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It may look as if President Trump’s trip to India boils down to little more than media optics and Taj Mahal photo-shoots. But there is much more significance to it than that.
Over 100,000 people packed a cricket stadium to hear Trump and the Indian prime minister reprise the “Howdie Modi” event in Houston, Texas a few months ago, with each leader spotlighting the accomplishments of the other and discussing the strengthening bilateral relationship between our two countries.
Are there notable takeaways from this historic visit? Definitely.
For one, who could have predicted it would take a stadium big enough to hold 100,000-plus cricket fans to showcase two politicians? Of course, we also ought to acknowledge this is India, one of the most populous nations on earth. A hundred thousand people in India is like five guys at a Starbucks in D.C.
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And yet if the stadium could have taken 10 times that number, Modi and Trump could probably still have filled it. The people of India know something very special is going on here.
There is a bipartisan character to U.S.-India relations in both countries. This is more than just two charismatic leaders and the offer of free hats pulling in a crowd.
The U.S. and India have a lot to offer each other. The easy get is security. Both want a stable and prosperous South Asia and a reasonable Pakistan. Both want to tackle the scourge of transnational Islamist terrorism and curb the worst destabilizing acts of Chinese expansion.
The U.S. and India have forged something new and unprecedented. We are not old-fashioned treaty allies, but we are way more than just friends. This is a vital strategic partnership. We know that from the most distant Pacific Island to the Middle East we have each other’s back. This is a new geostrategic reality in the world.
To be fair, the two countries started moving in this direction before Modi and Trump made the scene. But they have sealed the deal.
Now comes the hard part — forging the economic bonds. This was a disappointment to both sides, who had hoped to seal at least a small-ball trade deal for the visit.
This is hard for India, which has traditionally had an inward-looking economy with heavy government controls. Still, India knows it’s time to change. With now the fifth-largest economy, it is time to harness that economic potential to drive real growth. Nothing will make that happen faster than partnering with the U.S.
Deals are coming. They will be followed by more deals.
This visit also reminds that we have a statesman in the White House. The critics would have us believe Trump is burning through allies and making America the enmity of the world. What Trump showed in India is how empty that critique really is.
At least we know a few hundred thousand Indians think so.