By JAY AMBROSE
Scripps Howard News Service
March 02, 2006
If that assessment of President Bush's meeting with Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh puts too sharp an edge on something that will take years for history to chisel into something so definite, it is nevertheless the case that a lot more was going on than a deal on nuclear energy and closer bilateral trade ties.
If Congress approves the treaty, the United States is embracing an India that, during the Cold War, frequently sided with the Soviet Union's evil ambitions. For decades, some observers note, India was a haphazardly governed bureaucratic nightmare and an impoverished economic flop that got that way because of the socialist stupidities furthered by long-term leader Jawaharlal Nehru.
But something remarkable happened. Free markets happened. India today has a 7 percent to 8 percent growth rate, an innovative entrepreneurial class, highly efficient corporations and the prospect of becoming one of the largest economies in the world in the years ahead. It is already the world's largest democracy. It wants to be a major world player, and it will be.
There are those who think this nuclear deal is a way of the United States winking at India's nuclear weaponry while it wrings its hands over Iran's plans to acquire nukes. But wise commentators point out that India possesses WMD at this very minute and is not a rogue state run by wacko fascists - not to get the difference is not to get much of anything. India is likely on its way to being a hugely important ally, a check against China as it emerges into a superpower, and a crucial trading partner that can help us grow more wealthy as we help it grow more wealthy.
Europe, meanwhile, is heading downward, or at least much of it. This is no small or wonderful thing for the United States. Our country is a European-British offspring. We share the same cultural heritage. But today, much of Europe thumbs its nose at us. Many there seem to see our liberty as a subjugation of the weak and our energy as having purely materialist objectives. Meanwhile, the Europeans are wrapping their own liberties and energy in the blanket of a protectionist, welfare state with a rule for every business occasion.
Hence the decline, which is made clear by statistics, such as those showing the per-capita GDP in the European Union is just three quarters of what it is in the United States. Says Fareed Zakaria in a Newsweek column, the French and Germans could be just half as well off as the average American in another two decades. This, he says, will "translate into poorer health care and education, diminished access to all kinds of goods and services, and a lower quality of life."
Maybe you think the semi-socialism of the Scandinavian states makes them different. Not so. Zakaria notes a study revealing that 40 percent of Swedish households would be classified as low-income here. Bruce Bawer, a freelance writer in Oslo, Norway, has said in a piece for The New York Times that Sweden's GDP is higher than that of only 14 states in the United States. As it stood before more countries were added to it in 2004, the European Union as a whole would come in just fifth from the bottom, he reports.
Things are going to get much worse because Europe's population is shrinking. You are going to have fewer and fewer workers supporting more and more elderly in social-security programs that the public doesn't want changed - but that cannot be sustained. Given the protectionist policies of the governments, trade won't be the answer, and forget entrepreneurial innovation: Businesses are hobbled by too many regulations.
Contrast this comfortable, sleepy Europe afraid of disturbing the status quo with a vibrant, wide-awake India that is pulling itself out of desperate circumstances, and you can see why the United States is beginning to look East instead of West as it considers its own most fundamental interests in the century ahead.
He can be reached at SpeaktoJay(at)aol.com