A version of this article appeared in Wilson Quarterly in Spring 2016. Please see the following link: https://wilsonquarterly.com/quarterly/the-post-obama-world/why-the-rise-of-south-asiashould-interest-the-u-s/
A salient, but somewhat overlooked, element of the Obama presidency is the rise of new strategic opportunities for the United States in South Asia and its neighborhood, through the revival and strengthening of democratic governments in large parts of this region. While these new opportunities have certainly risen due to many factors – some factors that have been in play for long time – Obama deserves at least some credit for many of these outcomes, even if the only action was a carefully calibrated inaction on Obama’s part.
Here are the three developments in the last few years that have pushed back China in South Asia and the neighborhood: a dramatically new democratic order in Myanmar; a fresh beginning in Indonesia; and turn-over to a more responsive leadership in Sri Lanka. Add to these, a relatively peaceful democratic transition in Pakistan and continued consolidation and advancement of institutions in India. The only two instances for disappointment are developments in Bangladesh and Nepal.
These developments have brought significant beneficial geo-political opportunities for the US. In some of these cases (such as Myanmar), Obama and his administration gently nudged the society without being overbearing. In other cases (such as Indonesia), the administration acted as supportive cast. In yet other cases (such as India), the administration corrected its course and embraced the change.