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When Trump dismissed allies' contributions, India was listening

Trump thought nothing of insulting India -- unprompted, for no reason -- during a televised cabinet meeting. New Delhi noticed.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi Holds Meetings In Australia Following G20 Summit
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is escorted through the Australian War Memorial Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Nov. 18, 2014 in Canberra,...

The ongoing military conflict in Afghanistan is an international effort, though the United States has taken the lead and shouldered the largest burden. That's neither surprising nor controversial: we're the world's preeminent superpower with the world's most dominant military. We were attacked on 9/11 and we initiated the war in Afghanistan. Obviously, the American commitment will be greater than our allies'.

But Donald Trump isn't pleased with the imbalance. "I get along very well with India and Prime Minister Modi," the president said at his cabinet meeting yesterday, "but he's constantly telling me he built a library in Afghanistan. Okay, a library. That's like -- you know what that is? That's like 5 hours of what we've spent. And he tells it. And he's very smart. And we're supposed to say, 'Oh, thank you for the library.' I don't know who's using it in Afghanistan."

Trump added moments later, "I don't like being taken advantage of."

Take a moment to consider how the India Times covered the American president's comments.

India has asserted that its projects worth $3 bn in Afghanistan speaks for itself and has regretted the ignorance of American officials after President Donald Trump mocked PM Narendra Modi over the utility of Delhi sponsored "library" in the landlocked country. [...]It was unclear which project Trump was referring to, but India has committed $3 billion in assistance to Afghanistan since 2001. An Afghan civil society member Parwiz Kawa said that Trump may have confused the Parliament building with the library. [...]"India has helped to build Parliament, if that is what he is referring to or Salma Dam, transmission lines, roads and over 400 high-impact community development projects. Delhi is probably third or fourth largest single country donor," sources said, adding it appears that the US President's statement is a matter of poor briefing by officials around him.

The article went on to list a series of investments India has made in Afghanistan -- it was not brief -- none of which included a library.

It didn't generate a lot of headlines, but Barack Obama prioritized improved relations between the United States and India throughout his tenure, and he became the first American president to ever visit India twice during his presidency. Part of this had to do with India's previous partnerships with Russia, and Obama's hopes to shift India's focus toward the West.

But I'm also reminded of a good piece  Politico published in 2015, which explained, "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."

Not only does Trump fail to see these relationships through a strategic lens, the Republican thinks nothing of insulting India -- unprompted, for no reason -- during a televised cabinet meeting.

The work of the next American president to repair these partnerships will be daunting.