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Joe Biden's Many Challenges

By Colonel ANIL A ATHALE (retd)
Last updated on: January 23, 2021 08:08 IST
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'India should be aware that China will take full advantage of US domestic turmoil and reduced international prestige,' warns Colonel Anil A Athale (retd).

IMAGE: United States President Joe Biden prepares to sign a series of executive orders at the Resolute Desk in the Oval Office just hours after his inauguration, January 20, 2021. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
 

Like millions around the world, I watched the inauguration of President Joe Biden on the television.

After four years of stewardship by an erratic Donald J Trump, one was looking for signs of return of normalcy in the USA.

Let there be no mistake, the US continues to be the world's foremost military and economic power and what happens there affects us all over the world.

The inauguration ceremony could be described in one word: 'Tacky'.

Agreed that due to ongoing COVID-19 pandemic there were obvious constraints, but surely the inauguration committee could have arranged better seating for VIPs other than cheap steel folding chairs.

Due to the threat perception, there were large number of troops deployed right up front.

The unrelenting television cameras showed them lolling around or busy on their cell phones! The whole scenario was like a hastily organised poor man's wedding! With adequate notice and time to prepare, the inauguration committee could have put up a better show.

In a sense, the shabby performance was no surprise as just a fortnight before, on January 6, 2021, this very site was vandalised by a pro-Trump mob.

The much vaunted FBI had failed to anticipate it and the mob had a free run of the Capitol building.

Contrast this with the efficient way in which the Indians handled the Kashmir valley after the abolition of Article 370! It was a collosal intelligence failure, not expected of a super power that spends billions of dollars on information gathering.

The spread of coronavirus in the US is another symptom of this administrative malaise.

The close to 400,000 deaths that the US has suffered as opposed to 150,000 in a four times more populous India makes one wonder which is an underdeveloped country, India or the US?

To long term observers of the US scene like this columnist, none of this comes as a surprise.

In the last four years Donald Trump systematically destroyed the US administration with willful neglect and by design.

Since 1991, kind courtesy the US consulate, I have been having discussion meetings with officials in the state department whenever I visit Washington, DC.

Over a period of time I have had chance to discuss South Asia with Stephen P Cohen, Marvin Wienbaum, Lisa Curtis, Don Comp and many more.

On my visit in 2017, the US consulate made some excuses and I did not have a single meeting with any official.

Luckily, I managed to meet analysts at think-tanks like CSIS and Brookings.

There I was told that the Trump administration had kept most crucial posts vacant.

In his four year term, the number of national security advisors Trump appointed and summarily sacked is a record of sorts.

Trump is not a rightist in the true sense of the word.

The best way to describe him is 'Anarchist'.

Luckily for the US and the world, Trump did not get a second term.

Else, he would have completely hollowed out the American government machinery.

This was indeed a nightmare scenario for the world as the US continues to be the world's biggest military power with a huge arsenal of nuclear weapons.

It would be unfair to put all the blame on the Trump presidency though.

Even earlier, during Hurricane Katrina in 2005, American shortcomings were starkly visible.

The relief agencies's response was tardy and delayed.

There were shortages of all kind. 1,800 people died.

Such was the situation that people resorted to looting of shops to survive.

It was indeed a warning sign that was ignored by subsequent American presidents Obama and Trump.

The US has embarked upon a model of privatisation as a panacea for economic ills.

In the United States, essential services like airport security, prisons and many others are in private hands and are run for profit.

The latest addition is the appointment of 'contractors' to fight wars.

This device is being used to keep the US executive free from restrictions imposed by the US Congress.

What this does to the morale of soldiers, what are the laws that military contractor have to follow are issues shrouded in mystery.

Trump merely carried this privatisation madness to its logical conclusion by dismantling the remaining government.

Indians who have their gaze firmly fixed on the US often lament lack of 'privatisation' in India.

These so-called experts basically regurgitate the opinions of The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal and wish to apply American methods in the Indian situation.

The devastation brought about byTrump and the US inability to effectively deal with COVID-19, while India deals with it successfully, ought to prompt a rethink.

It is indeed an uphill task for President Joe Biden as he grapples with multiple challenges without the tool of an effective administrative machine.

In the US any attempt at government regulation is seen as 'socialism', a political swear word in the Land of Opportunity.

Thus, no American president can easily overcome the challenges of extremism, racism and public health.

It is indeed a long haul for the US to dig itself out of the hole.

This has repercussions for the rest of the world since American power is likely to remain hobbled for a long time with domestic preoccupations.

India should be aware that China will take full advantage of US domestic turmoil and reduced international prestige.

Military historian Colonel Anil A Athale (retd) is a former Chhatrapati Shivaji Chair Fellow at the United Services Institute of India.

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/Rediff.com

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