Bush Govt: In pursuit of Asia policy wonks
The Times of India, Jan 6 - By Ramesh Chandran
WASHINGTON: With the appointment of Democrat Norman Yoshio Mineta --of Japanese-American stock--as Secretary of Transportation, the Bush Cabinet is now finally ready and seems to reflect a mirror image of America as a churning melting pot. No doubt the new Cabinet is more heavily weighted to the right than any previous one since President Reagan's but it is more diverse than anything crafted by the outgoing Clinton cabinet.
George W Bush has hitherto appointed two black men, one Asian American, four women (including one Hispanic), a Hispanic man and a Lebanese American man. And extraordinarily, for a Party that was largely elected by affluent and middle class white males, it has just five non-Hispanic white men in the 14-member cabinet.
Now depending on who you talk to or which commentator one might read or listen to in a deeply polarised media, this is either a solidly conservative group with blue ribbon right-wing credentials or one that illustrates "unifier" Dubya's "inclusive" policies. But one point has been reinforced by these appointments--that for all the talk of his alleged "shallowness", the president-elect is quite fearless when it comes to surrounding himself with big name heavyweights. For instance, the foreign policy/defence/national security apparatus will have as many as four potential prima donnas: Colin Powell, Don Rumsfeld, vice president Dick Cheney and though she has not attained a cabinet rank, Condoleeza Rice given her proximity to the next president...
In their formative years, both women had focussed on Eastern Europe and the Soviet, though in the last year, Rice has referred to India's growing significance to the US in her essays in foreign policy journals.
Donald Rumsfeld's appointment as defence secretary designate has evoked a debate amongst military analysts; will he pursue the costly missile defence system? Can he stand up to the overpowering presence and influence of Colin Powell who commands enormous clout at the Pentagon? But what is to become of the "China-is-not-a-threat" posture of seasoned China hands including those in the China branch of the defence intelligence agency? According to some analysts here, Rumsfeld could be more hawkish on China --especially on missile and nuclear technology transfers. They say some of these tough views were reflected in the 1998 classified report by a commission he headed on "missile threats" to the US.
With the big guns in place, the focus has now shifted to the second and third rung spots at the State department, department of defence and the National Security Council.
But what of South Asia which has the "most dangerous flashpoint in the world" so evocatively described by Clinton? There have been some vigorous lobbying for the position of assistant secretary of state for South Asia --to replace Rick Inderfurth and at the White House job as counsellor to the President at the National Security Council--a position hitherto held by Bruce Riedel.
As already reported in detail in this paper, amongst the names now under consideration include James Clad, a professor at Georgetown University, David Sloan, Matt Daley who worked under Ambassador Frank Wisner at the US embassy in New Delhi and who subsequently was involved closely with affairs relating to the Indian subcontinent and Shirin Tahir-Kheli, who heads the South Asia program at John Hopkins and has extensive Republican connections.
Knowledgeable sources maintain that it is quite possible that Colin Powell, the new boss at Foggy Bottom, could opt for an entirely unanticipated name for the slot. But what ought to set off a forelock tugging debate amongst South Asian analysts is the energetic campaign being waged on behalf of Tahir Kheli. Without doubt she has dealt for long with the Indian subcontinent and has some influential backers, including Pakistani-American groups. Tahir-Kheli is a former US Ambassador to the UN for special political affairs and was a director for near east and South Asia at the National Security Council under the Reagan administration. Amongst other assignments she has done include stints at the political-military directorate at the NSC and has been a fellow at the Centre for International Studies at Princeton and received her Ph.D in international relations from the University of Pennsylvania. Amongst her books, she is also the author of India, Pakistan and the United States: Breaking With The Past
Tahir-Kheli is a familiar figure with the think tankwallahs in the US capital as well as to those in the Indian subcontinent involved in Track-II diplomatic efforts to thaw relations between India and Pakistan. Whilst the Neemrana Group was persisting with its efforts, pre-and post-Kargil, she was part of the US-based Belusa Group that made similar confidence-building measures but not with any apparent success. With the odd influential mentor to promote her cause for a job either at the South Asia Bureau or at the NSC, Pakistani circles seem elated. Earlier this week, The News, a Pakistani daily, reported Tahir-Kheli was "tipped" for Inderfurth's job and mentioned her as someone who "grew up in Pakistan" and is the "daughter of famous scientist Dr. Raziuddin Siddiqui''. The upbeat report cited her husband as an "Afghan American who is a senior academic" adding that she had maintained "close personal and family ties in Pakistan which she visits regularly."
The optimism --even near jubilation-- over her candidature amongst certain Pakistani sources seem to be on par alongside other sanguine scenarios that it was under the Republicans that the "pro-Pakistan tilt" had occured, military ties were firmly cemented. Little thought and attention has been paid to the fact that since the Nixon era, the Republican tactical agenda in the region, propelled by economic imperatives, too has evolved; the Bush-Cheney team during the campagn had spoken earnestly about promoting democracy; that Powell's first comments were about being tough and uncompromising on terrorism and the likes of Rumsfeld might take a dim view of illegal missile and nuclear transfers. Some observers, bemused by this spirited campaigning, suggest it would be inconceivable for a job of this nature dealing with combustile South Asia to be spearheaded by such an obviously partisan choice. That would hardly be the propitious start the Bush administration would be looking for in the Indian subcontinent.
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