Monday 18 Feb 2019 | 12:47 | SYDNEY
Monday 18 Feb 2019 | 12:47 | SYDNEY

The Interpreter's best of 2014: Modi, RAMSI, Obama at West Point and Mosul falls


6 January 2015 08:00

Throughout the Christmas-New Year break, The Interpreter will be featuring some of its best pieces from 2014. More to come between now and January 12 when The Interpreter will be back for 2015.

Narendra Modi’s foreign policy: Continuity the key, by C Uday Bhaskar, 20 May.

India's internal security challenges are complex and the Mumbai terror attack of November 2008 is embedded in the collective memory of the Indian state and society. The outgoing government was perceived to be effete in tackling this matter, and Modi has aroused expectations about a more firm and assertive response to the scourge of terror. This is a tangled issue and is linked to the religious diversity of India. The landslide Modi victory in the elections gave the BJP a huge tally of 282 seats, but not a single Muslim figures on this scorecard. Consequently, against the backdrop of the 2002 Godhra incident and the charges leveled against Modi, many misgivings about the alienation of the Muslim population have been voiced.

RAMSI: How to blow $2.6 billion in a decade, by Daniel Gay, 23 May.

A pointed joke used to do the rounds in Honiara: if you needed to call on the Australian police you could usually find them in the Lime Lounge, a swanky cafe at the west end of the main street that serves silky flat whites and a range of delights including the 'RAMSI breakfast'. 

The cappuccino cops were in town as part of the Regional Assistance Mission to the Solomon Islands (RAMSI), which aimed to support security, the economy and government following the period of political instability and conflict between 1999 and 2002 known as 'the Tensions'. The Lowy Institute has for the first time calculated the cost of Australia's contribution to RAMSI: a staggering $2.6 billion from 2003-13.

The Lowy analysis implies that this sum amounts to one-third of gross domestic product, and more than the Solomon Islands government spent over the decade. For a donor to spend more than the host government over such a long period may be without precedent in the Pacific region, if not the world. Such huge public spending also contradicts the advice of RAMSI government advisers, which was to lower expenditure.

Obama at West Point: The limits of American power, by Tom Switzer, 29 May.

Several commentators — most notably Robert Kagan, who's written a widely read article in the New Republic this week — point to a paradox: that Americans want a time out from the world even as they lambaste the President for his disinterested world view. 

But the problem with Obama's foreign policy is not that he has failed to intervene militarily in hot spots such as Syria nor that he has not asserted US power and influence in places like Ukraine. It's that he has made so many prestige committing moves that his failure to follow through on his threats and commitments (red lines!) diminishes American prestige and credibility. 

The American people aren't hankering for indiscriminate global intervention; they support a more assertive US presence when it serves what is clearly defined as a national interest. 

In this environment, the President could have used the occasion to explain more comprehensively not just his wise refrain that there is not an American solution to every problem in the world. 

Mosul falls, Canberra shrugs: Australia’s Iraq amnesia, by Rodger Shanahan, 11 June.

One would have thought that a country which invades another for what it considered altruistic reasons would continue to have an interest in events there long after the troops have been withdrawn. When that country is Iraq, however, there appears to be a case of collective amnesia among Australia's political leadership.

Many would be unaware that elections were held in Iraq in April. Certainly there were no congratulatory messages from Australia, one of the members of the 2003 'Coalition of the Willing', at the fact that an election was held. A bit curious, when the current prime minister saw the invasion of Iraq as a justified attempt to create a pluralistic democratic state. Curious also, given that the foreign minister did take the time to condemn the sham election held in neighbouring Syria.

When the word 'Iraq' is mentioned, countries like Australia tend to cough, look downward and shuffle their feet uncomfortably while hoping the conversation moves on. That's because deep down we know what we did was ill-informed and without any understanding of the likely consequences of our actions. We just can't quite admit it.

Photo courtesy of Flickr user United States Forces Iraq.

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