August 20, 2008

When Purple Words Cry Out In One Voice

Filed under: Foreign Affairs,Media — Bottom's Up @ 12:18 am
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Being someone who loves reading the news and the countless views that come with it, I can safey describe myself as someone who is in love with the business of dissemination of news. And while it may have its warts and Media Bias is but a fact of life, the simple way to get around it is to read the publications hated by the liberals as being too conservative and then those by the conservatives as being too liberal and one stops seeing the blacks and whites. Of course, gray is usually less sexy but more interesting than the visuals the color may bring to mind on first thought. Which brings me to my current kvetching – the times when one has to look beyond the liberal and conservative publications and actually dig for the true story. Two very recent instances come to mind.

Take for example the failure of the most recent offering of Doha round of trade talks. Most of the western media talks about how India and China torpedoed the talks. That the failure was due to the lack of agreement on something not as critical as safeguards under the conditions of excessive imports in the agriculture sector. However, little was said about why India’s minister Kamal Nath was treated as a hero on returning home after the talks. The usual suspect on offer was protectionsim. Sure, India wanted to protect its farmers. It is an election year in India too, farmers are committing suicide and inflation is sky high. However, little was said about the chief complaint of the Indian farmers and thus the politicians. This was the subsidies offered by the US to its farmers. Business Week cited this only as an after thought. The Economist, one of my favorite publications and usually a lot more astute, did not do much better. Its only today that I saw something in the FT which touched upon the heart of the matter as far as the Doha Round was concerned.

The US role in the failed Doha trade talks illustrates the collapse of American leadership. Here, the US has been the central spoiler, refusing to cut its trade-distorting subsidies significantly even though they are universally recognised as intolerable. Its latest offer was to cap them at $14.5bn (€9.84bn, £7.76bn) but that well exceeded current payouts, estimated at $9bn. With only 2m farmers in the country, the US still attacked India for asking for an enhanced “special safeguard mechanism” to be used in case of an import surge, when India has far smaller, often subsistence, farms and nearly two-thirds of its population in rural employment.

Yes, it is true that a lot of the current mess in the Indian agriculture sector is thanks to little infrastructure for modern agriculture (a majority of it is still rain fed), poor availability of credit, an inefficient and corrupt public distribution system among others. Still, the anger over  subsidies is a thorny political issue and one that any Indian politician would not agree to unless he has something to show for it and thus India’s adamance on sticking to its guns in the recent talks. Of course if one went purely by western media reports, one would think it was very simple issue of India and to an extent China trying to bully the rest into agreeing to some unreasonable demands. And then there is Mr Barack Obama, the supposed messenger of change, who continues to support the farm bill and inadvertently big agri.

The other instance where the liberal and conservative media both have failed to cover the issue properly is that of the current mess that is Georgia thanks to Russia. No doubt that Russia has done something which is wrong. To further its global ambitions, it has made the people of Georgia suffer. Whatever may be its actions, this is not something to be justified. And yes, we have heard a lot about this and about what Russia’s intentions are. However, how much have we heard in the western media of the failure of American and European diplomacy. It does not take a lot to figure out that Russia was a wounded giant. And that if angered, there is little anyone would be able to do about its actions, as one sees now. And that Putin and Co. have expressed the desire to take Russia to its former ‘glorious’ heights. However, while I wont claim to have read everything that has been written about the issue, what I have seen is mostly a lot of flak for Russia but few words about the failure of Western Diplomacy – a failure which is quite big and reeks of an establishment out of touch with realities.

Where any sane person group of diplomats would have tried to make Russia a part of their group, give them some harmless importance instead of alienation and thus temper their hurt and pride. And before one starts crying foul on appeasement, one needs to remember that giving someone respect deservedly (they are after all a powerful nation and also economically relevant) is not the same as appeasement. Instead our geniuses, deluded by some cold war syndrome,  decide to take the fight to Russia – encircle it through NATO at its borders, arm its neighbours and other such faux pas. At the same time, they continue to  treat Russia as an outsider. The results are for all to see – the western diplomats have come out looking helpless and full of empty words. G. W. Bush has been reminded that he cannot bully Russia and the big losers have been the people of Georgia. Nor has it helped make the world any safer. The same policy is being suggested again and again when it comes to China. One just has to listen to Mr Foriegn Policy – John McCain – who in a supposedly important policy speech said as much, that Russia and China need to be isolated. Hopefully economics in a globalized world will not allow another occurance of bipolarization in the world. Multi polarization is the worlds safest bet. But instead the media has said little about this. After all maybe the media needs to be patriotic and not come out looking like its justifying Russia’s actions.


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