United States President Barack Obama arrives in India on Sunday for a much-heralded summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. If there are any doubts about the worth of engaging him in the last two years of his presidency or the significance of American power in what is believed to be the ‘Asian Century’, one has to only see his compelling State of the Union address this week. Mr Obama articulated, with customary clarity, the sources of American strength that the world tends to lose sight of. To begin with, the US economy has recovered from the 2008 meltdown, its economy —“free from the grip of foreign oil” — is growing at the fastest pace since 1999. More people have returned to work in America since 2010 than Europe, Japan and all advanced economies combined. These improving indicators can provide Mr Obama the space to push initiatives like free community college education for about nine million citizens, skilling programmes, infrastructure development and welfarist imperatives like raising the minimum wage and countering the gender pay gap.
America’s politics is famously gridlocked but it does not preclude domestic renewal — which will have implications abroad. It will continue to lead international coalitions on key issues: Mr Obama’s administration will seek Congressional authorisation to use force against ISIS, which is controlling large swathes of territory and threatening Europe with jihadis heading home. The US will also be the key bulwark to manage China’s rise, notwithstanding their mutual economic dependence. Mr Obama said Beijing was resorting to unfair trade practices, and suggested that the US would seek “strong new trade rules from Asia to Europe that aren’t just free, but fair”. Mr Obama is also keen on redirecting investment trends by reforming tax codes to reward companies that invest in America rather than keep profits abroad.
A lot of Mr Obama’s plans will, however, depend on the support of Congress, which is controlled by the Republicans. It was particularly telling that the Republican House Speaker, John Boehner, sat stonily through most of Mr Obama’s speech, which was robustly articulating American interests. But the speech made clear that Mr Obama is not planning his presidential library just yet and has no intention to see through his remaining two years in a state of policy inertia. Whether it is discussing budgets with Capitol Hill, continuing nuclear talks with Iran in the face of Congressional opposition, or pursuing climate change agreements, the US Executive will continue to have a full agenda for some time to come. Mr Modi has received good advice on grasping the moment of renewed vigour in the Obama presidency. Inviting him here was a good idea.