Hillary's Passage Through India

| Mon Jul. 20, 2009 6:17 PM EDT

"This approaching triumph of India was a muddle...a frustration of reason and form." -- E. M. Forster, A Passage to India.

Not much has changed since Forster wrote the above in 1924, at least from an American perspective. India is still a muddle. With a population now topping a billion, however, it's a far larger and potentially threatening muddle. At least that's what you would think from reading coverage of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's recent trip there.

Coverage focused mainly on India "digging in its heels" (the New York Times) against a mandatory cap on carbon emissions. The Washington Post highlighted Clinton's "clash" with Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh on this issue, which a HuffPo contributor called a "blunt exchange."

A WSJ blog referred to "India's refusal to countenance" limits on GHG emissions, a position that was "angrily aired" during the meeting.

There was no real anger displayed, nor was any of this a surprise. India has consistently rejected any mandated cap on its emissions since before the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.

The coverage needs to be seen in the context of the debate last month in the US House over cap-and-trade provisions.

Republican foes of the bill ranted about how the Waxman-Markey bill played into the hands of our Asian foes.

"The big winners are countries like China and India," warned Steve Scalice (R-LA), "who are champing at the bit to take our jobs."

Michigan Representative Michael Rogers pleaded with his colleagues, "Do not, do not eliminate our middle class and send it to China and India. That is what this bill will do."

That fear-filled message was consistently broadcast by the "Republican Noise Machine," (to use David Brock's evocative phrase for the right wing media) and is pervasive among conservatives.

That attitude helps explain the angry reaction to the administration's acknowledgement, made by Clinton and others, that India is correct in pointing out that the bulk of CO2 in the atmosphere was produced by industrialized nations and that there should be some form of aid in helping other nations develop without polluting as much as we did. "We are hoping," said Clinton in Mumbai, "that a great country like India will not make the same mistakes."

A comment yesterday on the conservative blog, Hot Air, shows how effective Republicans have been at linking any domestic action on climate change with xenophobic fears about job loss to India and China:

BullCrap. I will NOT pay for my own emmissions [sic] let alone another countries. I am so sick of this vile crap.

As a result, a few important aspects of Clinton's visit were ignored or barely mentioned. Climate change was only one topic addressed in meetings between Clinton and Indian government officials. Another, mentioned by Reuters, was "the largest arms deal in the world," in which Lockheed Martin and Boeing may sell 126 fighter jets to India for something over $10 billion.

The other story, on the Bloomberg.com website,  is about an arrangement Clinton was negotiating to allow General Electric and Westinghouse to build a pair of nuclear reactors in India -- with a price tag of around $10 billion.

Also rarely mentioned: India has one of the most ambitious plans for developing solar power, just behind China. Even while the GOP is nearly unanimous in its opposition to government investments in alternative power, the two nations they claim are the main threats to our economic well-being are racing ahead, investing in the technologies -- and the jobs -- of the future.

If Forster were writing today, I think I know what country he would identify as being a muddle.

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