Dear Mr. President: the key words to long-term U.S. policy success may be “Jai Ho”

Developing further my Airport Theory of Foreign Relations, it is impossible not to marvel at the creativity and industry of the Indians. Arriving after an eight-and-one half-hour-long flight from that shopping mall from Hell also known as Heathrow Terminal Five, we raced into Mumbai for a meeting. Naturally, we were seething with hostility after bad ...

585072_090610_mumbaib2.jpg
585072_090610_mumbaib2.jpg

Developing further my Airport Theory of Foreign Relations, it is impossible not to marvel at the creativity and industry of the Indians. Arriving after an eight-and-one half-hour-long flight from that shopping mall from Hell also known as Heathrow Terminal Five, we raced into Mumbai for a meeting. Naturally, we were seething with hostility after bad treatment and flying here on what seemed to be the original Boeing 777. In fact, parts seemed to be made from balsa wood suggesting they had been salvaged from earlier aircraft... a de Havilland Jenny for example. 

At any rate, this is the kind of subtle undermining of international relations that our painfully inefficient and unpleasant system of connecting the globe produces. We were ready to be ugly Americans, well-prepared for the job both by circumstances and genetics. 

Developing further my Airport Theory of Foreign Relations, it is impossible not to marvel at the creativity and industry of the Indians. Arriving after an eight-and-one half-hour-long flight from that shopping mall from Hell also known as Heathrow Terminal Five, we raced into Mumbai for a meeting. Naturally, we were seething with hostility after bad treatment and flying here on what seemed to be the original Boeing 777. In fact, parts seemed to be made from balsa wood suggesting they had been salvaged from earlier aircraft… a de Havilland Jenny for example. 

At any rate, this is the kind of subtle undermining of international relations that our painfully inefficient and unpleasant system of connecting the globe produces. We were ready to be ugly Americans, well-prepared for the job both by circumstances and genetics. 

So, what is rapidly expanding India — today’s papers announced that the country expects to grow in this global economic annus horibilis at the breathtaking rate of 7 percent — to do with visitors like us? Answer: build in a cool-down period (no mean feat when the temperature is over 90 and everyone is nervously awaiting the arrival of the monsoon season). Where? The highway from the airport. A trip that should take 40 minutes took almost two hours. It was an exceptionally effective buffer. By the time we got to the hotel I could barely muster a sneer at the reception lady when she told me my room wasn’t ready. Of course, I’ll admit I was subdued somewhat by the sight of the gutted remnants of the terrorist gutted Oberoi which we passed on the way in. (And also by the security we had to pass through just to enter the lobby of this hotel.)

Admittedly, thanks to a tube strike, the city from which we came, London, is also offering massive traffic jams from the airport. The problem is they are also offering massive traffic jams to the airport. And they don’t have anything like 7 percent growth to explain the rapidly growing number of cars on the motorways. Nor, of course, do they have anything like the slums that line the route into downtown Mumbai…but I’ll admit it, despite the gut-wrenching deprivation in which the slum-dwellers live, it is hard to not to look around at cranes on the horizon or the ubiquity of cell phones (a phone line for life costs $2) or to think of the recent successful elections in this complex country of a billion and not think that India has the wind at its back at the moment. That doesn’t minimize the social challenges but it clearly gives a feeling of vitality and hope.

What a relief to be seeing the stories of Manmohan Singh’s new government on the front page of the paper and not the stories from the front pages in my last stop noting the electoral success of the BNP, the racist, troglodyte British National Party. America elects an African American. Britain sends haters to the European Parliament. (What a relief that it is a useless organization.) Worse, the papers also noted similar recent right wing successes across Europe. For example the triumph of anti-gypsy nationalists in Hungary. Great to see Europe stepping up to meet the great challenges of our times with these creatures who have crawled out of the shallow end of the political cesspool. 

That said, I can’t say that I am that heartened by the news my blackberry keeps sending me from home, either. Can it really be that America is either surprised or interested that Adam Lambert is gay? (Really? Really?!) Can a Washington Post columnist actually be praising Obama for boldly taking a stance against Holocaust deniers (what next, a bold defense of Copernicus?), even as he seems to be allowing the country of those deniers to creep its way into the nuclear club? (If you don’t see the irony here, write in and I will draw you a picture.)

Can the Obama administration really believe that merging Chrysler into Fiat

is actually going to help either? Chrysler’s best minds left after their last merger with Daimler Benz. Fiat doesn’t have one single leading international brand. Is it really credible that if one of the world’s most successful auto companies (Daimler Benz) couldn’t save Chrysler that a combination of one of the world’s most mediocre (Fiat) and a bunch of government guys who don’t know anything about cars plus some union members who helped screw things up in the first place are going to do it? 

Here in India, taxi drivers talk with palpable pride at the advent of the Tata Nano, a tiny car that is a source of great national pride. Business executives cite the ease with which they meet much higher average gasoline mileage targets than posed in the United States. I mean, I get it, this is a very poor country with a wide range of desperate needs (over 40 percent of Indians don’t have access to electricity yet). But you’ve got to ask which way the trends are pushing us…and you also have to ask why the United States has not made a more urgent priority of dramatically strengthening relations with this country. Such a relationship could not be more central to containing the threat in Pakistan, counter-balancing China, promoting democracy and managing a whole host of global threats from climate to proliferation. To be perfectly honest, I think a lot more real and lasting (rather than symbolic and likely to be fleeting) good would be likely to come from President Obama making a trip to the land of Gandhi than his recent trip to the land of Mubarak and Nasser.

PAL PILLAI/AFP/Getty Images

David Rothkopf is visiting professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs and visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. His latest book is The Great Questions of Tomorrow. He has been a longtime contributor to Foreign Policy and was CEO and editor of the FP Group from 2012 to May 2017. Twitter: @djrothkopf

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