An ally scorned.

by J.A. Myerson

The issue of Israel and Palestine involves a lot of different groups, even among a relatively simplistic rung of the commentariat. Apart just from the Israelis and Palestinians (and, duh, the Americans), you’ll always hear Zionists mention Iran, of course, but also the militant Lebanese political party Hizzbolah and usually Egypt as countries relevant to the discussion. A slightly more sophisticated pundit will also mention Syria’s patronage of Hamas, Saudi-Israeli attempts to stifle the Arab Spring or the huge number of Palestinians living in Jordan, but mainly no more countries receive note than that.

I’d like to complain about an omission from the list, one that I haven’t seen anyone mention in any media outfit: India. It might seem inconsequential to the equation, but just today Prime Minister Singh signaled his intention to develop a closeness with Iran, which will be returning to the spotlight real soon. Additionally, he spoke in no uncertain terms ofIndia’s support for Palestine’s national liberation struggle, a bid for which the U.S. is soon to veto at the UN Security Council.

It was only a couple of years ago when Christopher Hitchens described India as “emerging in many ways as our most important ally.” Wrote Hitch on that occasion:

It is a strong regional counterweight to Russiaand China. Not to romanticize it overmuch, it is a huge and officially secular federal democracy that is based, like the United States, on ethnic and confessional pluralism. Its political and economic and literary echelons speak English better than most of us do. Its parliament in New Delhi—the unbelievably diverse and dignified Lok Sabha—was viciously attacked by Islamist gangsters and nearly destroyed in December 2001, a date which ought to have made more Americans pay more attention rather than less. Since then, Bombay has been assaulted multiple times and the Indian Embassy in Afghanistan blown up with the fairly obvious cross-border collusion of the same Pakistani forces who are helping in the rebirth of the Taliban.

So what gives with India displaying kindness to America’s most hostile enemies and defiance to its most affectionate allies? Remember, India declined to vote for the UNSC resolution authorizing NATO’s war in Libya. Perhaps it could be that, uncharacteristically, Hitchens’ word didn’t magically create U.S. foreign policy for once, and the U.S. doesn’t take India as seriously as the Hitch does – to, I think, its detriment. (After all, the topic on everyone’s lips during PM Singh’s visit here was the Salahis, rather than the business at hand. The Salahis are still in the news; India is not.)

Clues to India’s under-reported reluctance to buddy up to America can perhaps be found in Singh’s plea to the UN to militate against protectionism in the face of global economic slowdown. Singh would tear down the barriers in order to facilitate India’s influence on the world economy (the Indian economy currently undergoing the second-fastest rate of expansion in the world, after China, notwithstanding its double-digit inflation and the slogging rupee).

Thing is, globalization only works for the US when its corporations can cash in on the deal by exporting jobs to places where no pesky labor or environmental regulations force them to behave themselves, not when the poor elsewhere would stand to benefit.

Like for instance by allowing Indian generic pharmaceuticals of biotech medicines, which could engineer significant advantage in the global fight against cancer, lymphoma and diabetes. Poorer countries cannot import the less-expensive Indian drugs if the United States doesn’t relent on its insistence that no one should get around the patents. The Obama administrations excuse for this indefensible behavior? Global cancer might not technically be an “epidemic.”

Washington would do well to reverse its course on a lot of things, but it would be good to add to that list its inattention to the upkeep of our Indian alliance. There’s a lot riding on it, not least the fate of Pakistan, by which I mean to imply the fate of Afghanistan. (Next door to Afghanistan? Iran. Then Iraq. Then Israel.)