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Biden’s ‘Wag-The-Dog’ Policy Not Good For America, India Or The World

In 1997, Barry Levinson directed a classic political satire called Wag the dog, starring Robert De Niro and Dustin Hoffmann. It was about narrative builders who engineered a crisis in Albania, to deflect public attention from a sex scandal involving the American president. In an unbelievable coincidence, the Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky scandal broke out just three weeks after the film’s release, and in a surreal parallel, Clinton ordered the bombing of Al-Qaeda bases in Sudan as the scandal consumed America that summer, to divert attention.

A quarter century later, as reports emerge of an American missile strike having killed Al-Qaeda chief Ayman Al-Zawahiri in Kabul on 31 July, it is impossible to shrug off the thought that a cornered politician is engineering a fresh crisis, to somehow distract Americans from other issues, for at least a little while.

Look at the timing: Biden’s credibility is at a nadir today. He is seen as an ineffective, clueless, doddering disaster who whines more than he leads. Under his watch, he has allowed the American economy to be hit severely by the twin terrors of soaring inflation and a crushing recession.

Wokeness is now a mainstream ideology in America, with even kindergarten students being taught how to identify with new, spurious identities. Everyone is a pronoun now, and gender is a spectrum. The thoughtless manner in which he abruptly handed over Afghanistan to the Taliban (and Pakistan) last year, the humiliation of that defeat, and the resultant increase in instability in the region, are on him, and him alone. He has failed to regain control of the global oil price, domestic hydrocarbon production growth is still in the doldrums, and his long-delayed visit to Saudi Arabia last month got him nothing but a contrived fist-bump, and bad press.

In between, he found time last year to nearly wreck relations with France, by getting the Australians to cancel a huge, multi-billion-dollar submarine contract already signed with the French, and to opt for Anglo-American submarines instead.

Undeterred, he then shook the global power balance to the core by triggering a proxy war with Russia in Ukraine. But instead of expanding NATO, bringing Russia to heel, and replacing Russia as Europe’s main energy supplier, as intended, his obstinacy has, instead, only resulted in a withering global energy crisis, a food crisis, a new Cold War, and a senseless side-lining of the actual threat – China.

Today, any talk of American exceptionalism – a grand, moral concept which once gave America the right to mould the world in their image through two world wars, one cold one, and a messy three decades of fighting radical Islamism – only draws snorts and hollow laughs. From a force for good, America’s image has swiftly degenerated to that of a meddlesome regime-change artiste driven by kooky cultural ideas and crass self-interest.

And Biden’s managed all that in just the first 18 months of his term!

Unfortunately for Biden, his errors are now adding up, and he needs a new pivot – to save face, to buy time, and to craft an exit strategy out of the prevailing global mess. But the problem is that this desperate effort at damage control is causing conflicts with earlier American policies, and creating contradictions that would affect the country both internally, and at the foreign policy level – especially with India.

That is why the news of Al-Zawahiri’s killing in Kabul has to be analysed in conjunction with other events, if we are to make sense of the bigger picture.

The missile strike happened in the same week as American Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s proposed trip to Taiwan. To the Chinese, this visit would be a red line, since it actively negates a ‘One China’ policy instituted by American president Richard Nixon in 1972, as a precursor to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the two nations.

By that policy, designed to save Chinese face, America rather vaguely accepts the Chinese view that Taiwan is a part of China, while permitting America to engage with Taiwan and underwrite its security, equally vaguely.

To wit, sending Pelosi to Taiwan on an official visit is a provocative act, which would upset the Chinese to no end, heighten the risk of conflict in the South China Sea, and reverse a fifty-year-old American foreign policy position. It will also further complicate the Sino-Indian issue, which is at its worst level since 1962. So, why do it now?

Also, the Kabul strike comes just weeks after America helped Pakistan secure a fresh bailout package from the International Monetary Fund. There are unconfirmed reports as well, that the drones which released the missiles were launched from Pakistani airspace. Even if they were not, as Swarajya’s Jai Menon says, the script remains the same: Pakistan grants America permission to take out a high value target, for which America rewards Pakistan.

The implications are unsettling for India, because this means that America still needs Pakistan, and would, therefore, be less sensitive to Indian security concerns as it tries to monkey-balance the subcontinent. It is not inconceivable that the Chinese airforce was emboldened to buzz the LAC, as a result of America needing to work with Pakistan again.

That doesn’t augur well for Indo-American ties, especially at a time when American instigations over Ukraine have disrupted India’s energy supply chains, and forced oil prices to spike painfully.

Biden’s attempt to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds, by using Pakistan on a call-on basis, while simultaneously seeking to cement ties with India, don’t augur too well for Quad (a quasi-military grouping of America, Japan, Australia and India aimed at tackling China) or AUKUS (a military grouping oriented around Asia and the Pacific, and made up of America, the United Kingdom and Australia). The ground reality is that there is no Quad without India, and there is no AUKUS without a working Quad.

Either Biden doesn’t understand that, or he doesn’t care, but his hit on Al-Zawahiri will impact Indo-American relations (both trade and strategic), and India now has one more reason to perceive America as an unreliable partner.

But perhaps, it is foolish of us to expect anything else. America needed a crisis to get over the humiliation they suffered in Afghanistan, which they got in Ukraine. And now, they need a fresh crisis to get over the blunders they precipitated in Ukraine. Fine, that is America’s prerogative as the world’s most powerful nation, but Biden’s actions will attract costs, repel America’s old allies (the rumblings are already on in Europe), make new friends warier, and create confusion in its own, long-standing, bipartisan policies – both foreign and domestic.

Bottom line: Biden’s ‘Wag-the-dog’ policy, of stumbling from one manufactured crisis to another, is not good for America, India, or the world. It needs to stop.


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