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Sydney Morning Herald
Feb. 5, 2000

Clinton's Critics Warn Of Another Foreign Policy Fizzer
By Christopher Kremmer

``Clinton in India'' it doesn't have quite the evocative power of ``Nixon in China'', and if the sceptics are to be believed, nor should it.

For a lame duck president running on empty, India is one of the last stops before redundancy, a limp flag on a world map cluttered with other foreign policy ``firsts''.

Who could forget Bill Clinton's ``historic'' conversation with President Jiang Zemin, broadcast live on Chinese television, in which he boldly raised the issue of Tibet.

Jiang handled it, and ever since the troops in Lhasa have been making the Tibetans pay. Then there are the President's various forays into Middle East and Irish peace-making, both stalled in the dying days of his second term.

When India tested nuclear weapons in May 1998, Clinton was horrified, and slapped on sanctions, as he was bound to do under US law.

Since then, not much has changed for him to claim a policy success. Indeed, New Delhi has floated a draft nuclear policy that, if implemented, would put nuclear warheads on ballistic missiles capable of being launched from land, air and sea.

But even before India signs the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty banning future nuclear tests, here comes Bill, swaggering into another foreign policy fizzer, critics say.

So why? Remember Monicagate, when Sudan and Afghanistan got blasted by American Cruise missiles in what commentators said was an effort to blow the President's extramarital affair off the front page? Well, say the cynics, the India visit is a last-ditch attempt to placate a humiliated wife, and help her win a seat in the US Senate.

Hillary Clinton's chosen seat is New York, a constituency with 200,000 ethnic Indians, including 40per cent of New York City's taxi drivers.``The sizable non-resident Indian population in New York should not be discounted as a reason for the Clinton visit to India. It could help Hillary win her Senate seat,'' says Professor Kanti Bajpai, of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi.

``There's an unusually large personal element in this visit. The Clintons both believe it's important personally, and globally, to stand up for the world's largest democracy, and they are getting a lot of support for that principle from congressional sources,'' Bajpai says.

Hillary Clinton, who will not be coming she is busy with her campaign has already visited India twice, most recently in 1997, when she represented her husband at the funeral of Mother Teresa.

The military coup in neighbouring Pakistan, a long-time US ally in the region, has posed painful problems in shaping the South Asian itinerary, with fears that a presidential visit to Islamabad could be seen as legitimising military rule.

Tensions between India and Pakistan over Kashmir and over the recent hijacking of an Indian airliner are so intense that the US Central Intelligence Agency seriously fears a fourth all-out war between them.

Explosive, perhaps, but not enough to deter Clinton the peacemaker, although the President may have to content himself with a cup of tea at Lahore airport with the Pakistani military leader, General Pervaiz Musharraf, instead of a full state visit meaning Clinton's chances of reducing Kashmir tensions are virtually nil.

Some American analysts believe the President's foreign policy advisers should have warned him against visiting the subcontinent, instead of pandering to his self-image as a statesman. But others believe Washington's pressure for restraint has never been more necessary.

There are, of course, good reasons for visiting India. The country is home to almost one-sixth of humanity, is democratically governed and is slowly emerging as a military and economic force to reckon with in the 21st century.

``I'm going because it's the biggest democracy in the world. I think we haven't been working with them [India] enough,'' Clinton said this week. He is sure to use his visit to advocate a cap on nuclear weapons development, and faster economic reform.

Some analysts see it as a potential counter to Chinese influence. ``We believe that both countries [India and China] are destined to play an increasingly important role in world affairs in the 21st century,'' the US Deputy Secretary of State, Strobe Talbott, said last month.

Then there's the disproportionate number of Indians in America's most dynamic industry information technology.

``Infotech companies in the US are more likely to get venture capital funding if they have an Indian on their board,'' said Sreenath Sreenivasan, a journalism professor at Columbia University in New York. ``It's been said that if you took Indian software engineers out of Silicon Valley, the whole place would shut down.''

Such considerations have not, it can be noted, persuaded any Australian prime minister since Bob Hawke to visit India, and the last US president to visit was Jimmy Carter in 1978.

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