By Jean C Wong
Northwest Asian Weekly
The post for U.S. Ambassador to India has just opened up after the sudden resignation of former Ambassador Timothy Roemer, who was appointed by President Obama in 2009. Although Roemer cited “personal, professional, and family considerations” as reasons for his resignation, only hours after his announcement, he expressed his disappointment in India’s elimination of American aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Lockheed from the bidding for a $10 billion contract for new-generation combat jets.
The Washington State India Trade Relations Action Committee (WASITRAC) believes that Congressman Jim McDermott is the best man to replace Roemer. WASITRAC is calling all Asian and Indian Americans, as well as others who have an interest in India, to support a public petition to the president to consider McDermott for the position of U.S. Ambassador to India. There are currently 43 signatures and counting.
McDermott was born in Chicago and was the first member of his family to attend college. After completing his medical residency and military service in the Navy, he was elected to the State Legislature from the 43rd Legislative District of Washington state. In 1974, McDermott successfully ran for the state senate and was re-elected three times.
In 1987, after 15 years of legislative service, McDermott decided to leave politics. He planned to continue in public service as a Foreign Service medical officer based in Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), providing psychiatric services to Foreign Service, Agency for International Development, and Peace Corps personnel in sub-Saharan Africa. He was elected in 1988 to the 101st Congress and is currently serving his 12th term as representative of the 7th Congressional District of Washington state.
As a physician, McDermott has been consistently involved in health care reform issues, especially those surrounding HIV/AIDS. He is also leading the fight in the U.S. House of Representatives to guarantee all Americans comprehensive and affordable health care coverage.
At first glance, McDermott may not seem like the most likely candidate for the job. However, he has shown consistent interest in India, visiting more than 22 times over the last 30 years. He also accompanied President Bill Clinton and Speaker Nancy Pelosi on their first visits to India.
McDermott is the founder and co-chair of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans that, with 154 members, constitutes the largest country caucus in the House of Representatives. By leading the caucus, he promotes understanding of the issues facing India, the world’s largest democracy, and works to foster dialogue between India and the United States on issues of mutual importance. This caucus is the major forum in the House of Representatives for those wishing to learn about or work on efforts related to India.
As honorary chair of WASITRAC, McDermott visited Orissa for the first time last year, leading the WASITRAC trade delegation to promote Orissa as a trade partner and sister-state to the state of Washington. WASITRAC hopes to build a bilateral relationship with Orissa because it believes that “the next wave of economic growth in India will come from the so-called second tier cities.” As people climb out of an almost worldwide recession, India’s economy continues to grow, and the government has begun to realize that. “Beyond the ‘big cities’ lies a far bigger opportunity,” said WASITRAC co-chair Debadutta Dash. Smaller cities like Bhubaneswar, the capital of Orissa, provide an opportunity to “divert the concentration of growth,” said Dash.
“Indo-U.S. relations are undergoing tremendous changes, not just within the two countries, but also with the surrounding neighbors of India,” added Dash. “This is a time that requires a statesman that understands the dynamics and intricate ethnic diversity to foster an amicable relationship before any tangible business agreement.”
Dash continued, explaining why McDermott is the best candidate, “His love and respect for India and acquaintance with Indian culture are incomparable. His knowledge of the intricate ethnic diversity and his commitment to [understanding] the Indian democracy, its social attributes, and secularism has made him the most recognizable U.S. leader in the Indian sub-continent. He has been a strong advocate of trade with India, long before the country was perceived to be an emerging market by anyone. We strongly believe that he would be the best U.S. leader to be chosen for this position, and it will create a win-win situation for both sides, in addition to building stability, peace, and stronger bilateral relations between the U.S. and the Indian sub-continent.”
McDermott declined to comment. ♦
Jean Wong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.