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HindustanTimes Wed,22 Oct 2014
No time to horse around
Anirudh Bhattacharyya
March 08, 2013
First Published: 21:43 IST(8/3/2013)
Last Updated: 21:45 IST(8/3/2013)

America’s spanking new Secretary of State John Kerry recently told a group of German students that “In America you have a right to be stupid — if you want to be.”

That probably explains why Justin Bieber now has more followers on Twitter than the total population of Canada.

Perhaps Kerry should wear one of those ‘I’m With Stupid’ T-shirts the next time he attends an Obama Cabinet meeting with his new colleague, defence secretary Chuck Hagel.

Hagel, of course, riled Indian diplomats when a video recently surfaced in which he grandly stated, “India, for some time, has always used Afghanistan as a second front, and India has, over the years, financed problems for Pakistan on that side of the border.” Even as he was taking the oath of office, he had a swearing at ceremony.

The unkindest cut of all for Hagel as he assumed charge is the automatic paring of the defence budget as the sequester kicks in. In other words, he faces the prospect of dealing with the chiefs of the Armed Forces at the Quadragon.

A majority of Americans apparently have a negative opinion of sequestration. That’s surprising: that they would be aware of an abstract bureaucratic manoeuvre or even have that word in their vocabulary. My considered guess is that they have confused it with equestrian since there’s a horsemeat scandal galloping through Europe.

It’s obviously troubling if their meal of Swedish meatballs at the closest Ikea was sourced from Black Beauty. Which, of course, gives a whole new spin to the phrase horses for courses.

The sequester originated in horse-trading between the Obama administration and the US Congress. The objective was to get Congressional leaders to agree on nearly $1 trillion in spending cuts. It was the poison pill option if a compromise wasn’t reached. It wasn’t.

The White House is hyping the sequester as a fiscal apocalypse, like the Y2K scare of the late 1990s. One Congresswoman warned of 170 million job losses in the US, or millions more than the total number of jobs in the country.

Other voices have been raised in panic, warning of dearth by a thousand cuts. However, the amount involved is less than 2.5% of the administration’s 2012 budget. Moreover, the affected departments had 16 months to prepare, but then, as we know, bureaucracies take longer to decide what colour their red tape should be.

Kerry’s State Department will also be impacted. He breathlessly warned that the cuts could shave hundreds of millions from foreign military financing and aid. Though that didn’t seem to apply when he announced that a $250-million assistance package would be provided to Egypt.

Perhaps he’ll find savings elsewhere. There are already freelancers supplementing the State Department’s work. Like former basketball star Dennis Rodman, who sat courtside in Pyongyang with North Korea’s autocrat Kim Jong Un and described him as an “awesome guy”.

In an interview to the ABC network, Rodman had this to say about Kim: “He want Obama to do one thing: Call him. He said, ‘If you can Dennis, I don’t want to do war.’ He said that to me.” With skills envoys would envy, Rodman went on, “Kim loves basketball.
And I said the same thing, I said, ‘Obama loves basketball,’ Let’s start there.” In the technical terminology of American foreign policy, that’s a slam dunk.

Kerry also argued the budgetary reductions would deter security upkeep and upgradation at various American diplomatic posts. Somehow those measures didn’t come into play when an Ambassador and four other personnel were killed in Benghazi last year.

Kerry is essentially complaining about being unable to shut the stable door after the horse has already bolted, possibly onto the plate of a British diner.

India, of course, will likely bear the brunt of America’s cut-and-run policy in Afghanistan. And that will only be compounded with the Kerry-Hagel duo backing the wrong horse in the region.

Currently based in Toronto, Anirudh Bhattacharyya has been a New York-based foreign correspondent for eight years
The views expressed by the author are personal


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