Before President Barack Obama embarked on his 10-day Asian trip, his longest overseas visit since taking office, he highlighted the tour's economic objectives. But given that government leaders generally exert more control over political-military decisions than over economic trends, the strategic goals of Obama's trip are perhaps more important and certainly worth examining.
Obama has already completed the first and longest leg of his trip in India. Some Indian leaders who place great stock on status and symbolism grumble that despite enthusiastic rhetoric, the Obama White House has effectively downgraded the U.S.-Indian partnership compared to his predecessor. Unlike the Bush administration, which talked about a relationship between two democracies that could decisively shape the 21st century, U.S. officials now talk about India essentially the same way as they describe other rising powers, and emphasize trade and economics in their discourse rather than shared national interests and values.
Still, the Obama administration has recently overcome bottlenecks that have impeded bilateral U.S.-Indian defense industry cooperation for years. In return for a relaxation of U.S. restrictions on the export of some dual-use military-related technologies, the Indian government has established plans to buy a number of expensive U.S. defense items. Among the agreements announced this past weekend, India declared its intent to purchase 10 C-17 Boeing transport planes for some $4 billion, as well as more than a hundred General Electric engines worth another billion dollars for the Indian air force - among the deals that Obama says will support 50,000 American jobs.