One of the more common criticisms of President Obama’s foreign policy from the right is that he’s scaled back U.S. efforts to influence the world, withdrawing America from its traditional leadership post. The Republican whining has always been more ironic than credible, largely because Obama has spent six years doing the exact opposite.
For example, consider this New York Times report covering the president’s trip to India and his attendance at India’s massive, annual Republic Day celebration.
The parade was the visual centerpiece of Mr. Obama’s three-day trip, a colorful mélange of modern-day military hardware, soldiers in traditional turbans and costumes riding camels, and a series of floats from myriad states capturing different aspects of India’s rich and complicated cultures. The invitation to Mr. Obama to attend in the position of honor was an important diplomatic gesture. […]Mr. Obama’s decision to accept the invitation to be chief guest was seen here as a great tribute to India, heralded by politicians and the news media as a sign of the country’s importance on the world stage. An announcer told the crowd that it was “a proud moment for every Indian.”
Of course, Obama’s diplomatic emphasis – he’s the first sitting president to ever visit India twice during his term – was about more than symbolic celebrations. As msnbc’s Benjy Sarlin reported, Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced “progress on nuclear energy and climate change negotiations during their talks in New Delhi,” with the U.S. president declaring a “breakthrough understanding” on the former.
What’s more, the NYT report added that Obama and Modi “renewed the 10-year defense pact between the two countries on Sunday and agreed to cooperate on aircraft carrier and jet engine technology. They also agreed to work on joint production of small-scale surveillance drones.”
There’s also the broader, geo-political landscape to consider. Clearly, Obama has prioritized improved relations with India, seeing it as an important goal on its own, but there’s also a context to remember.
India, for example, has long partnered with Russia, and U.S. officials would likely prefer to see those ties fray in the coming years. At the same time, China has made no secret of its hopes to expand its influence practically everywhere, and as Edward-Isaac Dovere explained well, Obama’s visit to New Delhi was of great interest to Beijing.
Obama came into office hoping to make a “pivot to Asia,” and he’s spent six years trying to shift U.S. foreign policy in that direction, despite distractions and rebuffs, in an effort to align U.S. interests with those of the world’s most rapidly growing populations and economies. As part of that strategy and an effort to counterbalance China, Obama has looked to bolster India – which is on course to overtake China as the world’s most populous nation – to make sure China has a strong rival in the region.But for Obama, like Bill Clinton and George W. Bush before him, the Indian relationship itself has so far been a huge investment of American time and money with little to show. So now, on the first foreign trip of his final two years and with a mind on building his legacy, Obama’s spending three days in New Delhi trying again.China, said Jon Huntsman, Obama’s first ambassador in Beijing, “will be implied in everything they do, and everything they discuss.”
If Republicans see all of this and continue to assume the president is retreating from the world stage, they’re just not paying close enough attention.