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Saving Face/Climbing Down
US Expels Accused Diplomat, Settles Dispute with India

Devyani Khobragade is on her way home. The Indian diplomat, accused of mistreating and underpaying her nanny, was the focus of an international incident when U.S. authorities had her arrested and strip-searched. In India, the retaliation for the alleged mistreatment of Khobragade was swift: Officials removed defensive barriers around the embassy in New Delhi, revoked U.S. diplomats’ privileges, and poured forth a torrent of criticism in newspapers and on television.

In order to quell what was quickly becoming a diplomatic firestorm, the State Department evidently stepped in and pulled rank on the prosecutors who originally filed the charges. Khobragade was “very recently accorded diplomatic immunity status,” said prosecutors at the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan, allowing her to board a flight back to India. Earlier, Secretary of State John Kerry called India’s national security adviser to express “regret” over the arrest. Khobragade’s lawyer said she was pleased that the State Department “did the right thing.”

But, just to make sure that everyone is on equal footing as the dispute settles down, India requested that a U.S. diplomat of similar rank be sent home. Tit for tat.

According to multiple reports, Khobragade’s actions toward her nanny are reprehensible by American standards. She allegedly refused to allow the nanny to return to India and made intimidating calls to the nanny’s family members, pressuring them to reveal her whereabouts and filing charges of extortion. This might be no big deal in India, but in the United States it’s against the law and violates our cultural norms of common decency for hired help.

All that said, it’s time to put this ugly episode behind us. The ultimate goal throughout the dispute was never to win an argument. Both sides should realize that the incident is viewed by both countries in very different ways. In diplomacy, it’s always important to understand the motivations and sensitivities of international representatives. The relationship between India and the United States is a vital one, and we shouldn’t allow a disagreement between one diplomat and her nanny to upset the balance.

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  • Kevin

    Why did she not have diplomatic immunity in the first place? The police/prosecutor seemed particularly clueless, if not caught up in some macho need to exercise their own power and show how important they were. ow did they think this was going to end? Why strip search her instead of holding on to get while they contacted the State Department?
    What she did was clearly at odds with American law and custom, but strip searching foreign diplomats is crazy, just expel her quietly. She would have gone home in disgrace rather than turned into a martyr.

    • TheCynical1

      These are good questions, which, to my knowledge, are not being addressed by the American commentariat.

      I wonder if the Justice Department even checked at all with the State Department beforehand. If Justice did check, why didn’t State take charge promptly and proceed more discreetly. Given the potential consequences for U.S. diplomacy, how senior were those in the loop — did this go up to Holder and Kerry. And ultimately, what does this say about the day-to-day competence of Justice and State — and more generally, this Administration — in light of many other larger questions about them.

      One reason I don’t think too much of the mainstream media (left or right) is because, all too often, they seem to overlook basic questions that serious journalists would presumably think of.

      • Andrew Allison

        If you can identify a “serious journalist”, please do so. Meanwhile, what hasn’t been addressed is the Gestapo, er police, practice of strip searching ANYBODY arrested for civil, rather than criminal offenses. Seems to me a clear civil rights violation.

  • Anthony

    Laws, laws, laws, (what are we to make of them) to whom are they to be applied and by whom are they to be efficaciously exercised: Devyani Khobragade indicted and given diplomatic immunity to leave for India; equally status U.S. diplomat to be ousted from American Embassy in New Delhi. Welcome to high level diplomatic strategic U.S./Indian vital relations. By the way, nanny Sangeeta Richard, catalyst for episode, becomes invisible human in these international, cross cultural, and jurisprudential contretemps – settled at whose expense (climbing down/saving face).

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