Take a step back from pondering the latest news from Iraq and ponder some long-term questions. Like the long-term course of China and India.
Start with China. James Mann of the School for Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins is probably best known for Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet, a dispassionate and refreshingly unbiased study of the careers of Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Colin Powell, Richard Armitage, and Condoleezza Rice, but he has also written two books on American relations with China. About Face: A History of America's Curious Relationship with China, from Nixon to Clinton explains how successive administrations have pretty much followed the China policy set by Richard Nixoneven though every successful presidential candidate since Nixon, with the single exception of the one who served as our envoy to China, George H.W. Bush, has promised to change that policy. Now Mann's next book, The China Fantasy: How Our Leaders Explain Away China's Repression, is about to be published. Presumably in connection with the publication, Mann has written a column in the Los Angeles Times on the long-term outlook for China. Will its surging economic growth result in a liberalization of its authoritarian, even dictatorial regime? Most Americans who speak out on these things, including Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, think so. But Mann believes this "soothing scenario" is unlikely. And he believes that the "upheaval scenario" of scholars like Arthur Waldron (not mentioned by name in the column) is even less likely: Chinese repression works, or at least has so far. Mann believes in what he calls his "third scenario," that China's regime will continue to be repressive even as its surging market capitalism produces more and more economic growth. I tend to be an optimist about things. But Mann is pretty persuasive.
Now India. The seer here is Bill Emmott, who recently stepped down after 13 years as editor of the Economist, writing in the Sunday Times of London. Emmott makes it plain that he's not much of an admirer of George W. Bush. But he gives Bush great credit for the nuclear pact between the United States and India that was quietly approved by Congress last year. He points out that current projections are that by midcentury not only China but also India will have greater economic output than the United States. (They won't be richer, of course; each has more than four times as many people as the United States.)
That is why Bush's nuclear pact with India makes such strong strategic sense. Having been estranged from India during the cold war, thanks to India's decision to build trade and military ties with the Soviet Union, America had been edging closer to India during the 1990s, and India had been encouraging that process. India doesn't want formal alliances, it doesn't want to confront China, and it doesn't want to close off its options. But it does need nuclear energy and it does want a close friendship with the world's superpower. The nuclear pact has given it both.
A prosperous democratic India can be a valuable friend to the United States and a counterweight to a repressive China and an increasingly unfriendly and repressive Russia.
The economic and political relationship between the United States and China will likely stay the same, on the same course it has been since Richard Nixon established it in the 1970s, the course that James Mann describes. But the strategic alliances have changed. From Nixon's day to the end of the Cold War, the United States was a strategic ally of China, while India was a de facto ally of Soviet Russia. Now the United States and India are becoming strategic allies, while China is taking its own strategic course, spreading its influence in the Middle East, the Indian Ocean, Africa, and Latin America, all while Russia is left out in the cold. As Matt Drudge would say, developing ...