Recasting the world according to the vision of Barack Obama may not always be easy for his secretary of State and erstwhile political rival, Hillary Rodham Clinton. But her recent three-day visit to India shows the former first lady can dutifully deliver results that point to an Obama-style global order.
The president (and thus Ms. Clinton) sees India as one of a few major or emerging powers that are well shy of being US allies but nonetheless might work more closely with the US – as the sole global superpower. He wants to share the burden of uplifting humanity and keeping the peace as he prefers to focus on his heavy domestic agenda.
By and large, the Clinton visit revealed an India ready to deepen ties with the US – far more so than with, say, China or Russia, and in similar measure to fellow democracies like Turkey, Brazil, South Africa, and Indonesia.
What does such closeness look like?
Clinton won deals on selling US nuclear power-plant equipment to India as well as high-tech military equipment that can be tracked for its end use. She also made some progress in bringing India closer to abiding by international rules on nuclear weapons known as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
India won regular, high-level, multi-ministerial strategic talks with the US that will expand on the Bush administration's stronger military ties with this South Asian giant. And in a sign of Mr. Obama's global agenda to look beyond traditional American allies, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will be the first foreign leader to receive an official red-carpet state visit to the Obama White House.
If Obama is true to his vision, he won't wait too long to travel to India after Mr. Singh's November visit. That gesture would help cement a partnership long overdue between the world's two largest democracies.
On the vital issues of climate change and a possible bilateral free-trade agreement, however, India and the Obama administration remain far apart. India does not want international attempts at curbing global warming to slow its economy. And it wants to protect its farmers from inexpensive US agricultural exports.
And while India enjoys new US attention, it remains vigilant against any American meddling in its touchy ties with Pakistan, especially over the issues of Kashmir and Afghanistan. India is rightly worried that Pakistan's recent attempts to crack down on terrorists will extend only to those militants not interested in attacking India. Memories are still raw over last year's massive killings in Mumbai (Bombay) by a group of Pakistani gunmen.
Still, India remains pivotal to Obama's attempt to stabilize Afghanistan, while India welcomes the US as a balancing force in its regional competition with China. These are the building blocks of an emerging and potentially enduring strategic relationship.
The US and India need to work particularly hard at raising American understanding of India – beyond such cultural encounters as the film "Slumdog Millionaire." The two countries have never had an intense experience of each other, such as the US wars – hot and cold – with Japan, China, Russia, and Germany.
Clinton, who visited India in 1995 as first lady in a high-profile trip, is well poised to expand the necessary people exchanges between the two countries. In that role, she is an asset for Obama as he enlists India and other powers to help him find more help in running the world.