steve Forbes, Mitt Romney and the mayor of NYC, Michael Bloomberg, who make no secret of their connection with US corporate interests.

2) Wilsonians are Ideological Expansionists. They seek to use the economic, political and military might of the United States to create a world where all nations look to the United States for ideological leadership. Their goal is to have all other nations willingly subject themselves to the geopolitical dominance of the United States in a global Pax Americana.

Wilsonians pretend to be “anti-imperialistic”, and conceal their intentions behind rhetoric of “democracy”, “American moral compass” and “multi-lateralism.” In this sense, the Wilsonians are the most hypocritical of all the four groups.

The Wilsonians favour democracy in other nations, only when such democracy is guaranteed to be dominated by essentially pro-American parties who will toe the American line when it comes to making policy. They are intolerant of democratic systems which could potentially be dominated by independent parties who put their own national interest ahead of America’s.

In this sense, Wilsonians are the most likely group to be anti-India. They are relatively happy with Manmohan Singh because of his willingness to accommodate American interests; but they are deeply distrustful of Indian babudom, and they are completely against nationalist Indian parties like the BJP.

In fact, even though they claim to stand for “democracy”, Wilsonians prefer dictatorships that can be successfully manipulated by America, to democratic countries that are independent enough to oppose America. The Wilsonian path to American global dominance involves “balance of power” games which essentially amount to divide-and-rule. The Wilsonians see America as the true legates of the British Empire, even though they would like to couch their subsidiary alliances in the guise of “independent democratic regimes” that only seek the leadership of America because America is morally superior.

One important thing to realize about the Wilsonians is that, since the end of the Cold War, they have actually split into two competing camps.

As long as the Cold War was in progress, Wilsonians were more or less united in seeing international Communism, specifically Soviet Communism, as the chief obstacle to ideological dominance of the world by the United States. Henry Kissinger could be described as the archetypal old-school, Cold-War-Era Wilsonian.

However, following the USSR’s collapse, there is disagreement among the two camps of Wilsonians as to what America’s priorities should be.

These two camps of Wilsonians can be broadly described as:

2A) The “Bush Wilsonians”, also commonly known as “Neoconservatives”, who gained prominence during the George W. Bush regime. They include Cheney, Wolfowitz, Perle, Rice, as well as lower-profile figures such as Robert Blackwill. Think-tanks of the Bush-Wilsonian persuasion include the CATO institute, the American Enterprise Institute, the Heritage Foundation and the Project for a New American Century.

The term “Neoconservative” is actually a misnomer for this group, because they are actually less conservative than the other camp. They sought to radically reconstruct the American foreign policy establishment’s view of the world following the end of the Cold War.

From the Bush-Wilsonian perspective, the demise of the Soviet Union was the start of a brand new era in which America had a unique opportunity as the sole superpower to shape the world for domination. Ideologically, the Bush-Wilsonians subscribe to the notion that America must be the unilateral forerunner of Western civilization, inspired by a Judeo-Christian (mainly Christian) perspective.

They deviate from the old-school, Cold-War-Era Wilsonians in no longer seeing Russia as the chief threat to the United States, and rejecting the idea that American dominance must be pursued multilaterally through such organizations as the UN.

The Bush-Wilsonians regard China as the major future threat to the United States, followed closely by international Islamism. They are fervent supporters of Israel, owing to a strongly Biblical ideology.

As a means to ensuring American global dominance, the Bush-Wilsonians have sought to reconstruct the geopolitical framework of alliances and strategic partnerships that prevailed during the Cold War. They have tried to rope in India into the American camp by offering such carrots as the Indo-US Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement. They have also strengthened America’s ties with former Soviet Bloc nations in Eastern Europe, bringing Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia into NATO.

On the other hand, the Bush-Wilsonians have downgraded the American reliance on allies in Continental Western Europe, which they dismissively describe as “Old Europe”, even as they have sought to shore up a few key alliances of the Cold-War Era such as with the UK, Australia, and Japan.

Similarly, they have made some moves towards engaging Russia as a potential strategic partner rather than a competitor, especially in light of the challenges Russia appeared to be facing from a resurgent China and from Islamist terrorism in the early 2000s.

However, their approach to Russia has been wary, and often contradictory, as seen in the American support for the “Orange Revolution” in Ukraine, American initiatives to station missiles in East European countries such as Poland, and American backing of such individuals as Georgia’s Shakashvili who were belligerently anti-Russian. In such cases, some of the old-school Cold-War-Era Wilsonian prejudices seemed to re-establish themselves with regard to Bush-Wilsonian foreign policy.

These contradictions also manifested themselves when, after invading Afghanistan, the Bush-Wilsonians decided to rely on Pakistan as an ally against the Taliban, with fatal consequences.

The highlight of the Bush-Wilsonians’ dominance over the US Foreign Policy Establishment was of course, the Iraq War… something which has ended up destroying their credibility for the present.

As far as India is concerned, the Bush-Wilsonians have made overtures to India that sharply contrasted with the dismissive attitude of the Cold-War-Era Wilsonians. However, the growth of predatory Evangelical missionary activity as Washington’s influence increased in Delhi during the Bush administration, is a warning sign that not all was well with US-India relations during this period. Additionally, the Bush-Wilsonians have repeatedly insisted that India “prove” its sincerity towards Washington, by downgrading its relationship with Iran for example.

When and if the Bush-Wilsonians regain their influence in Washington, India should game them deftly… securing all the benefits we can from their willingness to abandon Cold-War Era policy, but remaining careful not to cede an undue level of influence that might prove to be detrimental to our national and civilizational interests.

2B) The second camp of Wilsonians that has emerged following the USSR’s demise are the “Clinton-Wilsonians.” They are actually more conservative than the Bush-Wilsonian “Neoconservatives”, in that their attitudes more closely reflect the classical Cold-War-Era Wilsonians’ worldview.

The Clinton-Wilsonians are the closest group to what some like to call “Atlanticists”. They are deeply distrustful of Russia, and less averse to China; they are also strongly invested in the idea of revitalizing the trans-Atlantic alliances with Western Europe that America maintained during the Cold War. For the rest of the world, the Clinton-Wilsonians firmly trust in the British techniques of divide-et-impera, and in our region in particular, they are the modern torchbearers of Olaf Caroe’s geopolitical agenda. They are more likely than any of the other groups to entertain the idea that Jihadi Islamism can continue to be a coercive policy tool in America's hands.

(Aside: However, I don't believe that this necessarily has anything to do with the “East European ethnic background” of Clinton-Wilsonians. True, some high-profile members of this camp, such as Zbigniew Brzezinski and Madeline Albright, are of East European extraction. However, many others of this camp are not ethnic East Europeans, and besides, all the other policy groups in Walter Russell Meade’s spectrum also include a good number of ethnic East Europeans, which makes the correlation doubtful.)

Think-tanks of the Clinton-Wilsonian persuasion include the Brookings Institution and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Most of the Non-Proliferation types who bash India while ignoring Chinese/Paki proliferation, are Clinton-Wilsonians.

The Clinton-Wilsonians showed their eagerness to reshape the world in America’s favour following the end of the Cold War, most prominently in two instances. One was the war in Yugoslavia, which was deliberately split up into ethnic nationalities, providing additional levers of control that the West could easily manipulate. The second was the secession of East Timor from Indonesia.

In both of these cases, it should be noted that the Clinton-Wilsonians proceeded to fulfill their agenda under the cover of “international consensus”, using the UN to pull together “coalitions” of nations which supported the American initiative. This modus operandi is a key point of differentiation between Clinton-Wilsonians from Bush-Wilsonians, who have been much more prone to reject the authority of multilateral bodies like the UN and carry out unilateral actions such as the Iraq war.

As far as India is concerned, the Clinton-Wilsonians (who include such functionaries as Strobe Talbott, Richard Holbrooke and Robin Raphel) are an inflexible, implacable enemy. This is the single worst group that could come to dominate US foreign policy, from our point of view. They continue the most anti-India traditions of the Cold-War-Era Wilsonians, supporting Pakistan to the maximum extent possible and winking at Chinese nuclear proliferation to Pakistan, even while they bash India for developing its own nuclear arsenal. They refuse to see India as a potential strategic counter to China, and prefer to cultivate China in a “G2” model of cooperative partnership for the short-to-medium term.

The Clinton-Wilsonians are the group who most fervently support Pakistan as a counter to India’s regional dominance, as described in George Friedman’s Stratfor article. They are the most likely group to retain the India-Pakistan hyphen wherever possible, bombard India with equal-equal psyops, and overtly rake up the Kashmir issue as a pressure point against India. They seek to restrict Indian influence to a sub-dominant level even within the “South Asian” region. This is in sharp contrast to the Bush-Wilsonians who made some attempt to dehyphenate India and Pakistan, with a view to bolstering India as strategic rival against China.

I do not see how the Clinton-Wilsonians can be won over… when they are in charge of US foreign policy, it makes more sense for India to engage with other powerful interest groups such as the Hamiltonians so as the modulate the virulence of the Clinton-Wilsonians’ initiatives against India.

Speaking of Wilsonians in general, Lyndon Johnson (who began the Vietnam war) was a classic Wilsonian president, as was his successor Richard Nixon (who reached out to China via Pakistan to form an alliance against the Soviet Union). This is an illustration of how the policy groups of Meade’s spectrum can often cut across Republican/Democrat party lines.

More recently, Bill Clinton has been a Wilsonian president who was, however, always careful to secure the backing of the Hamiltonians (whose power greatly increased during the Reagan years.)

It should be noted that there are many in the US Foreign Policy Establishment who do not fully commit to either the Bush-Wilsonian or Clinton-Wilsonian camps. Robert Gates is one such. Other examples include academics like Stephen Cohen and Christine Fair, who pretend to an independent "maverick" image but in reality always make statements that are in line with the Wilsonian flavour-of-the-month in Washington.

3) The Jeffersonians, compared to the Hamiltonians or Wilsonians, are decidedly inward-looking. They believe in a largely non-interventionist foreign policy, and in concentrating resources on domestic reforms.

Of the four groups of Meade’s spectrum, the Jeffersonians are most inclined to oppose the rise of the “military-industrial complex”… something that Eisenhower famously warned against as he was leaving office, and which is an important source of political influence for both Hamiltonians and Wilsonians.

As I mentioned earlier, many common Americans are either Jeffersonian or Jacksonian in their outlook. If you talk to an American about the India-Pakistan situation and he says something like “sort it out yourselves, it’s none of our business”… that American is most likely a Jeffersonian.

The typical Jeffersonian is to the “left” of the American political spectrum, upholding traditional “liberal” ideas such as increased Federal Government involvement in social and economic development, upliftment of underprivileged sections, civil rights, environmental conservationism, regulation of corporations, global initiatives against poverty/disease/global warming and so on. Such politicians as Dennis Kucinich are at the extreme left of this group.

However, not all Jeffersonians are leftist. Libertarian Isolationists such as Ross Perot and Ron Paul, who believe in a Fortress America model where the US military is exclusively employed to guard America’s borders and enforce illegal immigration laws, also purvey an essentially Jeffersonian foreign policy.

As such, the Jeffersonian attitude towards India tends to be neutral… but this is largely irrelevant. That is because Jeffersonian Presidents tend to hand over control of foreign policy to Wilsonians. Jimmy Carter relied on Cold-War-Era Brzezinski, and Barack Obama relies on Clinton-Wilsonians such as Joe Biden, Richard Holbrooke and co. with Brzezinski still present as a mentor-figure. The advantage India has today is that it has cultivated a constituency with the Hamiltonians, who are much more powerful at present than they were during the Carter regime. With the Bush-Wilsonians largely in disgrace, the Hamiltonians are our primary channel of influencing American foreign policy in a positive manner at present.

4) The Jacksonians are also, primarily, inward-looking, though they differ dramatically from the Jeffersonians in terms of their domestic policy agenda. While the Jeffersonians tend to be idealists, the Jacksonians are fervent populists. In the tradition of Andrew Jackson, they stand for increased power of the executive branch (the President) relative to the legislature or judiciary; limited federal government role in the affairs of the country; the “patronage” policy of actively placing political supporters into appointed offices; expanded states’ rights; and decentralization.

Also in the tradition of Andrew Jackson, who pledged to expand the United States “from sea to shining sea”, the Jacksonians believe in America’s Manifest Destiny as the natural leader of the world and in securing America’s influence overseas by any means necessary… not shying away from unilateral military action whenever required.

Some articles on Meade’s spectrum describe Jacksonians as the only group that believes in American Exceptionalism. From an Indian point of view, this is not strictly true… ALL the four groups believe in American Exceptionalism… but the Jacksonians are the ones who most prominently wear it on their sleeves.

Jacksonians tend to be issue-based in their politics, rallying around anti-abortion movements, restriction of gay rights, defence of second-amendment gun rights, unapologetic Christian influence in schools and government institutions etc.

Jacksonians, unlike Jeffersonians, do not make “non-intervention” a cornerstone of their foreign policy views; they are quite happy to intervene in a muscular fashion whenever they deem it necessary to do so. However, their perspective is largely focused on internal priorities, so again, Jacksonian Presidents of the United States have traditionally handed over control of foreign policy to other groups. Reagan depended on Hamiltonians like James Baker and Cold-War-Era Wilsonians such as Alexander Haig. George W. Bush also depended on Hamiltonians, but ceded a large amount of policy space to the new Bush-Wilsonians or Neoconservatives of his day.


In conclusion, is not easy to identify any one of these groups as the “best” from India’s point of view.

Also, it is important to realize that no one group typically has complete dominance over a particular US administration’s foreign policy. The actual policy is often a vector sum of competing influences brought together by political expediency and self-interest.

For example, Clinton’s initiatives were planned by Clinton-Wilsonians but strongly modified to accommodate Hamiltonian interests (which became extremely powerful during the Reagan years.)

Bush’s Iraq War was a Bush-Wilsonian policy initiative to bring an American-controlled “democratic” regime change to Iraq. But to enact it, the Bush administration relied on support from both Hamiltonians (interest in the oil fields of Iraq) and Jacksonians (strong popular opposition to Islamism following 9/11.)

Obama is a Jeffersonian who is torn between his Jeffersonian electoral base, which favours a withdrawal from Afghanistan, and a Clinton-Wilsonian foreign policy establishment, which pursues a flawed policy based on alliance with Pakistan and negotiations with “good” Taliban.

It seems clear that the Clinton-Wilsonians are the most implacable foes of India among all these groups.

Others, particularly Bush-Wilsonians and Hamiltonians, can be engaged on some specific points of convergent interest, but must be handled carefully because other aspects of their agendas are inimical to Indian interest.

Ultimately, a Jacksonian President is perhaps most likely to nuke Pakistan or take a confrontationalist posture towards China… but depending on various factors, the specific circumstances and consequences may or may not be in India’s interest.. We will have to be quick on our feet to translate any advantage out of such situations.

And finally, if India ever rises beyond the confines of the region to the beginnings of global superpowerdom… probably our best bet is for the United States to follow a Jeffersonian line of limited intervention, leaving a power vacuum that we can endeavour to fill.

Civilizational Narrative and the Hindu Identity -Part II

(continued from previous...)

Second,  a strong narrative is founded on a normative system of values, ethics and mores that derives entirely from the dominant traditional culture of the civilization espousing it.  No civilizational narrative of India can be predicated on accepting concepts of good and evil,  sin and virtue, justice and unfairness that are borrowed from the normative systems of other civilizations.

On the surface, all these may seem like universal values that may pervade and characterize any narrative; but in fact, the adoption of outside values in constructing  or portraying one's own narrative will always privilege the outsider at the cost of one's own civilization. It is actually the first step to colonization: the colonization of the psyche.

This is because a narrative based on an external normative system will invariably become skewed in such a way as to "impress" the outside originators of that system,  with attributes that they perceive as "good".

Equally, aspects of the narrative that the outsiders consider "bad" from their own moral standpoint, will always remain a point of vulnerability for the civilization constructing the narrative. Outsiders can always use these aspects to invoke shame, guilt, apologism, or defensiveness in a civilization. This is especially true when the "outside" civilization enjoys an advantage of political, military or economic power over the civilization trying to construct and adhere to the narrative; as for example, the West with respect to India.

The solution is to remember that we don't owe an explanation of our norms to anybody else. Quite possibly the killing of Vali by Sri Ram may seem deceptive or evil from a Judeo-Christian perspective.  It shouldn't make any difference to us; just as the Jews feel no shame in declaring that their god killed all the first-born children of Egypt on behalf of his chosen people.

Third, a strong narrative should be consistent to its own principles, and yet flexible enough to accommodate any sort of evolutionary stress: be this interaction with outside civilizations, or the transformation over time of popular attitudes and aspirations within the home civilization.  For example, a narrative that is based entirely on being the "ultimate warriors" will suit a civilization only up to the point where it is overmatched and faces military defeat at the hands of outsiders: after this, it becomes discredited, and all too often the civilization falls apart as a consequence.

To be complete, a narrative must introspect with honesty at the entire history of a civilization, including the aspects that popular memory would rather forget. Yet, the introspection must always take place within the normative parameters, the value system of right and wrong that is intrinsic to a civilization's own cultural traditions. 

So: it will not serve our purpose to hide the existence of caste discrimination, for example, from Indian children learning Indian history. On the other hand, it is even worse to teach that caste discrimination is something fundamentally intrinsic to Hindu ideology, a piece of propaganda relentlessly employed by Christian missionaries;  or to teach that it is a natural product of some bogus "Aryan Invasion Theory" concocted by Western Indologists.  Ultimately, the solutions to India's problems must always be sought in the traditional value systems of Indian civilization, and no other.

Lastly, a civilizational narrative must be definitively, unapologetically unique from beginning to end. In an age when "global citizen" scholars "question the episteme" and imply that all human beings are ultimately the same; in an age where Marxists loudly claim that every social or political system is simply a device for privileging certain classes at the expense of others, no matter what the color of its shirt... it is more important than ever to assert an identity that is uncompromisingly distinctive. 

The ways in which Indians appear to be  "just like anybody else" are not fundamental... they are artifactual. It is our differences from others that define our identity; any veneer of commonality is a coincidence.