That the Indo-US nuclear deal could run into trouble was expected. But that trouble would come from India's traditional friends was unexpected. Former President Jimmy Carter, Senator Hillary Clinton, other leading Democrats and the 180-member India Caucus are either critical or lukewarm.
Criticism is based on the argument that it would violate existing nuclear policy. India is not a signatory to the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). It is said that making an exception in the case of India would open the door to nuclear proliferation. It would become difficult to prevent nations like North Korea and Iran from developing nuclear arsenals.
These arguments are at best silly and at worst brazenly hypocritical. India never signed the NPT but went ahead with indigenous expertise to make nuclear weapons. It has no record of proliferation. China as a recognized nuclear power and signatory to the NPT violated it. China illegally passed nuclear technology and material to Pakistan and through it to North Korea, Iran and Libya. Critics of the Indo-US nuclear deal lose their tongues when it comes to questioning China.
The North Koreans for years thumped their chests to proclaim they had nuclear weapons and would continue to acquire them. The Americans meekly sit with half a dozen nations to discuss issues with them. China benignly presides over these meetings. To state now that the Indo-US nuclear deal will encourage North Korea sounds absurd.
US officials and media seldom go beyond Dr AQ Khan's nuclear proliferation while criticizing Pakistan. Such criticism erupted belatedly - after IAEA disclosures made silence impossible. As long as the CIA reports which documented nuclear proliferation by China to Pakistan remained under cover, US government and media remained silent. Even after official reports confirmed Chinese links with Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, and Pakistan's links with Islamist jihadis, American leaders continued to trumpet the importance of President Musharraf as an ally in the war against terrorism. Obviously i's not high principle that motivates US critics of the nuclear deal. What does?
The following surmise may be considered.
India inadvertently walked smack into the middle of a fierce domestic struggle on the eve of the US Congressional elections come November. President Bush would gain electorally from the nuclear agreement with India. His opponents are discarding the traditional bipartisan approach in foreign affairs to prevent this. The debate inside the US is unusually bitter. It is the traditional friends of India who nurse the bitterest feelings. It is worth speculating why.
Those who masterminded the US invasion of Iraq have distanced themselves from President Bush. Their disenchantment does not emanate necessarily from failures of the Iraq policy. What must be galling is the unexpected aftermath of the Iraq invasion. The destruction of the Saddam regime should have strengthened Israel against the Palestinians. The opposite happened. The State Department had ordered a private survey and learnt that Hamas would win the Palestinian poll. Despite that, permission was granted to allow its participation in the election. Now Hamas is in power. Earlier Prime Minister Sharon under US pressure withdrew from the Gaza strip. Now Prime Minister Olmert contemplates further withdrawal. A future Palestine state looks like a distinct possibility. President Bush in his second term is achieving what none of his predecessors could. Attempts by Nixon, Reagan and Clinton in their second terms to act independently of the powerful lobbies that shape American politics failed miserably. They were crippled by scandals, an impeachment and an assassination attempt. President Bush is the first second-term President who until now has succeeded in quietly reversing his foreign policy. He was helped most by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.
As the Washington Post of April 3 reported:
"The story behind the (Indo-US Nuclear) agreement also sheds light on how foreign policy is conducted in Bush's second term. For an administration frequently criticized for not being nimble, the India deal highlights the flexibility of Rice's foreign-policy team, which has also shifted policies toward Europe, on Iran and other areas in the past year. It demonstrates how, in contrast to the first term, foreign policy is largely driven by Rice and a close circle of advisers, not the White House staff."
Iran is the other bugbear for India's US critics. When the Iraq invasion failed to deliver expected results, the Neoconservative hawks sought an Iranian adventure. In that too the Bush team frustrated them. Contrary to popular perception the nuclear standoff between US and Iran is a red herring. The real issue separating them is the future of Iraq. A secret dialogue between America and Iran regarding Iraq has long been going on. The nuclear dispute keeps being postponed while the secret Iraq dialogue continues. Significantly, Iran was the first to publicly state that it was willing to discuss Iraq's future with America.
In a brilliant analysis US Security analyst Dr George Friedman, who heads Stratfor Forecasting Inc., has dissected the complex US-Iranian negotiations. Due to Iraq's Shiite majority the Iranians want to dominate it. They were unable to wage war against Saddam Hussein. They wanted America to do that. Traditionally Israel had acted as America's conduit to Iran. Through their covert contacts Iran fed disinformation to American intelligence that Iraq had a weapons-of-mass-destruction programme and that there would be no post-war resistance in Iraq. They wanted U.S. forces to bog down in Iraq and eventually withdraw. They sought a Shiite government under their thumb.
The Americans countenance some Iranian influence in Iraq but not a purely Shiite government. They want the Sunnis to curb the Baathists in return for guaranteed Sunni rights. America also wants US forces stationed outside the urban areas. That disturbs Iran. These are the differences America and Iran are negotiating. As Dr Friedman writes: "Tehran will work on nukes as and when it wants, and Washington will destroy the nukes as and when it wants. The nukes are non-issues in the real negotiations."
A US-Iran settlement would give no handle to Israel. The fight against the Bush administration by his opponents therefore has become desperate. Former Vice-Presidential aide Lewis Libby, facing court charges, has alleged President Bush authorized leaking highly classified secret information. After the new US Congress in November this could snowball into censure or impeachment. Some US critics of India's nuclear deal say their opposition to the deal need not dilute the broader Indo-US engagement. They are mistaken. If the nuclear deal is scuttled the chance for a deep Indo-US relationship could be destroyed forever. There are other world powers keenly watching. If America cuts its nose to spite its face it could regret doing so for a long, long time.