The greatest menace to American foreign-policy success is impatience. Terribly intractable regions, especially the Middle East and South Asia, cannot be reconfigured quickly. The indigenous peoples do not like or understand swift change and their regimes have rarely been capable of rapid movement, much less motivated to attempt it. And when radical transformations have succeeded, they have either failed, as the shah’s attempt to modernize Iran did, or sputtered out and flapped eerily for decades, as Ataturk’s secularization of Turkey did after its instigator’s premature death in 1938. Israel is an exception, but it need hardly be emphasized that Israel is an exception to everything in the Middle East.
But the move of India to a policy of maximum economic growth, in response to China’s abandonment of harebrained Maoism in exchange for hell-for-leather capitalism — under the aegis, of course, of the Chinese Communist party — has backed westwards into the Middle East, as China’s economic growth has rippled out in all directions, among its neighbors and across the Pacific. These have been relatively sudden and profound changes that ramify very widely.
The reorientation of India under the Congress party, which for most of the country’s history riveted on the back of what Gandhi called “the hundred thousand dung-heaps of India” a pretentious, ludicrously bureaucratized hypocrisy, was almost as startling a volte-face as the metamorphosis of Chinese Communism. For decades, Congress’s failed and false governance was allegorized and personified by Jawaharlal Nehru, and then his daughter, Indira Gandhi, and then her sons, sitting in the same lawn chairs on the grounds of their official residence in New Delhi, fondling roses from the same rose bushes, and explaining that though there were hundreds of millions of desperately poor Indians, horrible inequities and conflicts, India remained the moral arbiter of the world because of its detachment from the Cold War and its anti-materialist spirituality.
When China abandoned the Maoist penchant for insane and sanguinary self-imposed chaos (as in the Great Leap Forward of the Fifties and the Cultural Revolution of the Sixties), India was jolted out of its torpid mantra of self-righteous gibberish, and obliged to seek economic growth. Of course, the implications of 40 percent of the world’s population in these two immense and ancient countries suddenly moving from secular economic stagnation to annual economic-growth rates of from 6 to 10 percent have been profound, and are gaining importance every year.
Indonesia, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and even the Philippines have energized themselves economically, and absorbed some of the slack generated by the profound doldrums of Japan, following the collapse of its great challenge to the economic supremacy of the United States 20 years ago. Despite all the disappointments and false starts, the U.S., in the nine years since the Clinton administration ended, has resurrected a strategic position of some strength in South Asia and the Middle East, by breaking out of its double boycotts of India and Pakistan and Iran and Iraq, which ensured the complete inability of the U.S. to accomplish anything in either theater. India and Pakistan essentially took the same position that Iran has more recently: that the nuclear club is a fraud, in which a few countries revel in the implicit power of nuclear military capacity, claim to be seeking nuclear disarmament while doing nothing to achieve it, and try to bar the door to any new entrant to the nuclear top table. Contemptible though the Iranian regime is, it is calling the bluff of the nuclear powers, and the American response with energetic lip service to nuclear disarmament will not achieve anything useful.