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Waiting for Mr. Eric Garcetti

Both Washington and New Delhi would be relieved when an American Ambassador is finally in place and in a country that is often touted as a key strategic partner.

President Biden(L) with Eric Garcetti. Image- Facebook

It has been a long wait of more than two years and finally there seems to be light at the end of tunnel; but not quite time to uncork the champagne bottles some would still insist. The former Mayor of Los Angeles, Eric Garcetti, may not be known to many Indians but the officialdom in both Washington and New Delhi would be relieved when an American Ambassador is finally in place and in a country that is often touted as a key strategic partner.

No matter what the Biden administration may say about having to wait for a process to play out, questions will undoubtedly linger if the White House could have done something to accelerate the nomination instead of leaving Garcetti along with some twenty other envoys who are pending before the Senate Committee. And the White House should have long known that the Senate was not going to be having a recess that had nothing to do with Garcetti; rather having the Chamber gaveled in and out every three days to prevent what was seen as an abuse of a process by the Executive.

Precious time has been lost ;the blame game is not going to help and there is not much time left in the first Biden administration. The security environment of the Indo Pacific is not something that many players in the region will see as comforting, especially the simmering tensions in East Asia, the implications of the looming crisis in Pakistan and South Asia and the continuing war in the Ukraine have all called into question the role of the United States.

The prospect of Washington and Beijing escalating their verbal shouting match into a physical show of force is quite frightening especially as China gets tougher on Taiwan. And the prospect of Russia and China getting closer in the aftermath of the Ukraine war including in the possibility of the East Asian communist giant replenishing Russian arms inventory is not exactly seen as a stabilizing influence in geo-politics. And all these have brought into sharper focus the absence of an American Ambassador in India.

Garcetti cleared the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week by a 13 to 8 margin with two Republicans joining Democrats but still the full Senate will have to vote on the nomination. On the face of it there seems to be little trouble for the nominee; but still a few Republicans and Democrats seem to have reservations, not on Garcetti himself but in the fashion he had dealt with allegations against one of his top aides. Recently in placing a hold Florida Senator Marco Rubio said “I will not turn a blind eye to these absurd nominations, which will hasten America’s decline…”.

There is no doubt that United States-India relations have travelled considerable distance since the time President Bill Clinton visited in 2000. Still there is a long way to go, over and beyond the Howdy Modi and Namaste Trump shows. Garcetti may not be able to put back issuance of visas and a trade deal at the snap of a finger; or for that matter not be seen as an India or South Asia hand except for studying Hindi and Urdu in college for a year. But it sure helps to have a person who can dial the Oval Office from his desk in New Delhi.