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The Washington in Post’sarticle

The Washington in Post’sarticle
Scurrilous? Not exactly: call it high and mighty politically. The Simon Denyor story for the Washington Post is at variance with the American stance towards India – Manmohan Singh no less – during the Clinton years, or even the Bush period, when America was negotiating the nuclear accord with India. In fact, Singh was the nodal point in America’s turn-around in relations with India during these years. 

Singh was once lauded to the skies by the American media. What has changed? There is disappointment that America has not got the hoped for large-size orders for GE and Westinghouse reactors – as many as 10,000 MW capacity reactors were hoped for. The Indian prime minister is considered weak and ineffective in not being able to modify the nuclear liability code in a way acceptable to the United States. 

In relation to strategic objectives, America has not succeeded in making India line up with the United States on the global arena – even in strategic alliance against China. On the other hand, its stern Iran policy has not been acceptable to India: the Indian prime minister being the principal architect of this balanced approach. Singh has placed Indian needs for trade and Iran’s oil in the forefront while shaping relations with that country. This the Americans resent.

Much has changed in Washington Post’s own role in America-India relationship. An interesting incident is illustrative. It was during former Prime Minister Narasimha Rao’s visit to America, in which this writer was a party. At a joint press conference by President Clinton and Rao, a question was asked on India’s need for nuclear weapons for its security, to which Rao gave the categorical answer that in the world of today, nuclear weapons were essential for India’s security. Clinton was asked to clarify America’s standpoint, to which he answered that the prime minister alone could define India’s need for nuclear weapons. 

The Washington Post coverage of the press conference next day – tucked in a corner – omitted all reference to the nuclear issue, and when this writer posed the question as to why the momentous nuclear issue was left out in the Post’s coverage, a senior editor laughed away, going on to add that the president did not intend to mean what had been said in the press conference! Shocking, to say the least, was the way freedom of the press was enacted by the
Washington Post.

The fact is, in the heydays of American imperialism, the principal American media, and the Post notably, were an instrument of state policies. This no less in the dark years of the Vietnam War, and lately in the devastating war on Iraq imposed by George Bush inflicting massive damage to the world, including the American people and economy. 

American imperialism, however, will not easily give up its dire objectives. It was Robert Kagan of the Financial Times, a leading American foreign policy exponent who brought this home, in reply to questions posed by this writer.

Q. ‘How is it that invasion of Iraq came just when the lessons of Vietnam were being widely accepted? Is it an underlying streak of global dominance in American policy or 21st century neo-imperialism?’

Robert Kagan: ‘Good questions, although there are many ‘lessons of Vietnam’ and not everyone agrees what they are. But as a general matter I would say that the Iraq intervention came at a time when the ‘lessons of Vietnam’ had been practically expunged from the American memory. … As to your second question, the argument I am advancing in [my book] Dangerous Nation is that there is an ‘underlying streak of global dominance’ in American policy, and always has been. You could call it ‘21st century neo-imperialism’ if you like. But I would say that American policy continues to spring from the same ambitions, the same belief in power, and the same conviction of ideological superiority that has always shaped it.’

Have things changed? Much water has flown down the rivers of the world in the last decade, one big change being in the global politico-economic power pattern. The American media too is obliged to change. That perhaps explains why Simon Denyer’s stance and words bear a striking similarity with what the Opposition in the Indian political format is saying. Does he seek to build bridges with a potential power centre here? If so, he should not be encouraged. 

Yet another pull for the American media is to make their papers more newsworthy by lending a sting and a bite that blows up into a world story. Commercially, too, that makes sense. I am afraid this latter pull is having its way. Distortions no doubt are part of the game. But should the Post be encouraged, or given a sharp rebuff that brings a balance? 

American media no longer has the heavyweight of being exponents of a mighty sole super power. With American economic power in doldrums of continuing slowdown, and faced with a systemic crisis, the world is no longer willing to accept American prognosis of global affairs on their face value. The American media is very much in need of explosive, dramatised stories in their image-making package.

China has hitherto been a juicy source for such coverage. It seems India too is being added to this store of global worth writings. [IPA]
O P Sabherwal

O P Sabherwal

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