16.04.2014 Author: Ulson Gunnar

Lessons Learned From the US-India Row

34521111In December 2013, Indian Foreign Service officer Devyani Khobragade was arrested, strip-searched and detained in the United States while serving out her diplomatic duties as India’s deputy Consul-General. As a high ranking diplomat with 15 years of service within India’s Foreign Service, her treatment by US authorities triggered tensions between the two nations who were perceived by many to be stalwart allies.

The London Telegraph’s January 2014 article, “India asks US to withdraw diplomat as row escalates,” describes just how acute the row was. India physically removed security barriers in front of the US Embassy in India, revoked privileges previously enjoyed by US diplomats serving in India, and asked the US to withdraw one official from its embassy in New Delhi in retaliation for their expulsion of Khobragade from America. Additionally, several Indian politicians canceled meetings with their American counterparts in protest.

Currently, tensions seem to be slowly easing, but the event is still reverberating through both Indian and American political circles. The US persecutor who set out against Khobragade is now in the news again, this time facing off against New York Governor Andrew Cuomo – apparently building a name for himself, using the humiliation and legal run-through of Khobragade as a stepping stone. It exposes an ugly and increasingly common aspect of American culture that derives pleasure and perceived “progress” from tearing others down. It is one of many lessons onlookers can learn from watching this row unfold.

Lesson #1: America is A Police State Out of Control 

What Khobragade suffered is a fate many across America are increasingly experiencing at the hands of what many call a growing “police state.” In the wake of September 11, 2001’s attacks on the Pentagon and New York City, the expansion of surveillance, search and seizures increased, “legalized” under the auspices of the “Patriot Act.” The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created alongside the Department of Homeland Security. Both began a notorious odyssey of eviscerating America’s Bill of Rights and with it, people’s personal freedoms and dignity.

It may be that America’s “law enforcement” establishment has grown to such proportions, both in terms of physical scale, and in terms of its disproportionate ability to harass those within America’s jurisdiction, that even in a case that clearly calls for discretion, it is incapable of restraining itself. The arresting, strip-searching, and detainment of a foreign diplomat representing a nuclear-armed nation of a billion plus people indicates either arrogance or legal and judicial insanity, or perhaps a combination of both.

America enjoys billing itself as a “nation of laws.” However laws unbound with commonsense, often become a burden upon society, creating dysfunction, and in the case of Devyani Khobragade, a searing diplomatic row that may have created a permanent rift between the two nations while shaking the confidence of others looking on in dismay and doubt. When laws become a burden upon society, rather than the oil that ensures its smooth operation, they have defeated their very purpose of being. America has allowed this domestic problem to grow to such proportions that it is now attracting attention and bringing upon itself consequences internationally.

Lesson #2: The US State Department is Dysfunctional

The US State Department’s tagline is “diplomacy in action.” Diplomacy is considered “the work of maintaining good relations between the governments of different countries.” The row that resulted between the US and India over the treatment of Khobragade surely defied any attempt at maintaining good relations between the governments of these two different countries.

Overseas, the United States is busy undermining the stability of nations perceived to be competitors through political subversion. It does so through many means,including the strategic use of its diplomats, including ambassadors. While notorious meddlers like Gary Locke, Michael McFaul, and Robert Ford are bolstering opposition groups with the expressed desire of politically reordering China, Russia, and Syria respectively, the US State Department back at home is busy making diplomats from other countries feel unwelcomed and on constant edge.

Khobragade’s “crimes” appear to have all been the bending of rules, mainly involving paperwork. While such conduct, if true, would be unprofessional and perhaps a cause of concern regarding US-Indian relations, it is hardly cause for disrupting (very publicly) these important diplomatic relations. The US’ choice to humiliate an Indian woman with a strip search, disproportionate measures considering her accused crimes, seems to be an extra slight both against India as a nation, and Indian culture itself.

It is unlikely that the US State Department and other agencies involved in the very public investigation, arrest, strip-search, and detainment of Khobragade did so without knowing full well the diplomatic row it would cause. Whatever leverage the US was seeking by pushing the case so publicly, it has only exposed itself further as a nation that cannot be trusted, and as a nation that cannot conduct itself constructively within the community of nations it bills itself as the ultimate arbiter over.

Nations may begin considering who they allow to enter their territory as “diplomats” representing the United States, as well as who, if anyone, they choose to deal with the US diplomatically. The US’ conduct (conduct increasingly prevalent in Europe as well) is one of many ill-conceived strategies it is using to isolate itself further in search of advantages over others.

Lesson #3: Nations Must Maintain the Moral High-Ground by Picking Highly Moral Diplomats 

Devyani Khobragade was hardly a dangerous criminal. At best, she was bending the rules. Still, serving as a diplomat, she should have known there might have been consequences if caught. The game the United States was playing was made all that much easier by Khobragade’s allegedly checkered history. Whatever leverage the US was looking for against India through political backchannels, it was able to find by targeting and humiliating Khobragade, and making India’s sitting government look foolish and helpless ahead of major elections now being held.

In the future, nations sending representatives to the United States, or other nations prone to manipulative public relation stunts in breech of all international diplomatic norms, must ensure that those they send are unquestionably professional. When the United States or others attempt to use them as leverage, the ploy will backfire. Instead of India’s population being divided over the row, choosing to blame the United States, or those who appointed Khobragade, they will instead fully back both the government and their diplomatic representative in full knowledge they were not in the wrong.

By picking highly moral diplomatic representatives, a nation maintains the moral high-ground in any row provoked against them.

In the case of Khobragade, regardless of her alleged shortcomings, her treatment was intolerable and disproportionate. It is exemplary of a dying empire, lashing out against its own people as well as all those it deals with along its boundaries. It has reached a critical point where its policies have become so detached from justice, logic, and reason, that onlookers are divided over whether rows like that of the Khobragade incident were done intentionally as a slight against India, or were the unintended consequences of a police state run-amok.

Perhaps the ultimate lesson to be learned is that those who build an empire on insidious plotting and incessant bullying both at home and abroad, eventually become the victim of it, generally as a result of others losing faith, confidence, and trust, both domestically and abroad, initiating irreversible decline that no amount of reform can fix.

Ulson Gunnar is a New York-based geopolitical analyst and writer especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook