It’s not just that the US President doesn’t appreciate the importance of soft power, but that the Indian government fundamentally misread the American leader to the point of thinking that he actually does and that no one in their intelligence community realized what a serious error of judgement this was.
Trump’s a no-nonsense businessman, for better for worse, and he cares more about cost, effectiveness, and the visible end result than he does about feel-good symbolism, wasteful largesse, and intentions. It was hitherto taken for granted that everyone in the world realized this by now, especially world leaders after how much Trump mocked his European counterparts over the past two years for evading their defense obligations to NATO, but apparently the Indian government hadn’t been paying attention and instead never learned this lesson.
Trump was once again in the headlines all across South Asia after he brutally mocked Indian Prime Minister Modi for bragging over and over again about a library that his country built in Afghanistan, which he unforgettably said was equivalent to the cost of what the US spends there in a mere five hours and questioned whether any Afghans have even ever used the much-touted facility. Regional observers drew attention both to Trump’s condescending tone towards one of the US’ newest allies and his lack of understanding about the fundamentals of soft power.
What no one seems to have pointed out, however, is how disturbing it is that India and none other than its own Prime Minister have so ridiculously misread Trump to the extent that they actually thought that he was a man of “high culture” who would appreciate a library. Not only that, but they apparently ignored the countless examples of his personal character and leadership style which would have otherwise informed them that emphasizing a library of all things is probably the worst way to appeal to the American President and convince him that India is a reliable burden-sharing ally in Afghanistan.
It’s not known whether Modi repeatedly did this on his regard or if he was advised to do so, but either way, the Indian government must have known that he was constantly bragging about this to Trump. This obvious observation suggests that India’s Research & Analysis Wing (RAW) intelligence agency is surprisingly incompetent when it comes to the information that it’s obtained about foreign leaders, let alone the most outspoken one in the world who makes no secret whatsoever of his views.
The very fact that no responsible individual in that agency intervened at any given point in time to brief the Prime Minister about how cringe-worthy of a faux pas it is to use the example of an Afghan library to appeal to Trump and emphasize India’s commitment as a burden-sharing ally of America speaks volumes about RAW’s professional incompetence and could potentially be seized upon by the Congress opposition ahead of heated elections later this year.
It should also scare Indians that the “smartest minds in the land” tasked with promoting their country’s interests abroad hadn’t a clue that Trump would be so offended by Modi constantly bragging about his much-touted Afghan library that he’d eventually be triggered into savagely disrespecting their national dignity on the world stage. The question naturally becomes one of wondering what else they’re fundamentally misreading if they were so wrong about something that was so easy to get right and whether or not their incompetence in other spheres could have serious national security implications for India at home.
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