Pick for am­bas­sador to In­dia could seal cru­cial part­ner­ship.

Trump’s pick for am­bas­sador could seal a cru­cial strate­gic part­ner­ship

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - By Bill Cowan

In the wake of Don­ald Trump’s his­toric visit to Saudi Ara­bia and suc­cess­ful meet­ing with King Sal­man to un­der­score his pri­or­i­ties and the im­por­tance he at­taches to that na­tion, an­other crit­i­cal player awaits its turn — In­dia, the largest mar­ket-based democ­racy in the world. There is no ques­tion that Saudi Ara­bia is es­sen­tial to any ef­fort to­ward peace and sta­bil­ity in the Mid­dle East. King Sal­man’s sup­port to com­bat ter­ror, af­fect global en­ergy re­sources, and ad­dress Iran’s dan­ger­ous ad­ven­tur­ism in Iraq, Syria, Le­banon and Yemen will be nec­es­sary. But to the east, In­dia pro­vides an op­por­tu­nity for Pres­i­dent Trump and Amer­ica’s new for­eign pol­icy pri­or­i­ties un­like any other na­tion.

In­dia’s geostrate­gic lo­ca­tion in South Asia, not only in­flu­ences ac­tiv­i­ties to its west, through Pak­istan and into Afghanistan and Iraq, but has ma­jor im­pli­ca­tions for hold­ing back China’s ex­pan­sion and grow­ing in­flu­ence through­out the re­gion. Equally im­por­tant is In­dia’s eco­nomic ca­pac­ity, one which holds abun­dant prom­ise for both its own in­ter­ests and Amer­ica’s.

As one of the most pop­u­lated coun­tries in the world, per­haps even No. 1, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent Eco­nomic Times re­port, In­dia is di­verse so­cially, cul­tur­ally, lin­guis­ti­cally and re­li­giously. Yet

Its prom­i­nent lo­ca­tion as a neigh­bor of both nu­clear-armed Pak­istan and in­creas­ingly hege­monic China un­der­lies the ne­ces­sity for a close re­la­tion­ship with the United States.

de­spite these dif­fer­ences, In­dia is of­ten a model for har­mony. With the third-largest Shia pop­u­la­tion in the world, In­dia has avoided the con­stant drum of ter­ror­ism beat­ing so loudly else­where.

Its prom­i­nent lo­ca­tion as a neigh­bor of both nu­clear-armed Pak­istan and in­creas­ingly hege­monic China, each of which poses its own prob­lems for the coun­try, un­der­lies the ne­ces­sity for a close re­la­tion­ship with the United States.

In­dia’s mil­i­tary, cur­rently ranked the fourth-strong­est in the world, is mod­ern­iz­ing and is po­si­tioned to be­come even stronger as de­fense spend­ing in­creases. With re­cent pur­chases of sur­face-to-air and anti-tank guided mis­siles from Is­rael, minesweep­ers and self-pro­pelled ar­tillery guns from South Korea, fighter jets from France, and he­li­copters and ul­tra-light how­itzers from the United States, In­dia’s mil­i­tary strength is on an up­ward trend that en­cour­ages, from the U.S. per­spec­tive, a closer work­ing re­la­tion­ship.

In­dia’s Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi, de­nied a visa to en­ter the United States for the nine years lead­ing up to his over­whelm­ing elec­tion as prime min­is­ter in 2014, has looked be­yond the snub he re­ceived and has worked hard to foster a strong re­la­tion­ship with the U.S. His con­sis­tently high ap­proval rat­ings (81 per­cent in a re­cent Pew Re­search poll) are a strong in­di­ca­tor that he will be in a lead­er­ship role for some time.

Over the past two years, Mr. Modi has aban­doned the pol­icy of near neu­tral­ity to­ward both the United States and China and has turned In­dia into a mil­i­tary and diplo­matic ally of Amer­ica. In fact, he has be­come a promis­ing friend in this vi­tal part of the world, and anx­iously awaits an in­vi­ta­tion to visit Amer­ica and meet with the pres­i­dent. Pub­li­ca­tions across his coun­try spec­u­late on when he will be in­vited, and for­eign pol­icy ex­perts who un­der­stand the po­ten­tial of a strong and grow­ing U.S.-In­dia al­liance are sug­gest­ing this should be Mr. Trump’s next move.

As a first step, the pres­i­dent must ap­point a strong U.S. am­bas­sador to In­dia to in­di­cate how im­por­tant the coun­try is to his new ad­min­is­tra­tion and to en­gage Mr. Modi in his agenda of se­cu­rity and com­merce. There are three lead­ing can­di­dates, and spec­u­la­tion rages from D.C. to Delhi. Among those are Ash­ley Tel­lis, a Mum­bai-born aca­demic and mem­ber of Ge­orge W. Bush’s diplo­matic corps; Ken Juster, an­other ca­reer bu­reau­crat who served in the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion and cur­rently works as deputy as­sis­tant to the pres­i­dent on in­ter­na­tional eco­nomic af­fairs; and Sha­l­abh Ku­mar, per­haps the most in­ter­est­ing, if not en­gag­ing, of the three.

While Mr. Tel­lis was an ar­dent “Never Trumper” who went so far as sup­port­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton, and Mr. Juster seems to di­verge with the cur­rent pres­i­dent in his glob­al­ist agenda and af­fil­i­a­tion with the Tri­lat­eral Com­mis­sion, Mr. Ku­mar is closer to the Rex Tiller­son mold, a suc­cess­ful and self-made busi­ness­man who un­der­stands the in­ter­sec­tion of com­merce and se­cu­rity. Much like Mr. Trump, he can be bold, as he was when he took a del­e­ga­tion of U.S. con­gres­sional lead­ers to meet Mr. Modi, when the In­dian leader was for­bid­den to en­ter the U.S. by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion.

That bold but pre­scient foray into di­plo­macy high­lights Mr. Ku­mar’s years of re­la­tions with key gov­ern­ment and busi­ness lead­ers in In­dia, and he has es­tab­lished sim­i­lar as­sets in the U.S., where he led an am­bi­tious na­tional ef­fort to rally Hin­duAmer­i­cans to the Trump cam­paign, re­ject­ing their tra­di­tional al­le­giance to the Demo­cratic Party. By the tens of thou­sands, Hindu-Amer­i­cans switched their sup­port to Mr. Trump, do­nat­ing more than $10 mil­lion to his cam­paign and con­gres­sional races.

Who the pres­i­dent se­lects will be telling. Where past pres­i­dents fa­vored gov­ern­ment ca­reerists as ap­pointees, such as Hil­lary Clin­ton, John Kerry, Colin Pow­ell, Madeleine Al­bright, War­ren Christo­pher, and a long list of other as­cen­dant bu­reau­crats, by ap­point­ing Rex Tiller­son as sec­re­tary of State, Mr. Trump seems to be re-es­tab­lish­ing a prece­dent in which busi­ness acu­men and ex­ec­u­tive lead­er­ship of ap­pointees like Ge­orge Schultz bring bold, sea­soned, free-mar­ket ex­pe­ri­ence, com­bined with diplo­matic skills in fur­ther­ing Amer­i­can com­mer­cial and se­cu­rity in­ter­ests abroad.

It may be safe to pick from the om­nipresent bu­reau­cratic corps, or the Wash­ing­ton think tanks — hold­ing ponds for peo­ple wait­ing for a chance to serve in an­other ad­min­is­tra­tion while their team is on the bench. But Mr. Trump’s lead­er­ship style seems any­thing but safe.

Rather, in his own words, he is about rev­o­lu­tion — a stark con­trast to Barack Obama in his di­rect and oft-times un­var­nished ob­jec­tives and as­sess­ments, as re­cently demon­strated dur­ing his swing through Europe. Will he want that in his am­bas­sadors? The nom­i­na­tion of who will serve him in In­dia will be a telling in­di­ca­tor, and, in the process, it will send a strong mes­sage to Delhi con­cern­ing the fu­ture of U.S.-In­dia re­la­tions.

IL­LUS­TRA­TION BY HUNTER

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